More than Enough

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Photo by Yujia Tang on Unsplash

There’s a story that Captain Cook met aborigine people when he came to Australia and asked what that odd, large grey jumping animal was. He’d never seen anything like it. The story goes that they replied—”kangaroo.” The translator on board ship told them this meant “I don’t know,” and a legend was born. Generations of people have been told that “kangaroo” means “I don’t know.”

This is not, in fact true. But it’s a fun story, and we use it at our house whenever we want to mess with one another, which is fairly often.

There’s a similar Bible story that, unlike this one, is true.

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Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

What is It?

God and Moses lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and toward the promised land. The process is slow. The story itself is fascinating—far more interesting and nuanced than I have been led to believe by Bible teaching I’ve heard—and it will be a blog post for another day. (Meantime, there’s a five-minute conversation on it here.)

When the people complain that Moses is leading them into starvation and they will all die there in the terrible wilds (the Israelites knew how to do drama), God does something amazing.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

The next morning the area around the camp was wet with dew. When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. And Moses told them, “It is the food the Lord has given you to eat. These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs.

So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Each family had just what it needed.

Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them.

After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much as usual—four quarts for each person instead of two.

(On the Sabbath) They put some aside until morning, just as Moses had commanded. And in the morning the leftover food was wholesome and good, without maggots or odor. 

The Israelites called the food manna. It was white like coriander seed, and it tasted like honey wafers. Exodus 16.4-31

They called it manna—roughly translated—“What is it?”

The thing we need to see right now is something God makes sure we see several times.

Enough Is Enough

Each family had exactly enough.

When they tried to gather more than they needed, it got stinky. When they didn’t believe God would give them all they needed, they chose to gather more, to hoard the manna for themselves, and the results were a mess.

Not only are flies and mold gross, but they could spread disease in the camp. Taking more than one needed was dangerous for everyone.

Look at how beautifully God exceeded their expectations—

  • Food “rained down”
  • There was enough“bread to satisfy,” not just enough
  • He gave “all the bread you want”
  • He “blanketed” the ground with food

These aren’t words of scarcity. They’re words of abundant, gracious, abandoned love that gives for the fun of it, more than we actually need. Yet, I know I distrust, too.

I know I hoard things, Maybe not bread, but certainly other things. Knowledge. Career goals. Time. Plans. As a certified enneagram 5, I believe in my soul that there will never be enough for me to do and try and know all that I want. So I, too, gather more and more, unaware or unbelieving that God has rained goodness down on me, and all I need is to take what I need.

Taking too much leads to an inability to filter, sort, and make use of it all anyway. I feel paralyzed by the choices and can’t see a clear path forward. The things I want get moldy, old, tired, and icky.

This feels particularly relevant at a time when we can’t even find toilet paper on our grocery shelves because some people were certain they wouldn’t have enough if they didn’t take all they could pick up.

Fear and Distrust

What drove the Israelites to gather more than they were told? To not trust God when he said he had enough for all?

Fear. Fear from their days as slaves. Fear that “enough” had never been true and never would be true, unless they looked out for themselves. Fear that couldn’t believe the God who created them and parted the Red Sea but somehow could trust in their own ability to stock the shelves with all the things they didn’t really need in the moment but wanted to make sure no one else had more of.

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God sent enough manna for everyone to have what they needed-but some believed they had to have more than they needed, and thus, other had to have less.

God wanted to establish a community of his people who would care more for the community than for themselves. If not, he knew they wouldn’t make it in the difficult challenge of settling the promised land. If they did create a community where each looked out for the other, nothing could stop them.

God Created Community on/for Purpose

That old Garden mandate—forge relationships, be your brother and sister’s keeper—comes back again. It’s almost as if God really meant that.

It’s what God has wanted from the beginning. A people who look at the needs of others as everyone’s needs.

This season of pandemic is proving what happens when fear talks louder than the Word of God. We hoard. We take from others. We choose ourselves and our rights over the vulnerable. Unfortunately, we see people who bear the name of Jesus doing these very things.

We’re all human. We all bear the marks of trauma, especially in this time of rampant fear. God knows that. Yet God offers to rain down on us what we need. Not more than that—but why should we want more than that?

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Take what we need. Leave the extra for another. Give up rights for the sake of a sister in need of protection. These are the building blocks of God’s kingdom people. We might be a people who fear at times—but we are not a people ruled by fear. We are a people beloved by a generous God. And it is enough.

Trusting the Driver

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Photo by William Bout on Unsplash

I’d just successfully navigated spaghetti junction on I35 through Minneapolis and pointed the minivan north. Heavy snow blew on the roadside, two feet deep. The highway, however, had been plowed well from the previous night’s storm, so I cruised home from church doing 60mph, still slow in the right lane compared to everyone else, with our two little babies in the backseat, one fast asleep.

We cruised until, without warning, the right lane wasn’t plowed. Our Caravan hit the hard snow full speed and began a terrifying, uncontrollable dance. We careened across all five lanes of the road, seesawing back and forth from right to left shoulder a half dozen times. Each time we veered toward the ditch I was certain the van was going to hit it and roll. Then we shot back onto the road, and I had equal certainty we would be hit by three or four other cars. It was I35 in the city, and it was always busy.

I remember hearing myself shriek “Jesus” over and over. It wasn’t a cuss—it was a prayer from that place of panic where you know no one else can help you. It was a plea to save my babies.

Eventually, the car stopped on the right shoulder, pointing a 180 degree turn from the direction I had been driving. I looked up, and a wall of cars drove toward me—cars that had not been there when we’d been sashaying across the lanes. I sat, shaking, muttering “Thank you, Jesus,” unable to move.

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Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

Then I heard a call from the back seat. “Mommy?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“Can we do that again?”

I looked back. The baby still slept, oblivious to her near miss with disaster. Becca, two, looked at me from her car seat with her crooked grin. “That was fun! Can we do it again?”

It Means No Worries

I’ve pondered her reaction so many times since, when the road I’ve been on seemed slippery or dangerous, if not physically, at least emotionally.

Not for one moment did Becca feel frightened or even concerned. She went along for the ride, letting it take her wherever it would. She never thought her mama wouldn’t do what her mama had always done—get her home safely. The roller coaster ride was just a perq.

She didn’t worry because she trusted the driver completely.

I wish I had the faith in my Father that my child had in her mama.

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Photo by David Charles Schuett on Unsplash

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’” (Romans 8:15, The Message)

Resurrection Life

Or perhaps it greets God with a childlike, “Can we do that again?” This resurrection life recognizes that the forecast for our days can dump serious snow and ice. Yet our resurrection response remains expectant—“What do you have for me next? Where are we going from here?” We do this even on the days when we fear what might, in fact, be next.

“Fear not” is the most common command in the Bible, but fear is also perhaps the most common human emotion. It began in the Garden when we ran from our Maker. It wraps us in its unyielding cords when we dare to hope for change. It drives much of our individual relationships and our national conversation, too.

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I don’t know why it feels sometimes like my life hits hard-packed snow, or hydroplanes out of control, or (yes) rolls over a skunk that makes everything stink all the way home. I do know that when those things terrify me, it means I’ve grabbed the wheel and accepted the illusion that I’m driving the car, I’m in control, and it all depends on me.

The strange thing is, while control makes us feel like we should be less afraid, it really makes us more so. We know that if we’re in control, the only option is to grip the wheel harder and power through. We naturally grasps for more control when it starts to slip and fear begins to whisper in our ear.

Yet we’re more afraid when we think we’re in control because we know—if it all depends on us, we’re sunk! Grabbing for more isn’t the answer. Giving over control is the only way we can embrace the peace that it is not all up to us. In a paradox only Jesus could initiate, giving over control gives us peace while grabbing the wheel offers nothing but more fear.

What if I chose the expectation that God knew what he was doing and I could, if not enjoy the ride, at least buckle up in trust that he would bring it to a stop at the right place and the right time?

  • When anxiety hits over hurtful relatives: “I can’t control a thing they say or do. God, please control the things I say and do as a result. I expect you will guard  my heart from any darts aimed at it.”
  • When a child leaves home, for an evening, a week, or a lifetime: “God, I can’t control what happens to her today. Please control my imagination over it. I expect your love that is greater than mine to cover her.”
  • When money doesn’t look like it will last until the next paycheck: “God, I can’t control taxes or wages. Please control my dissatisfaction. I expect you will carry me through as you always have.”

A lot has happened in my life that I know I will never ask God, “Can we do it again?” about. Yet the good he has created out of those circumstances also compels me to say—“What’s next, Papa? I’m buckled in.”

This post originally appeared at The Glorious Table.

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Mother’s Day

He was the first black teacher I had ever had–the first the seminary had ever hired. In his class, we read about various groups of people often misunderstood– and tried to formulate a Christian response to their experiences.

The Black Experience?

I read first all the material on the black experience. I didn’t get it. Anger jumped off the pages, and I couldn’t understand why. What made these people so angry? Why couldn’t they address their own issues? Why could they not address them in a kind, thoughtful, appropriate way?

The way I would address them. The way a white, middle class, mother of two felt things should be done.

The Experience of Women

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Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Then we began the section on women. I read of abuse, rape, assault, and oppression. Lack of job opportunities and lack of respect. And I got angry, Real, real angry. I knew sexual abuse. I knew cat calling and male “ownership,” demeaning social expectations, and even Christian pressure to shove myself into a mold I didn’t fit. I knew all this personally, not statistically.

I knew the fear of going out too early or staying out too late simply because of my gender. I knew the worry about looking in my back seat and carrying my keys to hurt an assailant. I knew about women who were blamed for their own assault because of what they were wearing–I knew some of them personally. I knew these things, and I knew men did not have any idea of them.

I did not feel kind or thoughtful about it all. I felt angry. Angry that I had to live with the background noise of fear because I was born a woman, and no other reason.

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And then, as God does, He lit the 500 watt lightbulb above my head that I had completely missed. Was this the way those black men and women felt? That was my first moment of grasping the tiniest bit of what my sisters and brothers of color feel. I will never forget it.

I have not watched the video. You know the one I mean. The one where a black man, on a jog, is murdered by vigilante men who still believe, apparently, that they live in the wild west and they are required to enforce laws themselves, with shotguns, or we will all devolve into some lawless dystopia.

Side Note: We live in one of the safest countries in the world. We have precious little need to be the good guy with the gun. Statistically speaking, the odds of a robbery in your home are approximately twice as likely as getting struck by lightning in your lifetime. “So proportionally speaking, you should prepare for a home invasion twice as much as you prepare for being hit by lightning.” 

Further, more than half of all armed robberies are drug related. So, steer clear of doing or dealing drugs, and your lifetime need for concern is miniscule. Good news, right?

But Ahmaud Arbery wasn’t breaking into anyone’s home. He was running. He was guilty of running while black. And that earned him the death penalty.

Happy Mother’s Day

Today, as I write this, his mama is having to live through Mother’s Day without her child. This is not a thing we would ever, ever wish on anyone. Yet this is both the common nightmare and experience of black mamas around our country.

I know some of them. I also know a number of white mamas with black sons. They know this fear in ways that we can never know. Ways that I can understand, because I’m the mother of three daughters. I have taught them from an early age that this world is not safe for them, either. It makes me angry that I have to do so. No one has ever had to explain to a white son that this world is not made for or safe for them. So I do understand these mamas fear and anger.

No one has ever had to explain to a straight, white son that this world is not made for or safe for them.

The deep need for a certain segment of men in this country to play vigilante self-appointed sheriff, living out their fantasy of chasing down the bad guys and making the collar, a mixture of all the John Wayne and Die Hard movies and cop shows they’ve digested, collides with something even more insidious to create the state we find ourselves in.

The belief, still, among some of those men that black bodies are theirs to do with what they like. The need to fly giant confederate flags is a symptom of this deeply embedded national sickness—some white men believe they should still have the right to be the masters over black men. They have not let this go. This is uncomfortable truth.

White Women–Listen Up, Please

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Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

White women, I’m going to talk to you. You are a large portion of my audience. And you are powerful. Demographically, you are said to be one of the most potentially strong groups to swing elections. Here is what I need to say to you.

  • It should not be deadly to run.
  • It should not be deadly to sit in your living room.
  • It should not be deadly to drive down a residential street.
  • It should not be deadly to fit any description that only includes “black.”
  • Existing while black is not a crime. It does not deserve death.
  • No mama should have celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday without her child because he was born black and that got him killed. None.
  • We can change this.
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Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

 

White women:

  • We cannot continue to vote for candidates who mouth the words “pro life” yet remain unconcerned about the death, demeaning, and destruction of people of color.
  • We cannot continue to rationalize and excuse and say “but not all” anyone. We need to see the truth that some, not all, need desperately to be talked about and dealt with.
  • We cannot continue to be silent. We cannot continue to not know. We cannot continue to offer thoughts and prayers alone.We have to show up.

Go deep into your experience and tell me you don’t know what it’s like to fear simply because of your genetics, and then look at your black and Latinx brothers and sisters. Look, and listen. We are more alike than you believe.

It is the opposite of pro life to accept them as collateral damage in order to gain some semblance of “rights” we think we need. This will not end in gaining our rights but in losing our integrity and our humanity. What does it mean to gain the world and lose your soul, women? This is that intersection.

This will not end in gaining our rights but in losing our integrity and our humanity.

Here are some resources I’m learning from. Please offer some you know of. We can lean in, learn, and act together.

I’m Still Here: Austin Channing Brown

Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson

White Fragility: Robin Diangelo

Does God Send Judgment?

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I’ve started a new thing over on my author Facebook page, and maybe you’ve seen it. It’s called Theology Thursdays, and in it, I’m taking tricky theology questions and talking about them for five minutes (or less). Usually less. As I said this morning, I won’t always have answers, but I’ll always have an opinion.

Today, I’m sharing one of those here, in written form, but if you want to see the videos, check out my Facebook page, and be there on Thursdays at 11am!

So this morning, this question, not surprisingly, ended up being asked:

Is COVID19 a judgment from God?

Yes, some people are saying this thing. OK, so they’re probably the same people who’ve said that lots of things were judgments from God, like AIDS, earthquakes, tsunamis, Pierce Brosnan and Russell Crowe’s singing voices . . .

I’m not, as you know, into conspiracy theories, nor do I like to speak for God and decide when he is or isn’t raining down judgment on people. Particularly since those people who do enjoy doing so always manage to decide judgment is coming down on those with whom they disagree or find fault.

So there’s that.

But let’s look at this seriously, because it is serious, and it is worldwide, so that’s God’s territory.

Problems with the Logic Thing

A couple problems emerge with the idea that COID19 is a judgment from God. One, look at who is hardest hit by this virus. Statistics are telling us that some folks are getting sick and dying in numbers disproportionate to their percent of the population—and who are these people? The poor, urban African Americans, the elderly, the already sick.

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Photo by Astemir Almov on Unsplash

Those getting sicker faster are the ones who can’t stay home because they’re working in service industries and getting paid minimum wage to serve you and me or to clean our hospitals and grocery stores. They’re the ones who have to ride crowded public transit and live in crowded apartment buildings. The ones who have zero say in who comes home from work potentially infected.

To say, then, that this is a judgment from God is to devalue those people. It’s to say that God is somehow against or angry at our most vulnerable humans, and that is unequivocally, absolutely wrong.

In fact, God has special concern for the poor and the oppressed—the Bible says so many, many times. (Deuteronomy 10.18, for instance.) So calling this God’s judgment is not only a dumb thing to say, it’s damaging and dangerous for the most vulnerable people in our society, and it’s an insult to God. It’s actu\ally using his name in vain.

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Photo by Corey Agopian on Unsplash

When God commands that we not use his name in vain, he doesn’t mean no swearing. What the words in Exodus mean is that his people are not to ascribe to God things that are not at all in his character. Don’t claim that God is in or behind something that clearly defies his holy lovingkindness. If we do, we’re taking God’s name in vain. For real.

Saying this is to defy those two things Jesus made a pretty big deal of: love your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

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The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. (Hebrews 1.3) Photo by Virgil Cayasa on unsplash.com

Here’s the deal—God says in 1 John he is love. He says in virtually all the prophets he cares for the vulnerable. Jesus goes around healing, not striking down people, and Jesus is the exact copy of God the Father, according to Hebrews. Here’s a good rule of thumb—if you can’t imagine Jesus doing it, based on what you see of his actions and words, then God he Father wouldn’t do it, either.

So no, COVID19 is not a judgment from God. I can’t speak for God on whether he ever does the judgment from heaven thing. I’m not God—I don’t get a yeah or nay vote on what he can or can’t do. If he chooses, he certainly can. I’m just saying that this isn’t what it looks like if he does.

This is also not to say he cannot and will not work good things from it.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8.28

He can, he will, and he does promise that for those who love him, he is going to work good from even the hardest things. So maybe let’s concentrate on loving him, not figuring out whom he might be judging. That, as maybe we’ll talk about another time, is a dangerous game anyway.

If you have a question you’d like to see, comment below or on my facebook page. Thanks! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Resurrection: It’s Going to Stink

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I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NLT)

In this month of resurrection celebration, I often return to the beautiful story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and Jesus’ love for them, especially in the sisters’ time of devastating loss.

I wonder at times-if he asked me, “I am resurrection and life. Do you believe this?” What would I  say on the average day? How about today? I think we often agree that Jesus can resurrect our pain and grief. We know he can bring life from death. We’ve seen it. But we falter when it comes to letting him bring out what we’ve buried.

To read the rest of this Easter devotional, click here for The Glorious Table blog.

Missing the Blessing

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“Jesus leads the way to a new vocation. Instead of the frantic pressure to defend the identity of people, land, and the temple, Jesus followers are, to the renewal of hearts and lives, to recover the initial vision of being a royal priesthood for the whole world, which is the Messiah’s inheritance and now will become theirs as well.”       NT Wright

That initial vision is what we’ve been talking about so far–from creation up until now. The “new vocation” is really an old vocation, as old as the garden of Eden. It really comes down to one word, that vocation. God called it going out and working the earth, creating community and beauty throughout the new world.

But basically, it’s one word. BLESS.

And I do not mean that the way a good Southern woman means it

Make me a BLESSING

 

The vision comes in the beginning, and it comes again clearer in God’s plan to create a people of his own when he speaks to Abraham. Because, by this time, humans needed it clearer. They had already lost touch with what God said in the garden and required a little Creation 101. So God speaks clearly:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12.1-3 

Abraham’s call—his work and meaningful purpose in life (remember that fundamental blessing of Genesis 1?) is to bless the nations.

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Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash

The Nations Are Right Here, Abram

Yet when given the chance, he fails. repeatedly, before he succeeds. Nowhere more clearly than in the story of Hagar, one of my favorites. Hagar is a slave, a foreigner, and a woman. Talk about a triple whammy. She “belongs” to Abraham, more specifically to his wife. In some transaction, they took her with them when they left Egypt. Given those circumstances, he has a perfect opportunity to bless her—and thus fulfill his call.

Spoiler: He doesn’t.

Spoilers

Instead, when his wife Sarah says, “Hey, here’s my slave Hagar. Sleep with her so I can have a child through her,” he does.

I think we can assume consent was not part of the deal.

Hagar had no agency. No ability to choose. The power differential was completely on his side, and it was his call to choose blessing or harm. Abraham chose harm.

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Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Later, when Sarah again complains, this time that a pregnant Hagar is triumphing over her mistress, Abraham again has the choice to bless or to harm. He could choose to protect this woman and her son, to treat them as family, to apologize, to tell his wife that her jealousy has reached unhealthy epic proportions and she needs counseling, stat.

Spoiler: He doesn’t.

He allows her, the mother of his son, to be treated so terribly that she runs into the desert, preferring its certain death to her current situation.

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God’s Magic Is the Best

And that is when the magic happens. God’s magic, that is.

‘The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (No, this is not the appropriate time to break into “Cotton Eyed Joe!)

“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. . . .

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). (Genesis16)

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Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash

God meets Hagar on the road. He sees her. She sees him. She, the foreign slave who one would suppose doesn’t even know Abraham’s God, is so overwhelmed by this that she worships and calls God by a new name. El roi. The God who sees.

Hagar—the foreign female slave—is the first person in Scripture to give God a name. Sit with that for a while.

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The God Who Sees

And what a name. She recognizes God as personal, invested, caring and compassionate toward her. Not simply in general but toward her, personally. She never expected that. She comprehends what it means. She does the only reasonable thing—bows in worship, speaks the truth, and allows that personal love toward her to strengthen her as she returns to whatever will come.

In the desert, Hagar is blessed beyond belief by feeling and knowing herself seen.

But notice who does the blessing and who does not.

God comes to her and blesses her.

Abraham, the one whose job it is to bless, does not.

As a result, he also doesn’t take part in God’s great action toward Hagar here in her desert struggle. Abraham never experiences this great blessing that God gives to his slave.

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Fear is counterproductive to blessing others.

Abraham has been so busy being afraid. He fears his wife and his neighbors. He fears rocking the boat of his marriage so much that he allows his own in utero son to be sent out to die. He is so afraid of disturbing the peace that he loses his peace.

Hagar finds it.

The one he refused to bless finds his blessing.

Isn’t God funny?

It makes me wonder about myself.

Wonderings

It makes me wonder about myself.

How often do I fail to bless others, and that backfires on me?

How many times is the person I failed to bless still seen by God, but I miss the whole thing?

Why would I ever risk missing such a great wonder of God?

It makes me wonder about our society.

It makes me wonder if God will bless those we refuse to bless, as a nation. If the foreigner, the abused women, the enslaved or encaged around us will see God while we stare uneasily at our clumsily manufactured peace and wonder why he seems distant.

It makes me wonder if we as a society are missing the very great blessing we could receive if we chose to fulfill our job to bless the nations. It makes me wonder if being great really means that greatness should give out the most blessings the most freely.

Hagar would say so. She knows what it is to be seen.

The Freedom of Blessing

While we wallow in fear, fear of the other, fear of the unknown, and now fear of everything (we truly all finally have pantophobia, Charlie Brown!), I wonder if it’s a mud pit of our own creation.

I wonder if we could be free of it if we chose the simple act of blessing.

As we allow this season of remembering sacrifice to envelop us, be flooded with the meaning of the body and the blood. See it before you, and remember.

  • Remember the slavery—Hagar’s. Yours.
  • Remember the unquenchable image of God. Hagar’s. Yours.
  • Remember the new and abundant life his death purchased. Hagar’s. Yours. Your neighbor’s. The foreigner’s. Everyone’s.

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It makes me wonder if God will bless those we refuse to bless, as a nation. If the foreigner, the abused women, the enslaved or encaged around us will see God while we stare uneasily at our clumsily manufactured peace and wonder why he seems distant.

It makes me wonder if we as a society are missing the very great blessing we could receive if we chose to fulfill our job to bless the nations. It makes me wonder if being great really means being the one to bless the most.

Hagar would say so. She knows what it is to be seen.

The Freedom of Blessing

While we wallow in fear, fear of the other, fear of the unknown, and now fear of everything (we truly all finally have pantophobia, Charlie Brown!), I wonder if it’s a mud pit of our own creation.

I wonder if we could be free of it if we chose the simple act of blessing.

As we allow this season of remembering sacrifice to envelop us, be flooded with the meaning of the body and the blood. See it before you, and remember.

  • Remember the slavery—Hagar’s. Yours.
  • Remember the unquenchable image of God. Hagar’s. Yours.
  • Remember the new and abundant life his death purchased. Hagar’s. Yours. Your neighbor’s. The foreigner’s. Everyone’s.

“The Good News of the kingdom of God directly counters the Empire mentality by saying two important truths: 1. Every human has intrinsic value imprinted by God; 2. There is enough. The Eucharist shows us there is overflow at the banqueting table while simultaneously reminding us that the intrinsic value of human beings is worth dying for.”– Gena Thomas

Bless. Receive the blessing. And do not allow fear to rob you of it.

The Mark of Cain

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It’s the end of February, which to me means spring is imminent. OK, I know it isn’t. This is Chicago, after all. I know, in a way no one south of Highway 70 can possibly know, that spring is never imminent and always capricious.

But I’m a gardener, so waiting and hope intermingle here.

Gardening and theology go together like Frodo and Sam, and some of my best theological moments have happened out there amid the snap peas and sunflowers.

We’ve been talking about the Garden and its theology, and how it still matters in our lives today. No story proves that better than the one we’ll explore today.

But first—Recap time:

God gave blessings/commissions in the garden—two important ones that explain and define us in ways we probably don’t realize.

  • The first blessing/commission God gave in the Garden—Live in relationships. It’s not good to be alone. Care for one another. Be responsible for one another. Create community on this earth I’ve made for you.
  • The second blessing/commission God gave in the Garden—work, have purpose, live in partnership of doing good and spreading good on this earth I’ve made for you.

Then, of course, it goes all so wrong. Within one generation, we see the setup for generations to come, including our own. We see it in five angry, dismissive words that haunt us to this day.

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Photo by Mike Castro Demaria on Unsplash

“Am I my brother’s guardian?”

We know those words. They come from Cain, the first son of Eden. Here’s the story:

Genesis 4.2-16 When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear! You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer.

You had one job

We don’t know why Cain’s offering fell short. We have no evidence, so any speculation is just that. All we know is that it did, and that God in his kindness gave him a chance to make it right. A chance to choose blessing rather than consequences.

He does not make the right choice.

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Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

Cain kills his brother, and like his father before him, when questioned by God, he deflects. What? I didn’t do anything. Wasn’t my fault, whatever you think happened.

How am I responsible for that other person you put on this planet?

Cain violates the first blessing/commission we are ever given. He denies his blessing of relationship. He refuses to be accountable for the community he’s been given. As a result, he loses all his relationships. He is driven from the land and forced to wander as a landless, rootless nomad. He has no community, when such a rich one had been his to keep.

But he chose to turn away.

What’s a guardian?

The word for guardian, shawmar, means to keep, to guard, to protect, even to save life. It’s a  term of responsibility—the same one God gave Cain’s parents earlier—

Genesis 2.15—The Lord God placed humans in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.

So in answer to your question, Cain, Why yes, it is your one job to guard your brother. To protect and care for, to nurture life. It’s literally the first thing you had to do.

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He loses family as a result.

About that second blessing . . .

The second blessing, meaningful work, take a huge hit as well. It’s difficult to farm the land when you’re going to roam it constantly. It’s a challenge to produce enough to feed yourself especially when, “No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work!”

Work will be too impossible to even hope for meaningful. The scarcity mindset Cain already had—there isn’t enough of God’s blessing to go around—my brother is getting more than I get!—will worsen.

Hasn’t it?

Maybe the actual mark of Cain was a symbol on his forehead, but I think the real mark of Cain can be found in all of us when we’re certain we need to compete with our brother rather than care for him.

The real mark f Cain is in all of us when we're certain we have to compete with our sisters and brothers rather than care for them.

Mommy wars.

  • At least I work/stay at home. I breast feed. I use organic. I co-sleep. I babywear. (Is that a word?) I won’t put my child in a nursery/will have my child to church from day one.*

Where does it end? This is not a competition. But it is. Because Cain taught us all that there’s only so much “good on you” to go around, and we must have our share. “Our share” is always more than hers/his.

No, we don’t. There is enough to go around. There’s more when we decide to be our sister’s guardian rather than her competition.

Popularity wars.

You know it never ended. It’s just escalated to Instagram rather than 7th grade locker notes.

  • Her kids are dressed better than mine.
  • Her vacation is more exciting than mine.
  • Her house is definitely cleaner than mine.
  • Her Bible study habits are even better than mine.

Cain taught us all that someone has to be better—there isn’t any room for both their life and mine to be satisfying.

According to research, girls from a young age already isolate other girls who seem to be too powerful, courageous, or self-assured. They don’t want other girls to have that edge, so they “cut them down to size.” Adult women—have you seen it? I have. Sometimes, we’re the worst at holding back other women.

Cain taught us that if someone else gets ahead, we’er automatically behind.

We’ve been carrying the mark of Cain ever since.

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Think about all that Cain lost in that transaction. We lose it, too. We lose relationships when we decide to compete rather than encourage. We lose the opportunity to work together when we push someone else back in order to move ahead. We lose all the things Cain lost—community and meaningful, cooperative work—when we choose scarcity and competition over being our brother or sister’s guardian.

What would change in our lives if we instead chose the role of shawmar? Keeper, guardian, protector, lifesaver?

It would be so good for us all to leave behind the mark of Cain.

 

*(PSA Insert: The only place this argument is acceptable is “I vaccinate my kid.” For the love of all that’s holy and ALL your brothers and sisters—vaccinate your child. The end.)

Changes

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Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

My dear subscribers, supporters, and otherwise wonderful people who accost me in public places and tell me how much you love this blog (and I love that—don’t stop):

I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing and other goals, what’s being accomplished through this blog, and how God wants me to serve him. On the tail end of finally, I hope, completing my doctorate, I’m having to think about why I did this degree and where I’m going from here. I’m seeing the need to tetris my time and life in ways that I know are going to be more useful going forward.

See, despite folks who believe this:

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pastors are not paid well. (At least most of them—I know there are exceptions, and I’m surprised by them as well.) Writers, in an age of free everything, are not either. This is particularly true in the Christian world, where many people honestly believe that we should give away our thoughts and words for free “because Jesus.” (I’ve not seen them giving away their plumbing skills or surgeries or braces or carpentry for free “because Jesus,” but apparently I am missing something.)

The “because Jesus” appropriation of intellectual or artistic property is astounding, really. It’s just not OK. I love my subscribers, and I love writing for you for free, and I hope you love it, too. That’s not going to change. However, I have to make some adjustments to make this a viable gig.

Many writers are going the route of paid subscriptions. I’ve just decided to go a different way—I’m going to blog less and write for pay more. It’s simple bookkeeping, and this is reality. Still the same blog, still the same free content, just not every week.

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Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

Having spent the better part of four years working on a doctorate and writing a dissertation, I haven’t had much time to write articles or books. I’d like to change that now that I’m seeing the degree tunnel coming to an end. But—I still need to free up more time and not sacrifice the church God has called me to serve. 

So here’s the plan going forward—twice a month rather than every week, you will still see me in your inbox at 8am on Mondays. I hope it’s a good way to start the week. During the other times, I hope to be writing pieces that I will share links to on my blog as they are published.

So since time and space will be more limited, I’d like to ask you to help me plan this in the future. Can you tell me what you like best? What topics do you really want to read about? What kinds of ideas would make you say—hey I not only want to read that but I want to share it? Some of the topics I’ve covered:

Bible explanations and study

Parenting

Social justice issues

Memoir/personal experience

Personal/spiritual development

Leadership

Women’s issues

Theology

I know there are more. I’m a bit eclectic. Can you help me out by choosing the topics you most appreciate, or making suggestions? Maybe there have been particular posts that you’ve loved, and you realize you want more of that. I want to know I’m hitting the mark for you loyal folks before anything else.

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Photo by Ricardo Arce on Unsplash

You can comment below or email me directly by replying to this blog.

Another way you could really help me trying to move toward writing more is to follow my social media accounts and share what you like. As you can see on this page, I have an author Facebook page, as well as twitter and instagram accounts. (Even LinkedIn, though, let’s be real, I never monitor that, particularly since I’ve got an inbox there right now filled with people who are certain they can help me with whatever my business needs are or who are certain I can help with theirs, again, for free.) Also, if you’re really into clicking buttons, Goodreads and Pinterest.

Thanks for your patience, and I’m truly looking forward to your feedback.

Jill

Redeeming Our Work

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Swinging open the kitchen door, I almost swung back out again. A skillet flew past my nose, and an answering saucepan flew a few feet farther in, lower and slower. The older brother had worse aim.

The two sons of the resort owner were fighting in the kitchen. Again. My first thought was to turn around; my second was that I had to get through this to pick up my order and get it out to the table warm. I ducked and ran. I was small and fast, and I needed the tip.

Though the volatile kitchen at the resort scared me, it was better than the summer I spent working at Long John Silver. Tips were good, when the diners were sober. At least there were no fryer burns involved.

Working my way thorough high school and then college meant restaurant work every summer—the only option in our small blue collar town.

I hated restaurant work.

Why don’t we like our jobs?

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Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash

Less than fifty percent of Americans like their job. In our continuing discussion about the Garden, the Fall, and other words important enough to merit capitalization for theological purposes, work matters from the very beginning. Like relationships, it inherits one of the greatest consequences of sin. The two things we most often find our identity in—family and career—are dealt the greatest post-Eden blows. Funny that, huh?

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3)

Humans not only don’t like their work, they appear to be destined to that dislike. Most of us are far removed from a life of sweating and digging for our food, but the reality remains—if you want to eat, you need to work. And work, according to over fifty percent of us, is disappointing.

Why?

Work sometimes merits this dislike

There are, to be sure, rotten aspects of he current state of work in America. Young people, even with college educations, often cannot find jobs that offer them longevity, health care, or a fit with their actual area of study. The gig economy hits them the hardest, and not surprisingly, they more often consider their jobs to be bad ones than older workers do.

Racial and gender bias cause minority and female populations to be more dissatisfied as well, given that they do the same work for less pay and are hired less often based on their skin color or gender.

Dead end jobs haunt us more than they used to when people could expect to climb the corporate ladder and move steadily upward.

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Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

More people want and expect their work to mean something, not just put in time. That’s not a bad thing for a Kingdom-minded person to want and expect.

These are valid reasons to hate a job. I will not discount them with condescending statements like, “When I was your age,” “Just pay your dues,” or “Be happy you’ve got a job.”

We all long for our work to mean something, and there’s a reason for that.

Work as blessing

The first work was part of the first blessing, just as family and community were.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis1.28-31)

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Work for the first humans meant joy. God created the Garden as a temple of sorts, sacred space where we could live with him and do what fulfilled our purpose. Work served as an extension of our being, a way of living in God’s likeness. Take this land. Reign over it as I would. Tame the animals. Spread this good garden over the earth. Be as I would be in this place, and it will give you meaning.

Ruining that first relationship ruined our work, too. It’s been a battle since to find that meaning again.

Work redeemed

Yet if Christ came, as mentioned last week, to renew all things, work, the first thing humans were set to do, must be among those things. Renewal and restoration of our work life must also be part of the promise. But how?

I think it goes back to looking at that original and doing some detective work. What about it can we take away to find the blessing in our work?

The original blessing of work

First, God meant work to be a a partnership. Adam and Eve both received the commission to reign. They both heard the word to create a people who would work together to form the garden in the world.

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Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Yet so much of our work today is done in solitude, or at least in self-imposed loneliness. We’re stuck in our cubicles, not considering that work could be more of a blessing if it was more of a community. But those boogeymen we talked about last week—fear and shame and pride and power—stick their noses up in the workplace as well.

  • We’re afraid to cooperate with others because they might steal our promotion.
  • We’re worried our ideas might get shot down and we’ll be ashamed, so we don’t offer them.
  • We’re intent on consolidating our own power and position and leverage so much that we miss the opportunities to listen and learn from others.
  • We’re fearful that there won’t be enough room at the table for us, too, if others succeed, and that scarcity mindset sends us into a spiral of self-fulfilling insecurity.

Second, work was done in the garden for the fellowship with God. That we could relate to God while we’re working seems foreign to most of our thoughts. Even more foreign, maybe, is the idea of bussing the table, typing the memo, or changing the diaper for His glory.

We’ve divorced God’s original intent and linked work to success, money, power, dreams—with the result that our identity is linked to our success and happiness and not our relationship with God.

Third, God intended work to spread blessing in the beginning. Does our work do that? How could we make it so?

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Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Now what?

Some of our jobs truly do stink. I can’t deny that. Yet in the middle of them, it seems we could still look at these three parts of the original plan and find a way to redeem them. Even as we plan and hope and pray for better.

  • If the work seems meaningless, maybe the purpose is to bless rather than be blessed.
  • If the work is boring, maybe the plan is to ask God into it, practicing his presence, as Brother Lawrence would say.
  • If the work feels lonely, maybe God meant for us to focus on supporting others’ work, refusing to believe the lie of scarcity, partnering with others outside of our tiny workspace.

It’s like evil to aim at the things most dear to our hearts and minds—family and work. It’s like Jesus to take them back for us and give us back the garden offer.

He can make work very good again.

God’s Good Plan for Relationships

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Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

If you’ve heard me speak, you know one of my “things” when I talk to parents is natural consequences. Not that I was too great at this as a parent. I’m a 5w4 Enneagram, and that 4 kicked in pretty tight when one of my kids wanted empathy for a situation she had gotten her own self into.

I enabled just a little more than I ought to have. Because that’s what happens when you feel every feeling your kid does. It’s kind of a handicap in this parenting gig.

Some of us teach from what we’re brilliant at—some of us teach from our mistakes. At least I learned from them and I’m willing to share that knowledge bountifully.

You can be like God–How’s that working for you?

As we talked about creation a couple weeks ago, we all know “the rest of the story.” The world didn’t remain a place of wonder and joy. It still is—we just have to look harder and be intentional about finding it.

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The gloriously created humans chose being god rather than being like God. The serpent offered the latter—a cruel twist of the reality that this was precisely what we already were—images of God like him. (Read the story here.)

But humans understood the real offer on the table—we could be the ones in charge. We could make the rules. We didn’t want to settle for being like God—we wanted his job description.

It’s the consequences of that choice that I’ve been delving into lately, connecting all the dots of what happened in the Garden and why it matters so deeply to us even now.

Because it really, really does matter. Just hold tight to see why.

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The first consequence: Relationships

To the woman he said,“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3.16)

The first consequence of sin is that our most precious relationships—spouse and children—will suffer rupture and pain. It’s no coincidence that the first blessing and commission God gave also revolved around our most important relationships.

“Be fruitful and increase in number.”

As soon as God created humans, he gave them their first job—create community. Glory in your relationships. Fill this world with fellow images who will all be partners in this great task of caretaking creation.

Have beautiful, fulfilling, supportive relationships.

That was the first thing to go after sin showed its colors.

Pain and Love

Family is one of the strongest ways in which we gain our identity—and ever since the Fall we’ve been craving that identity and looking for it again—sadly, often in wrong places. As God predicted (NOT mandated as some think), women in particular look for it in relationships.

The pain happens not only in childbirth—the Hebrew is greater than that tiny translation. It means the pain we feel in all aspects of this relationship—childbirth and all it entails, fear of losing a child (before or after birth), grief at not being able to conceive a child, nagging worry over that child when she is out of your sight, the eventual realization that she will not be yours forever and will have her own separate life where you are not number one.

It’s all there in that small phrase—sin entwined in our relationships makes them painful sometimes, even the best ones.

Love before the Fall meant perfect partnership and joy in one another’s presence, untainted by fear or shame. In this new world outside the garden, to love anything is to discover pain beyond anything a person has ever known, and that is both good and bad. If we know God and trust him, we embrace the pain, knowing that the love is worth it every time.

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Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Power Struggles and Love

The same pain enters relationships between men and women, where women inevitably lose the power match that ensues when pride becomes our go to. We desire a relationship—but it is that strong desire, that need we see in women too often to recreate themselves in order to meet a man’s approval—that results in his power over her.

As a a pastor, I’ve seen it so many times. A woman who will do anything, make herself whatever she has to, sacrifice her own identity and calling, even submit to abuse, so that a man will say he loves her. It’s crushing, and it starts here in the aftermath of sin.

God did not declare this good. Remember his pronouncement after he created humans in Genesis 1? For the first time, he called creation very good, not simply good. Humans, created equal partners in their new world, merited the label—very good.

This other thing—this inequality and ruling over by men or husbands—this is NOT what God planned or wanted. It’s still not what he wants. Creation clearly offers a picture of very good partnership—and unequal relationships are a result of a prideful attempt to be God, not God’s chosen order.

Pride and power—and their twin siblings shame and fear—have been a part of human existence since the first sin, and they are potent drugs.

Re-Creation

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Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Thankfully, that is not the end of our story. Christ came to make all things new. ALL things. The original blessing of God—create community and form healthy relationships—may have been horribly distorted by sin, but sin is no match for the risen Lord. He came to restore our original blessing.

The relevant question for us, then, is—

how are we doing at working out God’s original desire for human relationships?

Are we allowing Christ to work in our lives so that what God intended shines out of our most important relationships? We don’t have to be married or have children to have important relationships. That is not the point.

Pride and power—and their twin siblings shame and fear—have been a part of human existence since the first sin, and they are potent drugs.

In our marriages, parenting, friendships, sibling relationships, work relationships, etc., where are we quashing pride and power? Where are re refusing to surrender to shame and fear?

  • Fear breeds manipulation, as we tighten our control of a relationship in order to feel secure. Are we repenting of manipulation and sending it packing? Women, do we embrace the joke that tells us, “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants”? I know, it was funny in the movie, but that’s manipulation, and it has no place in a healthy relationship. Let’s be better than that.
  • Are we learning to tell the truth about our needs and wants, not allowing fear to get its foot in the already-fragile cracks in our souls? Do we tell the shaming words, “you’re not worth it” to get lost, knowing we are worth it if God created an entire cosmos for our enjoyment?
  • In marriage, do we refuse to separate our possessions, our money, our time, and our priorities into “yours” and “mine,” realizing that God’s plan was complete partnership, oneness, not fearful hoarding of “mine”?
  • Partnership means support of one another’s dreams, callings, highs and lows. That could be a spouse, a child, a co-worker, a friend. How are we doing at eliminating the fear and pride that tempts us to envy another’s success rather than cheer it? At pushing out the shame that keeps us from fully supporting someone else, even when we feel like failures? At honestly talking those things through?
  • How are we doing at smashing the patriarchy that harms both women and men through its power and shame? Oh, that’s another very long post . . .

God’s “very good” proclamation came only for humans created to partner with one another to fill this world with relationships that copied his way of relating—without fear, pride, shame, or power struggles. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if Christians chose to live in his image on those terms in this wildly selfish world?

It would be very good, once again.