The image of Adam and Eve hiding themselves with fig leaves is one that artists have been fascinated with for centuries. It’s a little comical–a couple lives together in Paradise, totally naked, then suddenly become ashamed of their bodies.
But there’s a serious lesson for marriage to be found in this story.
When God created Adam and Eve, according to Genesis 2:24-25, the man and his wife were both “naked and unashamed.” This represents one of God’s important laws related to marriage: The Law of Purity.
Before sin entered the Garden of Eden, it was pure and wonderful. In fact, the word eden itself means “pleasure and delight.” Adam and Eve were naked together in a place of delight. That was marriage in its ideal state.
Then came the Fall. After this, the first thing Adam and Eve did was cover their genitals with fig leaves. Why the genitals? Well, those are the most sensitive areas of the human body. Those are also the areas where men and women are most different. They hid these places from each other.
A marriage lived in purity is one where the husband and wife don’t have to hide their differences. They can expose the most sensitive areas of their lives without any problems.A marriage made impure by sin results in a man and woman hiding from each other. They feel the need to protect their most sensitive areas.
When Karen and I first got married, our relationship wasn’t healthy. I was verbally abusive and dominant. I hurt Karen with the things I said, and it made her “cover” herself. She refused to let me into the most sensitive areas of her life. It was a form of self-protection.
I wasn’t treating Karen right, and because of my behavior, she didn’t trust me or share herself with me.
I didn’t know my wife. We had no intimacy at all.
It wasn’t until I repented that our marriage became pure. I had to ask God to change my heart and I had to ask Karen for her forgiveness. She said, “Jimmy, you really wounded me with your mouth.”
When I finally apologized, the fig leaves started coming off. It didn’t happen overnight, but she began opening up more to me, little by little. Eventually she began to tell me things I didn’t know. The things she told me took me by surprise.”
How long have you felt that way?” I would ask. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”
Her answer was devastating: “It was because I couldn’t trust you,” she said.
A disrespectful spouse will destroy trust. A spouse whose language is always sarcastic and critical will cause the other spouse to hide their true feelings. We simply can’t trust our hearts to someone who isn’t careful in the way they treat us. That’s when we protect our most sensitive places with fig leaves.
The fig leaves only come off when we feel safe with each other. That’s when the man and his wife are “naked and unashamed.”
If we aren’t careful with our words–if we disrupt the safety of the relationship–then we must apologize. We have to take responsibility and say, “I’m sorry.” Only then will we become each other’s safe place.
Trust and intimacy are only possible in an atmosphere of purity. Does that describe your marriage? Blessings, Jimmy Evans Founder & President of XO Marriage
National policy of religious tolerance facing headwinds
A decision to prevent citizens of Indonesia from being able to access a Bible application for cell phones and mobile devices is sparking arguments amid that nation’s openly tolerant campaign to allow people to choose their own faith and practice it.
The worldwide Christian ministry Barnabas Fund is reporting that the Bible application for the Minangkabau people was removed from the Google Play Store for residents of Indonesia following a demand from Irwan Prayitno, the governor of West Sumatra.
He claimed it was causing discomfort in the Minangkabau people who are living in his province, the majority of whom are Muslim.
Only about 1.43% of the people there, about 69,000, are Christian.
The Indonesian Ulema Council supported the censorship by the nation’s Communication and Information Ministry, with a statement of secretary general Anwar Abbas that said, “The guidance of the Minangkabau people is not the Bible. Hopefully there will not be a Bible [published] in the Minangkabau language.”
“The decision to ban the Minangkabau Bible App failed to take into account the rights of Minangkabau Christians,” the Barnabas Fund reported.
And the decision was criticized by the chief of the nation’s longtime Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education, which advocates for tolerance.
That agency’s opinion is that holy books could be translated into any language as long as they were not misinterpreted.
The chief of the agency said, “Every individual is given the freedom to observe their beliefs as long as they do not cause disruption in the public. And, of course, some of the residents of West Sumatra are also Christian, and the governor himself is governor to everyone, not a certain ethnicity or religious belief.”
Pancasila is a formal doctrine instituted in Indonesia to encourage tolerance for religions – and discourage extremism. It prevailed for many years, with Christians and Muslims living as equals. That started changing only a few years ago.
Then, Barnabas Fund reported, the nation saw “a rise in hard-line Islamic ideology in recent years. A generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals in accordance with Pancasila.”
“In 2019, the government took several steps to counter the spread of fundamentalism by urging members of the public to report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material.”
That battle against “hard-line Islamist ideology” includes requests to the public to “report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material,” Barnabas Fund said.
Indonesian Communications Minister Johnny G. Plate said the intention was “to bring together and improve the performance of our civil servants, as well as to foster higher levels of nationalism.”
Indonesia has the world’s biggest population of Muslims, and reports suggest that 19% of civil servants and 3% of military personnel favor an Indonesia under Islamic rule. About 18% of private employees and 23% of students share the view.
Franklin said he thinks God still has him here on earth to encourage Christians around the world.
“Especially now that we see Christians under attack in this country—and this is something, we’re going to see more and more of this—my father is still present. Even though he’s not able to speak as much as he used to, he’s still present, and I think that is a great encouragement to many people to know that Billy Graham is still with us,” said Franklin.
Some even speculate he might be holding on until Jesus comes back. Anne Graham Lotz, Billy’s daughter, said perhaps “the Gospel will be preached to the whole world” before her father passes. That would certainly be in line with the mission Billy Graham embarked uponas he extended the reach of his ministry with the help of media. His sermons were heard on radios and seen on television during the height of his influence. Several leaders in the Christian world can trace their spiritual journey awakening back to hearing the great evangelist preach either in person or through another medium.
To honor Billy Graham, here are ten of the best Billy Graham quotes with things he said:
“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion; it is like a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”
“My home is in Heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.”
“God never takes away something from your life without replacing it with something better.”
“The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.”
“It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”
“God has given us two hands—one to receive with and the other to give with. We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.”
“My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us, and will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us as we trust in Him.”
“We are the Bibles the world is reading; We are the creeds the world is needing; We are the sermons the world is heeding.”
“Christ not only died for all: He died for each.”
“I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.”
These are only our favorite Billy Graham quotes. Share others not listed here in the comments section.
The Jews celebrated their Passover Feast in remembrance of God’s deliverance from death during the time of Moses.
Origination of Passover
Moses had been instructed to lead God’s people out of Egypt and save them from the evil and ungodly Pharaoh. Because of Pharaoh’s disbelief in the power of the One True God, Yahweh sent a series of ten plagues upon the Egyptians: the Nile turned to blood and at various times the land was filled with frogs, gnats, flies, hail, locusts, and darkness. In one awesome act of God’s ultimate authority, He sent one final devastating plague: every firstborn of every household would be annihilated.
In His mercy towards His people, God would shield the Israelites from such unmerciful judgment if they would follow the instructions He gave to Moses and Aaron. The specific instructions are outlined in Exodus 12:1-11. In sum, each family was to take a lamb and all households were to slaughter their lambs at the same time at twilight after a certain number of days. Then they were commanded to paint the sides and top of their doorways with some of this blood. Once this was done and all the meat of the lamb was eaten in accordance with God’s instructions, God would spare the Israelites from death. This is what the Lord said:
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:12-14)
The Seder Meal
The highlight of a contemporary Jewish Pesach, or Passover, is the Seder.
The Seder meal consists of six highly symbolic elements: matzah, a roasted shank bone, parsley or green herbs, the top of a horseradish, charoset, and an egg. On each plate are three pieces of matzah (a special type of cracker or unleavened bread). Two of these pieces represent the traditional loaves used in the ancient Temple during festivals and the third piece symbolizes Passover. The roasted lamb bone connotes the sacrificial Passover lamb. Herbs symbolize springtime growth. The horseradish represents the bitter years of slavery in Egypt; charoset, a mixture of fruit and ground nuts soaked in wine, represents the mortar used in Egypt; and the egg represents the chagigah (a secondary sacrifice prepared along with the Passover lamb).
The Biblical Accounts
Accounts of what happened can be found in all four gospels — Matthew 26:17-27:10; Mark 14:12-72; Luke 22:1-65; John 13:1-18:27.
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Over the years, I’ve come across many Bible misconceptions. Some of these are due to rampant biblical illiteracy, and others to simple misunderstandings about how the Bible was copied and transmitted over the years. Many Bible misconceptions can be cleared up simply by learning how to interpret the Bible, but some require a more detailed response, especially from the church pulpit.
8 Bible Misconceptions Your Church Can Address
1. “You can’t trust the Bible because it’s been translated so many times.”
This misconception assumes that we don’t have an abundance of manuscript evidence in languages such as Greek and Hebrew supporting the Bible. As a result, it makes the added assumption that the Bible may have started out in some original ancient languages a long time ago, but has since been translated and retranslated over and over again into so many different languages that we can’t trust it anymore.
This is simply not true. We have access to literally thousands of manuscripts and fragments that are used in translating the Bible, not a long chain of degraded translations.
2. “The Bible is full of mistakes and contradictions.”
This misconception is usually just thrown out without any supporting evidence.
Always ask for a specific example when you encounter this misconception. But be prepared, because some people may have specifics or even several examples, and you’ll want to know how to respond.
In reality, though, to say the Bible is full of mistakes and contradictions usually stems from a lack of understanding of the principles of biblical interpretation. Many capable scholars have addressed questions about Bible difficulties.
3. “You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say.”
This only applies if one takes a relaxed view of Scripture, such as a relativistic attitude that rejects that the author had real intent and meaning.
I once heard a seminary professor say that the Golden Rule of interpretation is, “Seek to interpret a text just as you would like others to interpret your words, whether written or spoken.”
4. “The Bible says … ”
This misconception claims the Bible says something specific, when it really doesn’t.
As an example, some will state that the Bible says, “God helps those who helps themselves.” Sorry, that was Ben Franklin, not the Bible. Some will claim the Bible supports the abuse of women, that it encourages slavery or some other major allegation. There’s a long list of things people say the Bible supports when, in reality, it doesn’t.
5. “Power-hungry church councils decided what to include in the Bible.”
The idea is that at some point, usually much later than the time of the New Testament, church councils met and included whatever books and ideas in the Bible would best help consolidate their own power. This is simply false.
Church councils formalized and officially recognized writings that God’s people had already accepted and used as inspired Scripture for hundreds of years, in the case of the New Testament, and thousands of years in the case of the Old Testament. Some of these councils include the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 363); the Council of Hippo (A.D. 393); and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397). Church councils simply acknowledged the Scriptures that were already known and trusted by Christians everywhere.
6. “The New Testament was written hundreds of years after the time of Jesus.”
The implication of this misconception is that so much time passed between the writing of the Bible and the actual events it records that there’s no way it could be accurate. Supposedly, the gap between the reality and the writing allowed ample time for corruption, legends and even myths to develop.
In actuality, the time between the New Testament events and when they were recorded is very short, especially when compared with other ancient documents. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, for instance, within about 25 years of Jesus’ life. That’s not enough time for myth or legend to develop, because eye-witnesses were still living and would have objected to what Paul wrote and the church taught if it was historically inaccurate.
The earliest surviving manuscript fragment of the New Testament, from the Gospel of John, dates to about A.D. 130. That’s very close to when John actually wrote his Gospel, between A.D. 70–100. And although it’s still being verified, New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace reports that a fragment from Mark may very well be dated to the first century, making it an even earlier fragment than the one from John.
7. “The Bible is an old, outdated list of rules that no longer apply.”
While the Bible is old, it is definitely not outdated.
Not only is it filled with practical wisdom, but it lays out God’s plan of redemption for humanity. Its insights are timeless, relevant and useful in everyday life.
A quick reading of Proverbs, for example, will yield much wisdom and timeless advice.
8. “The Bible excluded other, more accurate, manuscripts.”
Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code popularized the idea that there were originally numerous competing “gospels,” and church leaders chose their favorites.
Supposedly, the four Gospels in the New Testament are biased, and in reality there were dozens or maybe even hundreds of other gospels to choose from. You’ll hear about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Barnabas, the Gospel of Philip or even the Gospel of Judas. Occasionally, these “other gospels” get a burst of media attention, as though they somehow seal the doom of the New Testament.
There are three lines of evidence that argue against the reliability of these other “gospels.”
First, the manuscript evidence for them is terrible, especially compared to the manuscript evidence for the New Testament Gospels.
Second, all of these other writings were written down much later than the New Testament.
Third, the ideas they present are often completely foreign to what the New Testament Gospels are about, sometimes offering up advice that is just plain bizarre.
In the case of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, it’s not even in the style of the New Testament Gospels, instead serving as a sort of collection of sayings. Some of the material is orthodox, while other parts are strange and outlandish. For example, in Saying 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, Peter supposedly says, “Women are not worthy of life.” Jesus responds not by clearing up Peter’s mistake, but by saying he, Jesus, will make the woman into a man so she can then enter the kingdom of heaven. That hardly sounds like the gospel we see throughout the rest of Scripture.
When it is rightly understood and wisely interpreted, we can be confident that the Bible is accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
The Bible is uniquely and solely God’s completely trustworthy revelation to us today.
Problems in marriage are inevitable. Even chronic. And so, at times, is unhappiness. There are three key ways to handle an unhappy marriage.
After studying 645 couples where one spouse rated their marriage as unhappy, a research study from a team of family scholars found that two-thirds of the couples who chose to stick it out together reported a significantly happier marriage five years later.
So what makes the difference if you choose not to divorce?
The marriages that got happier fell into three broad approaches: the marital work ethic, the marital endurance ethic and the personal happiness epic.
In the marital work ethic, spouses actively work to solve problems, change behavior or improve communication. When the problem is solved, the marriage gets happier. Strategies for improving marriages range from arranging dates or other ways to spend more time together, to enlisting the help and advice of relatives or in-laws, consulting clergy or secular counselors, or even threatening divorce and consulting divorce attorneys.
In the marital endurance ethic, by contrast, spouses don’t solve problems with concerted action on the part of either spouse. Stated another way, you don’t “work” on an unhappy marriage; instead, you endure it. “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other” because with the passage of time, things get better. Job situations improve, children get older or better, or chronic ongoing problems get put into new perspective.
Finally, in the personal happiness epic, marriage problems don’t seem to change that much. Instead, you find alternative ways to improve your own happiness and build a good and happy life despite a mediocre marriage. This often contains elements of both the marital work ethic and the marital endurance ethic approaches as well.
Marriage as a Shared Story
Creating a happy marriage depends on more than just your interactions with your spouse; it also depends on how you view marriage in general.
Marriage is not just the sum of the personal interactions that you find either satisfying or distressing. Marriage is a social status and a shared ideal—a story you have about your own life, your family, your spouse and your love.
The attitudes and values that people and societies have about marriage and divorce affect how satisfying people find being married. In communities where marriage is highly valued, husbands and wives get more from marriage than they would in a community where marriage is seen as a merely private matter.
People who are deeply committed to marriage as a lifelong vow have happier marriages not only because of what they do in their relationships, but because of what they think about being married in general. Read that sentence again.
Stated another way: The happiness you get from any role in life—being a parent, holding a job, being married—depends in part on how satisfying you find the day-to-day interactions and tasks. But it also depends on whether you see the role itself as important and valuable.
In general, we have many goals for our own marriages, and those of others: We want marriage to last, we want children to enjoy living with their own two married parents, we want these marriages to be happy, and we don’t want unhappily married people trapped in miserable lives.
Over the past 40 years, these goals have seemed to be in conflict: If we discourage divorce we create lasting marriages at the high cost of individual misery—almost certainly for adults and often for the children. We need to find ways how to handle conflict.
Based on the findings of this study, this conventional wisdom is untrue.
Does divorce typically make unhappily married people happier than staying married? No.
Does a firm commitment to staying married, even though unhappy, typically condemn adults to lifelong misery? No.
So, is divorce always wrong and staying married always right? The answer’s not so simple.
Both divorce and marriage initiate complex chains of events whose outcomes cannot be predicted with certainty at the outset.
But know this…marriages are not happy or unhappy—spouses are.
And with the passage of time, the feelings of people about their marriages can and do change.
A bad marriage and a good marriage is not always a fixed opposite, but the same marriage at two different points in time (or in the eyes of two different spouses).
Divorce may make an unhappy spouse happier, but there is no guarantee (and much doubt) that it will.
Marriage is no panacea, but neither is divorce.
To sum all this up: People and marriages are going to be happier in communities with a strong commitment to marital permanence. While some marriages are so destructive that divorce or separation maybe an outcome, marriages are more likely to be both happy and stable when marriage is highly valued.
Surround yourself with other married couples who value marriage as well.
Stick it out through the tough times.
And live life together with others.
It makes the ride so much more enjoyable along the way.
I am sure by now all of you, like me, are weary of hearing Black Lives Matter, and all the rhetoric associated with the phrase. It isn’t really being used as an introduction to a productive and honest conversation, or even as a true call to arms to change injustice. I am not, and I will emphasize that for commenters, am not wanting to discuss the worthiness of the cause and all the associated protests, and violence. We can leave that for other posts.
Because this has been at the forefront of our minds the last months, no matter which side of the issue you take, I have been giving a lot of thought to what makes life matter. You can throw out a phrase the media seizes or glorifies without really having any true understanding of it. That is inconsequential to the truth, and only the mentally lazy or immature accept it at face value.
For this thing we sum up as life, a big word indeed, what does give it meaning? What really matters? I’m sure since the beginning of human ability to discuss and record ideas no consensus has ever been found, but, at least in Western society as I know it, until recently, it appears to me that people, families, cultures, governments, philosophers, historians, educators and theologians shared some ideas.
What are they? Unique to each person, we can never speak authoritatively for all, and I do not seek to do that here. I would just, with your assistance, examine some of the more common motivations that I became familiar with through my childhood, born in the late fifties, and adult years, and feedback from friends, family, and ideas from my reading and studies.
It seems to me that every generation bore the burden of living up to unspoken standards, perhaps innocently as a toddler, and maybe even unwillingly as the child grew and became a teenager, in certain instances. No individual came away unswayed by those parental and societal expectations, not even the great and small rebels who defined their rebellion against those very expectations, be they bath and bedtime, curfew, length of hair or hemline, or denial of civil rights or religious freedom.
From earliest human history, people had to work to provide their safety, sustenance, and hope for another tomorrow. Only relatively recently in our existence have we had the luxury of leisure and reflection.
I know that life for my grandparents was all about work, survival, and that included surviving the Great Depression and all that entailed. Gardening especially, farming in Kansas during Dust Bowl years for my dad’s family. Re-using, repairing, making do, sacrificing for the whole family, and especially for the sick, the young, the old.
Throughout our American history, immigrants arrived on our shores with their own expectations and goals and desires. They brought into our melting pot cultural richness and beliefs that added to who and what we are, added by their work, sacrifice, hunger for success and life for the generations they gave birth to. But they also, upon arrival and integration into American life and society accepted the expectations of previous generations of Americans and determined to live up to those expectations, those standards, and stand alongside their American brethren to contribute not only daily bread to their hungry children, but to the building and protection and success of this great country that they gave everything for.
Immigrants did not leave their homes and families behind, almost everyone of them knowing they would never see father, mother, brothers and sisters again, to come to America and stand idle, to wait in a bread line, to huddle in hovels and listen to the powerful tell them how to live and what to think. They came with dreams yes, but equal measures of determination, grit, work ethic, and hope. They came to build, and build they damn well did.
When I was a child our parents, and every teacher I ever had, painted pictures in our daily lives, in our minds, by words and deeds, of those who came before and built. In kindergarten we learned the story of the Pilgrims and Indians and the struggle to establish a home in the wilderness. Later in school we celebrated Thanksgiving through plays and the fictional words of Patricia Mullins “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”
In very early years we knew how America was settled, we knew of the building of the Colonies, the great Revolutionary War, the establishing of the United States of America under our Constitution. Later we learned more, the fleshing out of the great statesman and their long days writing that Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and every single one of us had a picture of George Washington leading his troops across the Delaware River, but also leading his fledgling country as it began a legendary march into history and world power.
Subsequently we learned about American expansion across the Continent, we learned about the Louisiana Purchase, we learned about the rise of industrialism, slavery, the abolitionist movement, the compromises and Congressional battles prior to the firing on Fort Sumter. Here in the South most of us learned about Reconstruction from old family members and friends. We learned about the World Wars, especially WWII.
Because we knew about the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, we learned that people survive great pandemics and economic crashes. We knew about victory gardens, war shortages, rationing, and such obscure things as women painting a line down their legs to simulate stockings because they had none. Every family had an aunt or mother who learned to weld or rivet during the war.
We learned about heroes and heroines. We learned about heritage and pride. We learned patriotism. I was taught the states and their capitals by an old black man who worked for my father, along with a lot of other special things, both academic and practical, and I remember the dignity, confidence and pride this friend of mine had when he taught me, though he was impoverished and caught in alcoholism. This was a time when he was denied basic rights and privileges that I, unknowingly at that time, had merely by virtue of my birth.
I learned that he expected me to come to him after test day and report my good grades, measuring not only the knowledge he imparted to me, but my valuing of that teaching and time invested, and I learned that his expectations were very high. All this he did voluntarily, imparting knowledge he had gained to me just because that is what people did, across race, culture, societal and economic status.
Let’s narrow this in some, and individualize it. When I graduated high school, I went into the world expecting that there was some thing I had to contribute, some actions and work and effort that I should put forth, primarily for my own success, but also because I wanted, like every other graduate in my class, to make my mark, to measure up. But we all had an unspoken idea that we owed the world we lived in our best.
I graduated in 1976. We were caught up in a year long celebration of 200 years of American history, excellence, and potential. In that time, not only for us young adults, but also for the country, there was an air of pride and patriotism, and absolute belief that we had greatness ahead. As valedictorian, I still remember the closing line I wrote for my speech.
“We now have the key to our future. We must find the lock it opens.” At this point, I am told, my future father in law gave me applause. You better believe that ranks in my list of things that matter. He was one tough man, not given to praise.
Later when I married, we each had a firm idea of what we wanted and what we had to offer, as well as what it would take to make life happen for us. First and foremost, perhaps even more than love, that idea for both of us involved work. My husband knew absolutely what hard work was already, and he immediately and everlastingly (still going like the Energizer Bunny!) set out to make a future for us. I wanted more than anything to build a wonderful home for us, to learn to cook, especially his favorite biscuits and gravy, and to help work and provide security for the coming children.
We wanted to be able to provide our own home for our family, give them security, teach them about life, work, home, family, and yes, all those things I listed above, the richness of our American heritage and experience. We wanted to prepare them for an indifferent and often hostile world, to give them confidence, strength, determination, hope in the face of trials, and belief, both in themselves, and in our family.
If there was anything we took for granted back then, it was perhaps the freedom we had to practice our Christian faith, to have a church building, a parish family, priests and nuns and parish schools, and all the richness and splendor and fruits of living in a land where you can worship God and try to pass on your faith to your children, all without persecution or punishment. In those busy days, we gave little thought to not only the American history we knew insuring our right to worship, but the poor workers who make our beautiful old church building possible, the priest who is now a candidate for sainthood because he gave his life in a Yellow Fever epidemic, staying in town to care for the sick and dying.
We wanted to build a good life for each other, we wanted a great future for our family, our sons. We didn’t just have an idea in our heads for how life should be, not for ourselves, and not for our sons. We wanted to teach them all they needed to know to make the best of their lives, to be able to go out into the world and make a good life for themselves, yes, but more still. We wanted to teach them about adversity, strength, endurance, getting up when life knocks you down. We wanted to teach them to do things for themselves, and that they could do hard things.
We wanted to teach them the value of hard work, and my husband especially was determined that no son of his would be anything less than the hardest, toughest, longest enduring man standing when the chips fell. We wanted them to see the value of their contributions, to our family, and to our common experience as Americans.
Our sons knew what it was to work from a very young age, and just as my husband and his siblings had done, they contributed to our family’s well being. As teens they helped pay their school tuition, they always paid for their own gas and insurance, and even sometimes bought their own clothes, especially if they wanted nicer things than mom was willing to spring for. Yes, shout out to you, number two son.
They learned the cost of failure, of lack of effort, and of mistakes. They learned that actions have consequences, and they learned that their parents would not bail them out of troubles, large and small. They learned to make recompense when their actions cost others. Looking at you, number one son and the spray painting of the barn episode.
They learned that mindless destruction and irresponsibility had repercussions, number three son and the screwdriver episode, and that privileges were not to be taken for granted.
As a proud, very proud, mother and grandmother now, I can say they learned all those things well and taught us others. They are finer men than we dreamed of, and life will never mow them down. They are wonderful husbands, fathers, and each in his own wonderful and unique way adds value to our world. They are patriots all. They have brought very special and resolute women into our family, and we have eight wonderful grandchildren who represent the hope and the future of our family.
To help me gather thoughts for this post, and because I value their opinions most, we had a conversation this week about what makes life matter.
Every one of them ranked family at the top of the list. One daughter in law is in school, and that ranks high on the list of things that matter. Another daughter in law, established in her field, still seeks further personal purpose and feels the quest continues, a sentiment that I share, although she sure words it better. A sense of humor, so necessary in our family, which is perhaps why my daughter in law named it.
My youngest son just finished school a year ago, all while working and raising three kids. He wants a better life for his wife and family, but he also wants the things he does to make his family, especially his wife and kids, proud of him, as well as us, his parents. And by us, he mostly means dad, because that’s a healthy desire in a young man, just as my husband was satisfied that he was able to please his father and make him proud.
My middle son separates his motivations into professional and personal. Professionally he is driven to succeed not only for personal satisfaction ( I can say from experience he was driven from birth toward excellence) but also for the sake of building a team and doing his best for them and his company. Personally, he wants his kids to see and experience the limitless possibilities life offers, and to understand that sacrifices must be made to win those things. He wants them to be confident in the security and love of their family, as do all of the sons and daughters in law. He wants them to be aware that their lives and potential are tied to the sacrifices of generations of family before them.
My oldest son experienced personal loss this year in a big way, a huge and heartbreaking struggle this year has been for him, again, personally and professionally. As far as bad things happening, big and small, 2020 has been a year of hits for him. Through it all he has not only kept on going, he has made his kids a priority, kept a sense of humor, hope, faith, and made time to come home and help take care of me in my time of recuperation, and make things easier for his dad by doing whatever he can around the house.
I had a bad ankle injury a few months ago, and it is a long journey toward being able to walk again. Every single one of my sons and daughters in law have been there for me in ways large and small, from one son who had to make himself the contact during and after surgery, all of them who took me to and from doctor and hospital, cooked and cleaned and shopped and mowed grass. Perhaps most important, they just came when I needed company and encouragement most. Extended family brought meals and visited. Family matters.
And because this is what the post is most about, passing on what matters, I’ll brag on the grandchildren, from the oldest ones who even stayed with me a day or two to help when I was almost immobile, to the little ones who give me hugs and solemnly promised not to bump my leg, all of them have been there for me when it matters.
My husband has worked a full time job, been nurse, caretaker, coach (he’s brutal – no room for safe places in his thinking) and been the most uncomplaining companion in the world, when it was not easy to be any of those things, and when I was depressed and hurting and a big PITA. He epitomizes the for better or worse clause, and he is just absolutely as faithful and true and motivated in the worst as he is the better.
All these things matter. For us, they are the tip of the iceberg of love, family, tradition, hope, faith. They are the spoken representation of what can never truly be spoken. Together we stand, and we will not fall, and we will succeed in giving the eight kids entrusted to us to care for the best chances we possibly can to grow into adults who find their meaning and build their lives.
I submit to you that life must have deep and powerful, sacrificial meaning. One phrase can’t give life meaning. Signs can’t make life matter. Before it comes to showdowns with police, especially if they end in gunfire, life matters or it does not. From the time of conception, if this world is to matter, then life matters, and parents, family, society owe that child protection and care.
I will say what I said when Mike Brown died, and I saw his body on the street. I cried, I cried for a loss of what should have been as well as what was. He, through his own actions, lost the future chances to make his life about something that mattered.
When one young man or woman loses their life, we have all lost. But when a large, formidably, scary percentage of our youth are not given meaning and hope, values, responsibilities, family, and expectations, yes, expectations from parents and society, we all lose.
Until society understands the phrases Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, and all their other words designed to inflame, are incomplete without an ending, we have work to do. I think that our thinking should go further.
Life Matters Because…
A few notes in conclusion here. Most of you know me from family and religious posts. I have mostly kept my faith out of this. It is too huge a part of life to tag on here, and possibly deserves another post. You may of course address that in comments, but in order to stay on track with the ideas here, I did not include the most important thing in my life, but not out of neglect or failure to appreciate it.
This post is intended to encourage personal reflection (I could insert various scoffing adjectives from my sons here, as they reluctantly shared xxx feelings, as they so eloquently put it). I do not intend it to be a referendum on the various shootings, protests, and political arguments about them.
Be respectful, please.
Addition to original post.
In their review of this post, my sons placed emphasis on the value of humility. I’m sorry I forgot to include that, it’s very important to them. Indeed, it was a three way tie as to who is most humble.
“How can I discover God’s will for my life?” “How can I be sure of God’s guidance in my decisions?” “God, what do you want me to do?”
Practically all followers of Jesus have asked questions like these. Most of us ask them not so much on a daily basis, but at an important crossroads in our lives. But is that really the best view of discerning God’s will: something we do at the “crisis” points in life?
I believe Scripture points to a different view: discerning God’s will is a process, a way of life, centering not on some special, all-purpose technique or program, but on our relationship with God.
Maybe you’ve noticed the Bible has much to say about cultivating intimacy with God — drawing near to Him, walking in step with His Spirit, leaning on His understanding — but says little about methods of determining His will. Scripture also emphasizes who we are over what we do. This is not because our actions are unimportant, but because they’re an overflow from who we are (Luke 6:45; Matthew 23:27-28). If we concentrate on intimacy with Christ, our actions and decisions will naturally be shaped by that growing relationship.
Knowing God’s will centers on a relationship isn’t enough, though; we need to be clear about the nature of this relationship. In some earthly relationships, we simply want to be told what to do, or we want to get approval for our predetermined plans. A good analogy for discerning God’s will in a decision is that of a joint decision reached by a married couple who enjoy an intimate relationship of mutual concern, respect, and trust. In this case, both are involved in the decisions reached, and it is sometimes impossible to distinguish the part each played in the process. Similarly, the will of God is a divine/human process, not solely divine or solely human. Furthermore, His will is not an end so much as a means to the end of knowing Him better and becoming more like Christ.
God’s primary will has already been revealed to us in His Word: to form and forge a Christlike character in us (Romans 8:29). The more closely we’re walking with Him, the better we will align with His will on an ongoing basis.
A deliberate acknowledgment of the presence of God during decision-making moments will carry us far in making God’s will a way of life rather than something we seek during a crisis experience. The fabric of our lives is woven out of the threads of minor choices, so it is wise to form the habit of being conscious of God while making them. This habit of taking God seriously in small decisions will make major decisions less traumatic.
Practical Principles for Discerning God’s Direction
Even with a biblical model of discerning God’s will, we’ll still face some decisions about which we’re uncertain, or in which the path forward is not obvious. In these cases, some guidelines are helpful. Here are seven principles—listed generally in order of how significant a part they should play in our decision-making.
COMMUNICATION: What do the Scriptures say? (Psalm 119:105; Romans 12:2)
God will never lead us to do anything contrary to His Word. And we need to be as committed to the content of His Word as to obeying it (whatever it says).
CONSCIENCE: How does this decision affect my love for God and others? (Acts 24:16)
God has implanted within us an intuitive sense of right and wrong. As we grow in Him, our conscience becomes more sensitive, more attuned to his desires.
COMMON SENSE: Does this decision reflect good judgment? (Romans 12:3)
Outside the above framework, common sense may lead us astray; yet, those committed to God and willing to comply wherever He leads may still be uncertain about a decision. God gave us minds that we’re to use to evaluate consequences of actions (recognizing that He may occasionally lead us against “good judgment”).
CIRCUMSTANCES: How does my state of affairs relate to this decision? (Ephesians 1:11)
Never the only criterion, circumstances are easily misinterpreted; nevertheless, our current situations should be taken into account—for example, our finances, aptitudes, education, experience, family, spiritual gifts, and occupation.
COUNSEL: What do wise and godly friends say about this decision? (Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 15:22)
The perspective of mature and godly people can be instructive and corrective. Even the wisest people are finite and biased, though, and we ultimately bear the responsibility for our decisions.
COMPULSION: What are my own desires? (Romans 8:14; Philippians 2:13)
God works in believers to give us the desire to do the things that are pleasing to him. Though we can easily become victims of sinful desires and inclinations, a burden or desire can be God’s leading and should be considered in context with the counsel of His Word.
CONTENTMENT AND CONFIRMATION: Do I have a sense of peace and assurance about this decision? (2 Corinthians 2:12-13)
If an option passes the test of the other principles but fails to provide peace, the wisest course of action is to wait (if the decision can be deferred). The option may be right, but the timing may be wrong.
The defeat is not yet final, but Christ has dealt the decisive blow.
The contention of this series of articles is that the Bible is set in the land of wild things. That is, the Bible is more fantastical—beautiful, dangerous and strange—than we give it credit for. What we incorrectly call the natural and the supernatural, as if they are distinct and isolated realms, are actually part of a single, fascinating, and intertwined world. In the Bible, heaven and earth constantly interact and are alive with all kinds of creatures, forces, and powers—both seen and unseen.
What are these powers? What do they do in the world? How do they operate? How do they relate to God, to humans, and to the story of rescue and redemption the Bible tells? It’s past time we re-engage the Bible’s overlooked story of the powers.
* I am especially indebted to G.B. Caird’s small book Principalities and Powers for the main outline of this series (based on his Chancellor’s Lectures in 1954 at Queen’s University).
RECLAIMING THE WORLD
On the very first Sabbath day in the history of the world, God rested. In the ancient world, when a deity “rested” it meant they took up residence within their temple and began to rule:
“For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
‘This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.’”
— Psalm 132
But it wasn’t long before God had to start working again, for the fallen powers and principalities and even his own wayward image-bearers had immediately begun disrupting the life and flourishing of his cosmic temple.
God’s new work was to pursue re-creation—the restoration and renewal of all he’d intended from the beginning. But this labor proves to be harder and slower than the first time around, due to the recalcitrants now impeding his plans.
The world rulers of this darkness seeking only to steal, kill and destroy.
Divine image-bearers strangely refusing to image the divine.
So when the Father sends the Son into the world to redeem the world, the Son continues the divine striving. When Jesus is accused of healing a man (i.e., working) on the Sabbath he says, “Yes, of course I’m working on this day. I work every single day! And my Father is working too!” This is the creational endeavor of rebuilding and recovery. This is the storyline of the Bible: God working to undo the work of those seeking to undo his own good work in the creation.
The life and ministry of Jesus is the culmination of God’s great undertaking: to win back the world.
GOD AT WAR
Read a Gospel, any Gospel. What do you find? A great battle between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God.
We need to rethink what we’ve supposed the good news of Jesus to be all about. Again, as with so many elements of the biblical story, we’ve minimized and narrowed (he came to save me) what is big and comprehensive (he came to defeat sin and death and reclaim the creation—which includes me). Again and again in the stories about Jesus we find confrontation with evil and with evil ones. Jesus announces and is advancing a kingdom, a reign, a new authority.
Mark tells us that Jesus begins his entire ministry in the wilderness “with the wild animals” to be tested by the Accuser. Jesus immediately goes out to where the wild things are to face down the malicious spiritual forces that have been running the world. His initial victory here launches him into a public ministry in Israel that is both invitational and combative at the same time. His mission is a rescue operation, fighting spiritual oppressors and freeing slaves.
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The authority of Satan as the ruler of this age is seen in physical disease (“a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years”), in demon possession, in false teaching, in moral failure, and preeminently in the murder of Jesus on the cross (“this is your hour, and the dominion of darkness”). Jesus exorcises and teaches and heals to overpower the Strong Man, with the goal of releasing and restoring those people who’ve been suffering under the Dark Lord.
This battle the Messiah is fighting is not the battle Israel was expecting. The reorientation is hard to understand, even for the Twelve:
Who is this that commands unclean spirits? Who is this that can calm the wild, uncontrollable seas of chaos? Who is this that can heal and restore with a touch, or even a word? Who is this that is overpowering the powers?
Just as Palestine was a territory controlled by a Roman legion, so Jesus takes on the Legion of spiritual powers and authorities destroying the people of God. He is the Son of Man—that is, the truly human one come to reclaim the human vocation of image-bearing and ruling. Yes, it is the reign of God that he brings, but God has always wanted to rule in and through his designated agents. It is the seed of the woman that will crush the serpent (Gen. 3). It is the Son of Man that will put all things in subjection under his feet (Ps. 8; Dan. 7).
So Jesus teaches his disciples to pray a battle prayer, demanding that God bring victory in this contest. (Boldly, the verbs here are all imperatives, i.e., telling God what to do.) It is time for God to make his name known throughout the world, for God’s rule to extend to the earth. This prayer is about a new day coming and the bread of a New Exodus being given. Debtors must be released and the power of sin must be broken. It is an urgent appeal for God to protect his people from the Evil One and save them from the time of trial.
This clash comes to its climax when Jesus enters Jerusalem on a wild, unbroken colt, demonstrating that he really is king of the city and ruler over the powers. Jesus directly confronts the false and corrupt rulers of his people, both Jewish and Roman.
But then ha Satan enters one of the Twelve and drives him to betrayal. The powers intend the worst for Jesus, this disruptive human one that has been pushing them back and reclaiming creation for the Creator.
They know he is the Holy One of God, as we hear them shriek when he casts them out. But they also know he is vulnerable, flesh, able to die.
So the powers do what they know, do what they’ve always done. They steal, kill and destroy once more.
THE SECRET WISDOM OF GOD IN CHRIST
The Gospels narrate the story. The letters of the apostles clarify the implications. Paul explains to us what has happened:
“We do, however, speak wisdom among the mature. But this isn’t a wisdom of this present world, or of the rulers of this present world—those same rulers who are being done away with. No: we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery. This is the wisdom God prepared ahead of time, before the world began, for our glory.
“None of the rulers of this present age knew about this wisdom. If they had, you see, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory.” — 1 Corinthians 2
The powers were blinded by their own lust for control, their thirst for destruction. They didn’t understand God’s deeper wisdom in Christ. Working through their human allies, they thought they could simply eliminate the Stronger One who had come into the world.
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Though they couldn’t see it coming, the tables were being turned. What they thought was their moment of greatest triumph was precisely their moment of utter defeat.
The weakness of God in Christ was more powerful than the strength of the powers.
The paradox of God’s work in Christ—losing to win, dying to live—was incomprehensible to those obsessed with their own lust for dominance and carnage.
New Testament scholar G.B. Caird* identifies the specific threefold victory of the Messiah over the world rulers of the darkness:
1. The powers had a hold over the human race because of their successful accusations of our own pervasive wrongdoing. But Christ decisively dealt with the charges against us:
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” — Colossians 2
2. The powers operate at a high level of organization. Their pernicious effects are nested into the structures of society: institutions, economic systems and governments. They are intertwined with the essential frameworks of a fallen cosmos. Defeating them requires giving humans a new option for corporate identification and action. This is what Christ and the renewed family of God provide. The Messiah is a new or second Adam, affording humanity a new basis for unity and taking away a crucial tool of the powers.
3. Finally, Jesus destroys the deceptions and falsehoods at the heart of the kingdom of corruption. Paul writes that the god of this age has blinded the minds of all those who worship what is not God. This spiritual veil compels people to give their allegiance to imposters. Jesus has shown us the truth about the world and about who God is. The light of revelation that Christ brings evaporates the lies that empower so much of the success of the false rulers.
This definitive victory of Israel’s Messiah and world’s true Lord on the cross was confirmed and demonstrated by his powerful resurrection and ascension. Jesus came and did God’s work. He came and fought God’s fight. Therefore his death was reversed, his claim to be king was vindicated, and he was raised up to his rightful position over all things.
The powers have met their match. Their defeat is not yet final, but the decisive blow has been dealt.
The secret wisdom of God in Christ is the dawning of a new day for the world. People are being liberated. The creation itself will soon be set free.
So our final question must turn back to us. What do we do now? How do we take up our own roles in the ongoing defeat of the world rulers of this darkness?