Questions & Answers

I speak and write weekly @ Stones Hill Community Church. At this life-stage, I have found that it is best if I give my best “one-shot” answer to questions that are asked of me and not get bogged down with intense blogging questions (as I did in the past). Of course, I’ve written on about every topic that atheists usually like to discuss, so please feel free to browse my archives.

I have a quick in-and-out blog that I use for these quick one-shot questions that pertain to topics I currently speak on.

Go here to ask questions: http://shccpastor.tumblr.com/  Comments on my answers are not available at this site, but feel free to meet with me on Sunday mornings @ 8:45 AM in my office at Stone’s Hill for live dialog and question-answer discussion group.

Stay on the journey. And one other thing, you can remain anonymous at the tumblr site. I use this because sometimes I field questions from people “on-the-fly” during my presentation – live. It allows me to view and respond to these question quickly.

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Soul Mates: Drawn Into the Mystery of the Other – Part 5

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

The Song of Solomon expresses the joys of romance and married love. God loves it when one man and one woman are totally in love with each other. Solomon and Abishag are the main characters, but knowing who is speaking is challenging in this book. There are pre-wedding flashbacks that make it hard to follow sometimes. There are dreams recorded that are interspersed throughout the song. And garden imagery is used to describe some very intimate, sensual topics. There are four places in the Song where either the husband or wife’s features are catalogued and commented on. It usually starts at the head and works down the body. While most of the previous posts in this series have dealt with the man viewing his new bride, this final post has the bride admiring her new husband.

She has to put words to how she feels. He has sung to her. Now, she will sing to him. There is an impulse in ancient love song toward hyperbole, exaggeration for effect. It’s perfectly permissible in a song. There is also a search for superlatives, words and phrases to highlight the value of the one being talked about. She compared her lover to the best things she could possibly think of in her day and time. In our search for superlatives, we might say “You’re astronomical, you’re galactical, you’re cosmic, you’re a star.” But her world was more about beautiful animals, dense forests, precious gems, lovely gardens, appealing smells, and great building materials. I want you to notice how many times his handsomeness and studliness is compared to precious gems or stones or to gold. She is trying to communicate his worth and value and her respect for him.

5:10-16 10 My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.

She thought he was stunning and masculine and he just shined with a great complexion. She admired him. There’s just no rivals, no incoming freshmen who could ever match the handsomeness of her collegiate stud. Out of ten thousand, he’s still the one to beat. You know how hard it would be to find someone in a crowd of ten thousand people. Yet, she did find him and can hardly believe that people like him actually existed. Talk about respect. This guy is one lucky dude. Her facial expression and tone and now her words say that he’s the man she wants.

11 His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven.

This is not literal – a head of gold. He’s just number one in value to her. Gold was not native to Palestine. But it was used lavishly in the construction of important and valuable things, such as the temple. They even made false gods out of it. But she’s not making him a god. She’s not worshipping him. She’s saying that he has a good head on his shoulders. If his head was made out of pure gold, she wouldn’t be any better off. His level-headed approach was worth everything. She’s showing utmost respect for his judgment and his decisions. And when she disagrees, she does so winsomely. That’s how wise and perceptive he was and she was. I take it that he was well read, that he was a good leader, that he was a gentleman, that he was principled and moral, and had the utmost respect for women, especially her. He had the respect of a lot of people, even though he was young. And she just adored his jet black hair, black as a raven. There’s no gray in it. He’s young yet and he’s got a full head of wavy hair, and yet he is so wise.

12 His eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels.

She’s just painting a picture with all this, isn’t she? She’s just giddy. He had beautiful eyes that just set perfectly with everything else. One resource said that the color of the dove noted hear would have been a deep blue color. When they would cluster up by a waterfall, the blueness would be set in contrast against the whiteness of the foam. He had gorgeous blue eyes. But they are white like milk. The guy is not a drunk with bloodshot eyes. He’s sober and in his right mind. These eyes are set like a jewel in a ring.

13 His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume. His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh.

She is moved by his looks, his smell, his kisses. An argument can be made here for good hygiene. Fellows, don’t overlook it. He had great breath. But even more, he said some really nice things to her. The “beds of spices” on his cheek leads me to believe that he’s got a beard. But it’s attractive and well kept. Beards were common in this day. Remember this is the exaggerated language of a girl in love. Beards are beds of spices to the lover. He must have wore great cologne too. Ladies go smell some samples, buy the one that just drives you wild and give it to your husband. He’ll be spraying it all over his body!

14 His arms are rods of gold set with chrysolite.

Chrysolite was a precious stone of some sort. As is the case with all precious stones, its color and rarity made it precious. When you have a precious multicolored stone, it commands a lot of attention because not that many people have them. These stones were used in jewelry or in decoration items or sewn into clothing. They were objects of appeal and beauty in the ancient world. She’s saying this guy is such a rare find. When she looked at him, she just couldn’t believe that he was hers. She loves his arms and hands were considered part of the arm in the ancient world. They are so sexy looking. Gold is actually a soft metal and pliable. When he flexed, it was like the gold just reshaped itself on his arms. He’s well molded. His head was like gold and now his arms are too. She loved his arms, hands, and fingers. You get the feeling that these hands have caressed her many times. She’s studied them. They’ve steadied her in a moment of imbalance on a walk in the Lebanon forests. They caressed her cheek as they have strolled through a garden. They’ve held her strands of hair. They’ve written her love letters. They’ve even been balled up and protected her from some rogue threat. They’ve intertwined with her hands. They tenderly touched her body. They have been used to figure out problems. She’s saying, “He can figure things out with those hands.” Men love to figure things out. If a man can find his way through a jungle with only a tattered map and pocket knife, he feels so alive, affirmed, excited, encouraged.

His body is like polished ivory decorated with sapphires.

Just the plain meaning of this indicates that he’s got a six-pack evidently – a strong torso. I’ve got a six pack. It’s just buried beneath all the polished ivory. A sapphire is a bluish stone and is mentioned frequently in the Bible. If his torso is decorated with these, perhaps she’s seeing the ripples of the six pack. There is also a very good possibility that she is describing his manhood and the male anatomy with the polished ivory tusk like remark and the sapphires. Let the Spirit speak.

15 His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars.

This guy sounds like Conan the Barbarian or Hulk Hogan. He did not have bird-legs. Marble and gold and cedar made great building materials. This guy was one put-together dude. He was tall like a tree in Lebanon. You could build a life on this guy. He was like one of the choicest Cedar trees in the Lebanon forest. They provided great construction materials. You may not love this guy, but you have to respect him. He’s not a loose cannon who is going to go off on someone, but he’s put together and sturdy and demands a certain level of respect.

16 His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

She loved the way he talked to her. She loved him for being so much more than a sexual partner. He was a soul mate, a friend. She looks at her imaginary friends and says, “Do you girls see what I mean now.” This guy is one in a million.

This woman loved her man. When a woman loves a man this way, it is not a guarantee that he will never stray, but it captivates his attention like nothing else can. Many men have affairs with women who may be less physically attractive than his wife, but the woman he had the affair with made him feel like a man again.

Remember this is all a song. They didn’t always get it right. But when it was time to write the song about it all, these were the things that they wanted to say. They relished each other and became the closest of friends. Long before they pleasured each other’s bodies, they delighted each other with warm, creative conversation, time spent together, and loving embrace. We don’t know for sure what each of them looked like, but we can’t deny the love with which they were loved. And regardless of what they looked like, that’s what made all of this a beautiful thing. It’s the value of the one loved.

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Soul Mates: Drawn Into the Mystery of the Other – Part 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

5 Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. Solomon was taken in by the beauty of her figure and breasts. The picture is of two young gazelles, affectionate, playful, soft – something that you want to touch and enjoy watching. Fawns are young, sleek and even graceful. But they are also very skittish. If you make a quick movement, they will bolt away in fear. Solomon is saying I want to touch those, but I don’t want to frighten her. He’s being tender. He’s moving slowly and cautiously. I don’t see him aggressively squeezing or violently treating her. It’s so important not to attack your bride.

Are you surprised that the Bible talks about breasts in such an erotic way? God is Holy. He is pure. This can’t be obscene. A man and woman married, madly in love, and having the time of their lives. It’s a playful time, a flirtatious time, a sensual time. If a woman always asks, “Am I beautiful to you? Do you notice me?” a man is always asking not just “Do I have what it takes?” but “Is life with you going to be sexual?” When a wife walks by, it builds sexual tension in the visually oriented male. He notices her curves and shape. And with every passing day since the last intimate encounter, every one of her features become more distinct and attractive to him.

Does your wife feel desired by you and does she feel beautiful to you? If not, why not? The reason she uses all the make-up and accessories is that she wants to stay in your center of vision. Does your husband feel admired, nourished, sexually alive? Why not? Why are you leveraging or holding out on this precious gift of marriage?

6 Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense.
Now, in the flow of things, it appears that the mountain of myrrh and the hill of incense refer to the same thing. But what are they referring to? Myrrh and incense were expensive perfumes. Let the spirit speak to you on this one. If I explain this one it may get you and me both in trouble. This is a work of verbal art. There is no sterile medical language to rob it of its eroticism. But there is no crudeness or obscenity to cheapen it. Each word and phrase lets us know that Sol basked in the beauty of it all.

7 All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.
It seems now, that Solomon takes a step back to get the full picture. It’s like he’s saying, “From head to toe, you are just wonderful.” Of course, her body wasn’t perfect, but it was to him. It’s not so much what she looks like, but how he feels about her. With the exception of the teeth comment and the longer hair which is implied with the goat remark, we have no idea what she physically looks like. It doesn’t matter. What does matter, is how her husband viewed her (Mahaney). Remember it’s a song, poetry. He’s making some poetry. Her body is beautiful to him. He can exaggerate for effect if he wants to. To him, it was a perfect body. It’s perfectly acceptable to exaggerate in a song. Besides great romance is trial and error. Remember, this is a polished song, suitable for publishing. I’m sure Solomon and Abishag made their mistakes. Great romance isn’t about kissing just right or touching just right or a flawless evening. Romance is not reserved for those with flawless bodies. It’s more about fumbling and bumbling around together until you laughingly stumble upon those things that bring the greatest satisfaction and joy to you both. Romance, sex and love should be a no-pressure playground where you cultivate the spirit of playfulness. That’s what I sense in all the Song of Solomon – a spirit of playfulness and fun and joy within a marital context. That’s part of the marital fun. You open the gift of your sexuality together and begin to experiment and play for a lifetime. You give each other respectful signals of what is working and what isn’t and you just keep at it for a lifetime.

To Be Continued

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Soul Mates: Drawn Into the Mystery of the Other – Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

4 Your neck is like the tower of David, built with elegance; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors.
Did this woman work out or what? What bride wants her neck compared to a solid, thick tower weighted down with heavy metal shields? Is Solomon messing up the poem? Is he about to spoil the romance of it all? The tower of David was a military place; it symbolized strength. The neck was a symbol of strength and inner character. She’s standing tall and straight. There is no shame. There is no disgrace. She has never been with a man, but she’s quietly confident. She was a true gift. She was not overwhelmed with embarrassment, even though she had some initial blushing. She had a tilt to her head and a sparkle in her eyes. She was ready for him to explore more.

I think that Solomon was undoing a necklace for her when he comments on her neck. Necklaces were made of coins and flat pieces of designer metal (Tommy Nelson and others). The clank of it all reminded Solomon of a fortress when all the soldiers would be called to battle and you could hear the whisking of swords going into their sheaths and shields bumping and clanging against the stone. “Her neck would hold much of the jewelry that a woman might wear. Such jewelry was often layered, where strands of jewelry were placed one on top of the other. This formed a layered appearance that could ascend from the shoulder and reach as far as the top of the neck.” Imagine the adrenaline rush as a soldier who was getting ready to lay it all on the line on a battlefield. Now, there is a different adrenaline rush. When he tenderly takes that necklace off her beautiful, slightly tilted neck while she was holding those long strands of black curly hair up away from her neck, he was totally lost in it all. She had this amazing body language. The way she held herself just captivated him, and yet she never said a word.

You can’t “not” communicate with others, especially a spouse. Without saying a word, you reveal your feelings and attitudes. Your smile says, “I’m happy” and a fake smile says “I’m not happy, but I want you to think I am.” Your frown and crossed arms say, “I’m mad,” and your drumming fingers and loud sighs say, “I’m impatient – get moving.” Even when you try to show nothing, your closed-off stance and refusal to speak say, “I don’t want to talk about it” or “I’m rejecting you.” You communicate non-verbally with facial expressions, gestures, and posture and you also communicate by how close you get spatially to people (McKay, Messages…). It seems that Solomon is doing most of the talking, but what I see is that her body language is awesome. He’s within 18 inches of her. He’s seeing all the nuances of her face. He sees if the eyebrows are raised or lowered, if the forehead is wrinkled or smooth, if the skin is pale or toned. She gave him all the gestures he needed to let him know that he was saying and doing the right things and that she loved it. Your face is an ever changing billboard signaling your attitudes and reactions.

All the men know what I’m talking about when I talk about “the Look.” The Look is a very useful tool for women and can accomplish many objectives. When she is upset or disapproving, “the Look” will often get him to stop doing something. When she is disappointed the Look can spur him to action (Pam Farrel). Abishag had great body language.

This is one kind, tender man, but it is also one amazing woman. He’s taking it all in. He’s being romantic. Guys, take note. He’s gazed into her eyes. He’s whispered affirming words. He’s helped her untress her hair. He’s traced her lips with his finger. He’s studies her teeth! He’s kissed her. He has tenderly removed her necklace. He’s just now getting to first base! His tempo is impeccable and it all says that he was attracted to her. He’s not even below the neck and he’s just mesmerized. And she overtures back a melody of body language that lets him know that all this feels so loving to her. She tilts her head just a little when he helps her to let her hair down, when he so delicately moves his finger along her lips. Her cheeks are a little red, but she’s confident and so alive in his presence. It all says to him, “I really like this.” Men, this is how women go about connecting. Intimacy means sharing secrets, talking things over, cuddling.

Gary Smalley wrote, “Men are microwaves, women are Crock-Pots.” He’s right. A man 3,000 years ago could jump out of a chariot and into the sheets just about any time of day or night and enjoy sexual things in just about any form. Has anything changed? God designed men to be visually oriented. This is not an excuse to be immature in how you treat or view a woman, and if you as a woman are irked, irritated, or angry about this basic wiring, your issue is with God, not your husband. A man is visually-oriented. A woman is so different. She needs time and tenderness to build rapport. If you have a problem with that, take it up with God. That’s how she’s made. But God made us both this way. It’s complimentary. If women were wired like men, nothing would ever get done. It would all be just one big romance. You’d never leave home. Tommy Nelson has suggested that if men were wired like women, we would have no over-population problems in certain parts of the world. God wired us this way so that men would always keep coming back to their wives and so that women would always reach out for him when he arrived.

Solomon is disrobing his bride. He expressed appreciation for everything he saw. The eyes were pure. Her hair was tranquil. Her teeth mature. Her lips loyal. Her cheeks were modest. Her neck showed integrity and confidence. Now, we see desirability. He’s worked down to the neck, what’s next?

-To Be Continued-

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Soul-Mates: Drawn Into the Mystery of the Other – Part 2

To read Soul-Mates: Drawn Into the Mystery of the Other – Part 1
This is Part 2.

2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone. Our teeth come in pairs. She still has her pairs. She has all of her teeth. That was a big deal 3,000 years ago. This doesn’t just suggest good hygiene; it suggests maturity as well. Solomon is not robbing the cradle! She’s past the baby teeth stage with huge gaps that are common between teeth. She’s smiling at him and her teeth are clean and smooth. Smiling is a woman’s greatest cosmetic.

3 Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely. Do you know what I think? I think Sol is moving in for a kiss, that’s what I think. But he’s not in a hurry. He just takes it all in. Lips can be so sensual, their shape, the way they move when words are shared. Kisses are powerful too. Her lips were ravishing to him. He loved their color, their shape. I think he’s tracing her features with his finger, gently touching her lips while he whispers his approval and admiration. He watches her as she shapes and verbalizes her words.

There’s a touching story told from the hospitals of WWII, where a young and badly wounded soldier was brought in from a hellish week of fighting. After doing what she could for him, the nurse asked if there was anything else she could do. “Yes,” he said. “Could you just put on some lipstick while I watch?” There’s something about the beauty of a woman that comforts and soothes the soul (Captivating, 39). This wounded soldier saw the beauty of her lips.

Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate.
Note that the veil is still on. This guy is incredible! Talk about taking your time. Guys, pay attention here! He’s not in a hurry. And as his eyes take in the beauty of his bride, maybe for the first time due to the veil customs that women had to observe, her cheeks turn red, like pomegranate. She’s never been seen and observed like this before. He’s right there, only inches from her face now on this the beginning of their honeymoon. And she’s blushing.

The pomegranate has a red-and-white skin, which reminded the ancient poets of a blushing bride. Pomegranate is defined as a several-celled reddish berry that is about the size of an orange with a thick leathery skin and many seeds with pulpy crimson arils of tart flavor (Webster). But it’s the reddish color that’s the point of focus here. The temple wasn’t just the soft spot beside the eye, but included the cheek as well in ancient poetry (Hocking). He’s describing her cheeks and her blush of innocence. She can’t believe all the joy of this moment and she’s shy about being admired and looked at so closely, but yet she is enthralled to have captivated him so entirely. Sammy Kershaw would say, “She don’t know she’s beautiful, though time and time I’ve told her so.”

I come back to this idea of blushing. You know, I’m concerned today about the fact that we don’t blush much anymore. Young girls pretty much say and do just about anything for anyone. They don’t blush on their honeymoon because they’ve already done it all. Our culture says we should normalize immorality and in so doing, they have hollowed sex out and removed it from a sacred place. It’s something that is pervasive. “Our society is filled with people for whom the sexual relationship is one where body meets body but where person fails to meet person; where the immediate need for sexual gratification is satisfied but where the deeper need for companionship and understanding is left untouched (Buechner).” “When we bypass the soul and spirit in relationships, when we’re too familiar with sex – let it intoxicate us too young and too early and with too many – we lose its mystery and wonder (Bly).” And we don’t blush anymore.

Some of you single girls wonder why the boys get bored with you. You tell all and reveal everything in the first week of the relationship. Be mysterious. Pace your secret-sharing. No one should just waltz in and get what they want in the dating relationship. Be cool, fun, and exciting and try new things, but there are some things he shouldn’t see, should not know, and has not touched. It’s the chase of what he can’t have and doesn’t know that keeps him interested in the dating relationship. When you dish it all out on the second date, there’s nothing for him to chase after. Hold back a little. I think they call it “Peepin’ it.” If you tell everything, there’s nothing to chase after. No adventure to pursue, no challenge, no uncharted territory. You’ve dished it all out. Keep parts of your life to yourself. And when you get married, it’s OK if you blush. You’ll have a lifetime to explore and do things with your husband and reveal all the secrets that you hold. A guy can get sex from any weak or needy girl that’s crushing on him. You become old hat after a few months. And he probably won’t remember your name in 7 years. Girls today give up way too much information. It should take the guy months to get to know you. Easy girls are not keepers. They are a temporary fix until the right one comes along. If he stops chasing, it means he doesn’t really like you or he’s not man enough to keep pursuing – either way you find out what you need to know. And, guys, if you tell your girlfriend that if she gives up too much too quick then you will get bored and walk away, I guarantee you that she will stop. A fast win means the game is over way too quickly (with help from Lookadoo).

- To Be Continued -

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Soul-Mates: Drawn Into the Mystery of the Other – Part 1

The Song of Solomon (in the Bible – Old Testament) expresses the joys of romance and married love between two partners. It is very erotic and sensual. “The most obvious feature of the Song of Songs is the sexually explicit nature of the material, sensitively guised in figurative language (Tom Constable).” It’s the most erotic literature in the Bible.

The majority of commentators believe that the lover is Solomon, presenting himself in the prime of life and describing his first true love (important considering that he had seven-hundred wives and three-hundred concubines). Some feel the bride was Abishag, the beautiful woman that assisted David when he was older (1 Kings 1:1-4). From what we can tell, she was not a lady of the royal courts. She was a country girl and naturally beautiful to him without a lot of cosmetics.

Knowing who is speaking is challenging in this book. There are pre-wedding flashbacks that make it hard to follow sometimes. There are dreams recorded that are interspersed throughout the song. And garden imagery is used to describe some very intimate, sensual topics. This can be confusing, but once you break the code of ancient poetry, the meaning just unlocks before you.

As noted by one author, because all the sexual references are cloaked in symbolism, a child can pick this book up and read it without offense. But a man and woman can pick it up and find a marriage manual on the most intimate part of marriage. It’s poetic, yet specific. It’s frank, yet innocent and pure.

There are four places in the Song where either the husband or wife’s features are catalogued and commented on. It usually starts at the head and works down the body.

Song of Solomon 4:1-11. This is apparently when Solomon and his bride are finally in the bridal chamber after a week of wedding festivities. She apparently is disrobing. Solomon takes his time to absorb all of her characteristics.

4:1-11 1 How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! He’s saying you’re beautiful and He says it twice for emphatic affect. This is a smart man. Your wife or girlfriend wants to know that she is beautiful to you. He told her that she was beautiful and he looked right into her eyes when he said it.

Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Solomon starts with looking into her eyes. Freshly married and her veil still on, he sees that she has given herself to him and him alone. He connects with the eyes. The eyes of a dove are wide-eyed and beautiful. I see doves feeding at our bird feeder all the time. Their eyes are captivating. They are alive with loyalty and romance.

Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead.
Watching flocks go down this mountain, with the sun reflecting off their coats of fur is the picture here. The flowing movement of those herds and their hair as they come down the mountain with the sun reflecting on them is what Solomon is seeing (Hocking,Romantic…, 99). If you got enough of these goats Watching flocks go down this mountain, with the sun reflecting off their coats of fur is the picture here. The flowing movement of those herds and their hair as they come down the mountain with the sun reflecting on them is what Solomon is seeing (Hocking,Romantic…, 99). If you got enough of these goats moving moving down the mountain, it looked like a head of hair, waving in the breeze. As she let her curly black hair down, it cascaded over her shoulders and Solomon loved it.

We don’t have to speak the same Hebrew idioms. In fact, telling your wife or girlfriend that her hair reminds you of goats could get you in trouble today. Her hair and how she tossed it around just mesmerized Solomon, gentle, soft, flowing hair, that rested on thin shoulders – simply incredible. I thought of the country music song sung by Charlie Rich: “My baby makes me proud, Lord don’t she make me proud She never makes a scene by hanging all over me in a crowd ‘Cause people like to talk, Lord, how they love to talk But when they turn out the lights, I know she’ll be leaving with me CHORUS: And when we get behind closed doors Then she lets her hair hang down And she makes me glad I’m a man Oh no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. My, behind closed doors. VERSE: My baby makes me smile, Lord don’t she make me smile She’s never too far away or too tired to say “I want you” She’s always a lady, just like a lady should be But when they turn out the lights, she’s still a baby to me.”

I think Solomon probably grabbed several strands of this black curly hair and held it against his cheek. She must have liked it because the next verse talks about her teeth. She smiled.

2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone.

Abishag has all of her teeth! Our teeth come in pairs. She still has her pairs. She has all of her teeth. That was a big deal 3,000 years ago. It’s not so much that they’re straight as it is that they are still there for her and they’re mature. This doesn’t just suggest good hygiene; it suggests maturity as well. Solomon is not robbing the cradle! She’s past the baby teeth stage, with huge gaps that are common between teeth. A sheep that has been sheered has a pinkish white color. Guess what? She’s smiling at him and her teeth are clean and smooth. Sol loved her smile.

—To Be Continued—

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Salt and Cultural Decay “My Name Is…I Struggle With…”

“You are the salt of the earth,” was something Jesus said to describe the affect of Christ-followers on the culture. This statement also came with an adomonition to retain the saltiness. What does this mean?

Sometimes, first century, Near Eastern salt was this mixture of salt and sand. They didn’t have processing plants. Some of their salt was very poor and had to be thrown out because it had been diluted. When salt is mixed with another substance, it changes in its impact. The other substance doesn’t become salty, but the potency of the salt is diminished to the point that it may not even be seen or tasted. The salt loses its effectiveness.

Before they had refrigeration or ice boxes, salt was their chief means of fighting decay. In the ancient world, salt was a vital staple, both as a preservative and as a seasoning. In a non-refrigerated society, salt was rubbed into the meat to keep it from decaying. If you catch a fish on the Sea of Galilee, for example, and have to transport it to Jerusalem many miles to the south, you’re in trouble without salt. The transportation was slow. Refrigeration was non-existent. And they didn’t have Morton Salt Company either. They got salt from evaporated sea water, and it was never completely pure. Occasionally what they gathered to use as seasoning or to preserve their meat was so impure that it wasn’t very salty at all. When that happened they would gather it up and cast it out in their fields to use as fertilizer. Sometimes they would throw it out the door to harden the pathway that led to their front porch.

What Jesus says in these verses is that if His followers are going to change the world, they have to be the real thing. Our lives can’t be a mixture of all kinds of impurity. We have to be uncompromised, authentic as we engage the culture. Not perfect, just authentic and real with how we live life. What the culture needs are people who own their mess, who allow the teachings of Jesus to confront their lifestyles, and who honestly live a confessional life without pretense as they struggle to live life the way Jesus asked them to live it.

How did Jesus ask them to live a “salty” life? Jesus wanted them to extend forgiveness rather than keep someone in their debt. He wanted them to honor their marriage vows rather than do adultery. He wanted them to stop objectifying women and to really see them and their hearts. He wanted them to surrender the impulse to retaliate and seek revenge. He wanted them to deny themselves, to trust Him and not to worry about tomorrow. He wanted them to resist jumping to conclusions and standing in judgment over others. He wanted them to have the right priorities so that when life is done, you’re not burdened with regret that you spent your life on the wrong things (this is a summary of Matthew 5-7). What the culture needs are people who are willing to allow Jesus’ teachings to confront their values; to engage the culture by living out this struggle in front of a society that is already suspicious about religion and spirituality.

Now, it is possible for salt to be over used, to be too salty. If we try to impose Kingdom values rather than live them for all to see, we are too salty. If we always demand conformity to our viewpoint, we’re too salty. If you’re too heavy with Jesus and his teachings, you’ll ruin your relationships. If you call your atheistic neighbor at 3 AM in the morning to invite them to church, you’re way too salty. If you’re always quoting scripture to someone and preaching to them, you’re messing up your witness. If you pull up in the car next to you at the stoplight, and yell across, “Do you know you are going to hell without Christ?”, you’re too salty. If everybody around you only knows the things in life that you are against, and they never hear the things that you are for, you’re too salty.

On the other hand, if we never pursue Jesus’ values, if we never talk of spiritual things, if we ignore God as a life focus, then our lives are bland. There’s no depth to them. We talk about shallow things all the time – the weather, the latest news, the current scandals. We are just like the rest of the culture. We can never talk about the great ideas, like how and why Christianity is true. We relegate God to a Sunday morning and then we live the way we want to the rest of the time. You have very little impact on your community, family, or culture when you refuse to pursue and even entertain thoughts of God and His way in the world. This life is bland and does very little to help a decadent culture engage their God and His Messenger.

One of the saltiest things a person can do is simply own their struggle. “Hi. My name is Joey and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with nearly everything that Jesus asked me to do.” Here’s some stuff that Jesus said. It also is stuff that I struggle with.

Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV)
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them saying:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Instead of poor in spirit, I’m often looking forward to the next exciting thing in life rather than just facing that I can’t handle life in my own strength. I’ll just distract myself from my truest, deepest needs and the One who can meet them.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Instead of mourning and dealing with the aches of life, I sidestep the hard places and difficult emotions. Mourning is that process that allows us to bleed off the toxic poison of bitterness. When you mourn, you’re saying that things matter, that dreams should be held dear, that people are important, that you care enough about them to work through the pain of losing them. I want to numb the pain rather than process through it.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Instead of being meek and content and submitting to God’s authority and His plan for meeting my needs, I met my needs my way. I live for the next thing – the next weekend, the next job, the next adventure, the next thrill.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

I hunger and thirst for all the wrong things and try to fill my life with them. Rather than take my soul cravings to God, I take them to other things and end up feeding on spiritual junk food.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

I can be harsh with those who live under my own roof and deny them grace. I can get really ticked at people who pretend and pose, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. They won’t admit anything and pretend to have it altogether. I don’t want to show them any mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

My heart is often divided among misdirected priorities. A pure heart is an undivided heart – a heart that is no longer struggling to decide where it will give its loyalty.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Rather than making peace, it’s often easier to settle just for what makes me happy.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When push comes to shove, it’s much easier to take the path of least resistance and blend in.

My name is Joey and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with just about everything that Jesus asked me to do.

It’s about the saltiest thing I can say or do.

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