The Irony of Joseph’s Slaves – reducing people to poverty is never good

In moving from Genesis to Exodus, a reader might note some irony. This particular narrative thread starts with Joseph and finds its ironic twist in the time of Moses.

Joseph’s Slave Experience

In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brother had had about enough of him. He’s their father’s favorite, he’s been acting superior, and told them he dreamed they would all bow down to him one day. They sold their little brother to Midianite merchants traveling in a caravan through Canaan to Egypt, but it could have been worse. The brothers’ original plan was to kill him.

Joseph did all right in Egypt, at least as far as being a slave went. God blessed him with the ability to carry out his duties well so his slave-master gave him more responsibility. He was too good at his job, though, because being in charge meant coming to the attention of his master’s wife, who wanted to bed Joseph. He refused and she accused him of attempted rape. The slave-master threw Joseph in prison. (Genesis 39.)

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, Guido Reni ca. 1630 (Wikipedia)

Again, Joseph carried out his duties well and the prison warden put Joseph in charge of the place. Eventually, Joseph came to the attention of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who released Joseph from prison and appointed him prime minister. Joseph – able by God’s grace to interpret a dream Pharaoh had – then guided Egypt through seven years of bountiful harvest in preparation for seven years of famine. In the seven bountiful years, Joseph collected grain from the farmers and landowners. In the second seven years, he sold it back to them. (Genesis 41.) The Bible doesn’t say Joseph paid them for it in the first place. Just that he made them pay for it when they wanted some back.

Joseph reconciled with his brothers when they traveled to Egypt to buy grain, since the famine was hitting them hard in Canaan as well, and gave them good land in the north of Egypt to tend their flocks of sheep. (Genesis 42-46.) As for the Egyptians who grew all that grain Joseph collected, they started running out of money with which to buy it back. So Joseph had the people trade their livestock for grain. When the people ran out of animals, they traded their land to Joseph for grain. Eventually, the people sold themselves in order to keep from starving to death.

So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. (Genesis 47:20-21.)

Time passed.

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. (Exodus 1:6-11.)

Israel in Egypt, Edward Poynter 1867 (Wikipedia)

Irony in Action

Joseph’s family reaped what he sowed.

  • Joseph – who had himself been sold into slavery – took advantage of the bountiful harvest and subsequent famine to enslave all Egypt to Pharaoh. Now Pharaoh enslaved all the Israelites after they became a threat through their prosperity and numbers.
  • Joseph stored the grain collected from the Egyptians. Now Pharaoh’s slave-masters forced the Israelites to build store cities for the Egyptian king.

It took God intervening once again to rescue his people.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. (Exodus 2:23-25.)

Joseph was long dead, and God chose to use Moses this time.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey … .

And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10.)

In a reversal of fortune:

  • The Egyptians suffered loss of livestock and grain (among other disasters) reminiscent of the transfer of all their grain and livestock to Joseph’s keeping years earlier. (Exodus 6-11.)
  • Eventually Pharaoh released the Israelites, opposite to the enslavement of the Egyptians under the administration of Joseph. (Exodus 12.)
  • God originally brought the Israelites to Egypt to avoid famine in Canaan, and was  sending them back to Canaan with the promise that it is now a land flowing with milk and honey. (Exodus 3.)

This is a history filled with twists and turns worthy of a novelist’s plot. What is one conclusion (among many) a reader can draw from this narrative?

God works through different people in different way – Joseph, Moses, the two different Pharaohs – but apparently is not averse to a little irony along the way.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Writing the Blog People Can’t Wait to Read

When Susy Flory, Director of West Coast Christian Writers, asked me to speak on blogging at the 2019 conference, she gave me the session title Writing the Blog People Can’t Wait to Read. I wasn’t going to quibble over the title because Susy is experienced in running these conferences. I added a subtitle, though, in order to emphasize what I think is important to remember in blog writing: It’s All About the People.

For those who want to listen in, here is the audio from my session.

The introductory voice you hear is Cheri Gregory, the person who made sure every session was recorded and reproduced. There are a few times in the session when you’ll hear faintly someone asking a question. I think the context of those interactions will be fairly clear when you hear me speak up again. If you would like a copy of the PowerPoint that I reference in the audio, please email me (see the Contact button at the top of this page) and I will send it to you as an attachment.

I learned much from the other faculty in their sessions, as well as the people I spoke with during conference breaks. I also received encouragement when I needed it most, as there was a lot of life going on for me that weekend. (See my post The Unknown Encourager – a tale of stress, anxiety, and getting through the weekend.) If you would like to take part in that same learning opportunity, you can go to the WCCW website to look into obtaining the full collection of session recordings.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Naming Rights – When Meaning and Metaphor Meet Reality

[Today’s guest post is from Lewis Seaton.]

What’s in a name?

To hear Juliet tell it, a name has no significance. It doesn’t mean a thing. But then again, who is Juliet? Just a character in another play written by what’s-his-name, right? William something or other, wasn’t it? I suppose to be consistent Juliet would have to say that Shakespeare’s name doesn’t mean anything, but there are probably quite a few English teachers who would beg to differ.

Shakespeare was a brilliant author, but no human could do what the author of the Scriptures can do. Human creativity is limited. A human can write a novel in which events at the beginning foreshadow events that happen later in the book. But they never actually happen, except in the imagination of the writer. God, on the other hand, is sovereign. He has complete control over all history. He is able to bring about events in past history and to do it in such a way that they foreshadow events in the future, which He also controls. God’s creative nature is seen not only in the beginning, when He created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, but all throughout history. It is as though God speaks, and it comes into existence; God writes, and it comes to pass.

There is, however, one caveat: there are things which He did not want fully revealed until their time. Like Nehemiah, there were things He kept under wraps until the time was right. These things which were not revealed until a later time were “mysteries.” Paul references these mysteries in Colossians 1:26: “…the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” and in Ephesians 3:9: “…the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.” The reason? He explains immediately: “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” Again, like Nehemiah, God kept it secret until it was finished.

Nevertheless, he hinted about what he was going to do throughout the Old Testament.

The Words Behind the Names

In the writings of Samuel there is a seemingly innocuous phrase, “from Dan to Beersheba,” which becomes conspicuous by its repetition. It is found in Judges 2:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 2 Samuel 3:10; 17:11; 24:2, 15; and 1 Kings 4:25. The straightforward significance of this phrase is found in the fact that Dan and Beersheba are two cities at opposite ends of Israel, Dan at the extreme north and Beersheba at the extreme south. Thus, to say, “from Dan to Beersheba” is to say, “in all Israel.” It is much like saying, “in all the United States, from Los Angeles to New York.”

But what if we were to go deeper and take a look at the names Dan and Beersheba and what they mean? Suppose we treated the names of people and places in Scripture algebraically, if you will. Now, I realize that some of you did not care for algebra in school. I also realize that’s probably even an understatement. Don’t worry. Just humor me here for a moment. Algebra essentially uses “variables” (usually letters) in the place of numbers to create formulas. It is when values are plugged into the formulas in place of some of the variables that we can figure out the value of the remaining variable.

Likewise, what I would like to do here is to plug in the meanings of the names for the names themselves. The Bible itself gives us the meaning of the name Dan, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel), after whom the city was named, in the section of Scripture which runs down the circumstances at the time of birth and the corresponding names given to each of the sons (Genesis 29:31 – 30:24). Jacob had married two sisters, Leah and Rachel. He had originally just meant to marry Rachel, but he had been tricked into marrying Leah first by their father. Leah, the unloved sister, bore the first four children to Jacob. Rachel was so jealous that she gave her maid to Jacob just so that in bearing a child on Rachel’s knees it would be considered Rachel’s child. When the maid bore a son, feeling vindicated, Rachel declared that God had “judged” her and given her a son. Therefore, she named him Dan, which means “judged.”

It so happens that God has also given us the story behind the name Beersheba. You don’t suppose that He has reasons for telling us what all these names mean, do you? Anyway, Abraham had dug a well and later entered into a covenant with a king at that well. “Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. So they made a covenant at Beersheba [”Well of the Oath”]…” (Genesis 21:31-32).

Now, plugging in the values and solving for X … we get “from one extreme (“Judged”) to the opposite extreme (“Well of the Oath” or “Well of the Covenant”). At this point we still don’t have quite enough information to connect the dots, though. However, with the hindsight we are privileged to have in this era we know from Romans 5:16 that sin causes judgment to result in condemnation for us, but Rom 8:1 tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That answers that, but what about the well and the covenant?

Faith, Belief, and Drinking from the Well

Perhaps the best place to look is the story of Jesus at a well — Jacob’s well. It was there He met the Samaritan woman who had not been privileged to have led a stellar life. Rather than condemning her though, He told her about the living water He could give her, “…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14.) So much for the well, but what about the covenant?

The key to the covenant is faith. Shortly after Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well John records Jesus’ words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (John 5:24). This is the covenant: believe God; believe in Jesus Christ, and you will have eternal life.

Wrapping it all up, therefore, whoever has put his faith in Jesus Christ has entered into a covenant that brings him from judgment to a well of living water that springs up to eternal life. He has traveled from one extreme to the other, as far as one can travel in Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, from “Judged” to the “Well of the Oath.”

Names mean things.

***

Lewis was born the first time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He went to the United States Naval Academy out of high school where he had an Ecclesiastes chapter 2 experience. He was born again at the University Of Miami and now resides in the Mother Lode country of California where he loves mining the Scriptures for lode gold. He retired from Folsom Prison after 25 years in 2010 and loves teaching Bible. He has been teaching a men’s group for the past 12+ years, and his singular purpose is to show people the glory of God.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Treating Women as People Does Not Depend on Their Relationship to Men

Our expectations for how men should treat women are often stated in the negative — don’t abuse; don’t oppress; don’t sexually assault. These are obvious, bare minimum standards for male behavior that shouldn’t have to be stated, but here we are.

Sometimes, Christian men will reference their sense of responsibility for women in their lives — mothers, sisters, daughters — to support taking a strong stance against abuse. For example, LifeWay president Thom Rainer wrote:

“These are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our granddaughters, and our wives. We thank God for them. And I stand with all who say ‘no’ to any type of abuse of women at any time and under any circumstance.”

Saying no to any type of abuse is good. This statement, though, employs a false reason for doing so. It’s based not on the inherent worth of women as human beings but on their worth in relation to men. The logic goes:

You wouldn’t want anyone to mistreat the important women in your life, so don’t mistreat women yourself. Remember, a given woman might be someone’s sister. Come on men; let’s protect our women!

Feeding a Sense of Ownership

These pleas for better treatment and an end to abuse are a step in the right direction. But many of these anti-abuse statements still center men and their experiences and render women objects — even if unintentionally.

How?

Christian leaders will often appeal to men’s sense of responsibility for the women in their lives in order to inspire empathy toward women in general. But the implication of statements like these is that women are extensions of their fathers, brothers, and husbands and that’s how we know it’s wrong to mistreat them. Women become men’s possessions instead of independent people who deserve respect simply because they too are created in the image of God.

We feed a sense of ownership when we imply that women’s right to not be mistreated is dependent on their relationship to men. Statements that condemn abuse by asking men to consider the women in their lives often have patriarchal subtext:

I’m responsible for the women in my family and they’re to submit to my efforts to carry out that responsibility. By extension, I’m responsible for all women. They should gladly accept my protection and allow me to care for them in whatever way I deem appropriate — as I would my own daughter or wife.

A sense of ownership of women, even one that arises out of a belief in men’s benevolent duty, means treating women as less than the fully equal people God made them to be.

When teaching men to treat women well, some pastors and churches rely on Paul’s pastoral instructions to view women as sisters (again, rather than treating them well because they are people created by God, just like men):

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Tim. 5:1-2.)

But to argue that 1 Timothy 5 — written to address a specific situation in a specific congregation — proves that all men are responsible for all women, we have to rip it out of context and misapply it. In looking at the words leading up to the passage, we can easily see that it’s not about how men and women should relate to one another generally.

Teaching and Treading Carefully

1 Timothy 4 provides the context for Paul’s instruction to Timothy in chapter 5. Paul was writing to Timothy, a young pastor and friend, about being a pastor, teaching rightly, and relating to people well. Ephesus, Timothy’s city, was full of people who not only didn’t believe in Jesus but had been raised in a culture that worshiped Artemis instead. Paul’s letter was written in the context of overcoming false goddess worship and showing people who Jesus is. As Paul told Timothy:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim. 4:16.)

The very next words are about how to present that doctrine to the people.

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Tim. 5:1-2.)

The point Paul is making — for modern purposes — is that a pastor doesn’t beat a congregation into submission, but rather treats them kindly. Paul urges Timothy to treat the people around him well, whether women and men older than him or younger like him. These verses are not about men’s patriarchal responsibility for women; they’re about proper pastoral conduct.

Objectifying Women, Humanizing Men

As you read articles and listen to sermons on this subject, you’ll also notice that no one uses verse one to objectify men like they use verse two to objectify women. No one says, “We shouldn’t mistreat men. Think about how you’d feel if it was your own father or brother or son or husband.” Treating men well — or at least not mistreating them — is expected because they’re human beings, not because of their relationships with women.

The Bible actually teaches that this is how it’s supposed to be for both men and women. Whether male or female, our worth or worthiness is always based in God. Paul made this clear in a letter to another church:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:26-29, emphasis added.)

In the beginning, men and women had equal status before God:

God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them. (Gen. 1:27.)

Women and men are both created in the image of God. And in Jesus’ new creation, men and women are one in Christ. Our creation in the image of God and our new oneness in Christ means that we’re all worthy of being treated well — without regard to our sex or our relationship to anyone else.

This is what churches and preachers should be teaching. We treat women well because they’re created in the image of God. Likewise, the reason we don’t mistreat them is, again, because they’re created in the image of God. We stand up with and for women not because they’re someone’s daughter, wife, sister or mother, but because women are people. We stand against abuse and suffering because God asks us to. Period.

***

[This first appeared as a guest post at CBE International in 2018.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Lent Isn’t for Everyone – knowing when to give up on self-deprivation

Lent isn’t for everyone. There are people who have lived with deprivation their whole lives, forced deprivation where someone has told them they’re worthless, and anything they’ve ever gained has been snatched from them because they’re told they’re underserving of anything good. As one person on Twitter said, Lent is not for such people.

For those who have suffered, who have been forcibly deprived, who have lived without all their lives – without anyone who cares for them, or without food and shelter, or without basic security and safety from one day to the next – for those who cannot give up anything for Lent because they have nothing left to give, the right thing to do for Lent is to let this season of self-deprival pass.

For people who live in deprivation, Jesus spoke these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19.)

This is good news, and there are people who need to focus on these words rather than feel they must find one more way to be deprived. They need to know God offers more than they could imagine, and that there is nothing wrong with enjoying this overflowing life in Jesus.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10.)

These are people who know about thieves in their lives. They don’t need to be reminded of how much has been taken. They need to know – intimately and deeply – God’s abundance that can never be taken away from them. They need to know God’s comfort, and learn that it is not only right but good to rest in that comfort.

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God. …

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young. …

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:1, 11, 29-31.)

This comfort is the work God calls you to carry out as well.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4.)

If you observe Lent by doing without, blessings upon you. And if you see someone who cannot do without, please bless them as well by encouraging them to enjoy God’s blessings in their life. Pray they will experience them abundantly.

Spiritual abundance, physical abundance, relational abundance. There are people who need these right now, and they should not feel guilt for being unable to give up one more thing for Lent. They’ve been deprived long enough.

May they now thrive and celebrate and exult and be happy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

The Day You Shared Your Umbrella

[Today’s guest post is from Cori Lynn, who writes of the benefits of not having your own umbrella.]

It was a rainy afternoon at the West Coast Christian Writers Conference when I shared an umbrella with Robin Jones Gunn. In that moment, what she said to me changed the way I see myself and my writing. God had planned this divine appointment months before, so let’s go back to the beginning.

A friend of mine had been begging me to attend a writer’s conference with her for a while, but I’ve always preferred spending my weekends on my couch over socializing. At this point, I’d been working on a novel to submit to Hallmark Publishing and had begun researching similar books when I ran across Sarah Sundin. After a little digging, I saw she was a Christian writer, so I bookmarked her page.

Nearly a month later, I was driving to an event and listening to Kathi Lipp’s podcast. I wasn’t paying attention to the guest as I was distracted by my GPS yelling directions at me in between Kathi’s interview questions. When I heard “Hallmark” I quickly started the podcast over only to realize the guest speaker was Robin Jones Gunn. During the interview, Robin announced she would be a keynote speaker at the West Coast Christian Writers Conference. Knowing she’d accomplished what I was trying to do myself, I began to give the conference serious consideration.

As I researched it, I realized Sarah, Kathi, and a few other familiar writers were going to be in attendance. God had been preparing a path of familiarity before I even walked through the door. I looked to the sky and said, “Okay God. You win. I guess I’ll go.”

Conference Going, Prepared or Not

The weather called for rain both days of the conference. My hair doesn’t do well in humidity, but I realized the irony of God keeping my vanity in check. I mean I’m only meeting industry professionals who have the power to change my life, right? But alas, God had a reason for the rain as well.

Prior to the conference, my work life had been crazy busy, so I’d come a bit unprepared. I struggled during lunch deciding on which afternoon session to attend. I was torn with so many good options. After much internal debate, I chose Robin’s session with a plan to listen to my writer Yoda share her Jedi wisdom.

A friend of mine asked if I was going to ask a question and I replied I didn’t want to sound dumb by opening my mouth. About 20 minutes into the discussion I found myself opening my mouth anyway. “What advice would you have given yourself when you first started?” I asked. She replied, “Good question,” which immediately squelched my internal fears of inadequacy. As I write this a week later, I apologize in advance for the below paraphrase of her response.

“First, I’d have told myself not to be afraid, because at the time, my fear had been making my choices for me. Second, I’d have told myself no matter what I wrote and what the critics said or how much rejection I received, my writing was still art to God.”

It was as if God had spoken directly to me in her reply. The rest of her session went by too fast, ending before the crowd was ready to leave. I was chatting with my friend Karen as the crowd dispersed, leaving the two of us and Robin who’d been packing up.

“You want me to introduce you?” Karen asked. She’d had a chance to meet Robin on a project prior to attending the conference. I told her I was fine keeping my anonymity in the relationship, but God had other ideas. Robin came over to us and began chatting like it was no big deal and we made our way outside as the rain began to pour.

Squeezing Together

We conversed about Hallmark and other writing projects as we strolled along. We came to a point where there was no more shelter and Robin said, “If you both want to squeeze under my umbrella you can.” Robin has the faith of a mustard seed if she thought all three of us were going to fit under the tiny umbrella, but Karen and I obliged hoping the shelter would keep us dry on our journey. This moment was a beautiful parallel to our world of writing. Here you have a professional author offering a pair of rookie’s shelter from the storm, but Robin had shared more than an umbrella that day, she’d shared her wisdom and experience with us; encouraging us through the storms we’d encounter as up and coming authors.

Once we reached the lobby, I asked Robin a question that had been on my mind. I asked if she felt spiritual warfare played a role in a fiction writer’s life. She said it most definitely did. I mentioned I felt silly thinking it would play a role in my writing since I wrote for entertainment. She said, “Your writing is meant to shine light in a dark world and the enemy does not want that, even if it is written for entertainment.” She ended by telling me her keynote speech the following day would touch more on this topic… and she wasn’t wrong. As she shared her last speech I listened with different ears but what had changed?

I realized my writing mattered to God, the life struggles preventing me from sharing my gift were real and my fear had been making too many choices for my writing. I went to the conference feeling trapped, but I left excited about the risks that would require a step of faith. Since that day, God has presented doors that are requiring such faith. Bill Giovannetti, another conference speaker, said it best. “I am responsible for faith, God is responsible for outcomes.”

Suddenly, the pressure I’d been carrying was lifted. All because one day I shared an umbrella with the person God had planned for me to meet all along.

***

A native of Phoenix Arizona, Cori was raised in a creative family and loves making people laugh. Cori has written two full length screenplays that were produced in Phoenix and has scripted multiple successful short films. In 2009, she won “Audience Choice” award for “The Treehouse” and in 2010, she won “Best Story” award for “Masterpiece” at The Phoenix Film Festival.

Cori graduated with a Global Business degree from Arizona State University and works full time in marketing. She spends her free time playing with her puppy and is currently in the process of self-publishing her newest novel, “Hearts Under Fire”. She blogs at The Writer’s Journal and can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and IMDB.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My High School Science Teacher Let Me Watch Game Shows for Homework

At 7:00 every weekday night the game shows came on. Not the same game show. Every night it was different. I watched them all.

Game Show Science

Beverly Kong taught biology at Oceana High School. She was quiet, small, and very smart. I took her class in my sophomore year. I was also small at the time, somewhat smart, but not at all quiet. It made for an interesting teacher-student dynamic.

Oceana High School (Wikipedia)

Late in the school year she gave an assignment. Its goals and parameters were equally amorphous – at least in my mind – and for some reason I didn’t bother asking for clarification. If she wanted to be obscure, I figured I’d let her.

Besides, words were more my thing than science. You can tell because I used words like “amorphous” and “clarification” and “obscure” in that last paragraph.

My project became a write-up on the game shows I watched every night. The point was not the shows themselves. Rather it was the people on the shows. Was there a difference in behavior between those who appeared on The $10,000 Pyramid as opposed to those on Tic-Tac-Dough? How did people respond to victory – or failure – on Concentration, and did it differ from Celebrity Sweepstakes? And how could anyone keep a straight face when Paul Lynde let loose on Hollywood Squares?

Five pages of pure game show gold.

Mrs. Kong appeared bemused. “I didn’t know you were doing this for your project, Tim.”

Of course not, I said in my head. You’d have told me to pick something else. Out loud I said, “I thought a psychological analysis of game show contestants would be interesting, since we’re covering the brain right now.”

“All right,” she said, setting my paper down on her desk. I don’t think Mrs. Kong ever said things like “OK” or “Yeah.” By the time she got done reading it and handed it back to me a few days later, she gave me an A-.

If this had been a game show, I won.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

No One Can Take You Away From the Place You Always Belong

Longing.

The longing to belong.

The longing to be loved.

The longing deep within.

Everyone wants to belong.

Band Geeks Belong

Not fitting in comes easy to me. Or at least the feeling that I don’t fit in comes easy to me. I can fake fitting in with the gang well enough. I learned how to do that over years of awkwardness and being on the outside when it came to the cool kids. Who knows, maybe they felt like they didn’t really belong, too.

It’s easy to feel that way. You’re in a group that largely does one thing, let’s call it X. In fact, X is part of the group identity. But you don’t do X. You do Y. By not doing X, are you no longer part of the group?

In high school band, almost everyone played a wind instrument. There were sixty band members and fifty of them played either a woodwind or brass instrument. Flutes, trumpets, trombones, clarinets, saxophones (yay me!), even the lone tuba player. Fifty out of sixty played something that required blowing into a mouthpiece.

Cal Aggie Band-Uh! (My local university’s marching band.)

What about the other ten? They were the percussion section, the drummers. Yet even though they did not fall into the group’s majority by playing wind instruments, not a single person thought they weren’t part of the band. Besides, they were drummers. You can’t get much cooler than that.

Stereotypes abound

Do you have an image that automatically comes to mind when you think of people from England? (“Pip pip, cheerio, fancy a spot of tea?”) Or perhaps Bavaria? (“Liebchen, have you seen my lederhosen?”)

What comes to mind when you think of an introvert or extravert? (“I need to be alone” vs. “Hey, let’s get everyone together in the same place!”)

What comes to mind when you think of women? Of men? What about Christian women or Christian men?

The problem with stereotypes is that they are not necessarily true, not for the group nor for individuals within that group.

If you are an introvert in a family full of extraverts, you are still a member of the family. You’d be invited to weddings and birthday parties (assuming that’s what your family did), help out when others are in need (assuming yours is the type of family that does that), and so on.

And for people who insist women and men, particularly Christian women and men, must conform to stereotypes, the same thing goes. The stereotypes might be wrong (they often are) and even if they are grounded somehow in reality they still are not definitive. Let’s say that again.

Stereotypes are not definitive.

They may not even be true.

And when they are applied to group identity, they can exclude. Maliciously and hurtfully, they can exclude. Like this video, or the assertion (below) about falling uteruses:

 

 

In the 19th Century people thought that women riding trains were at risk of their uteruses flying out of their bodies (Here’s What People Used To Think Would Happen To Women’s Bodies During Train Travel), or that women engaging in sports was a sign of degeneracy, and that competitive actions could lead to sterility or at least passing along degenerate characteristics to their children. (The Myth of the Falling Uterus: Where did the myth that a woman’s uterus would fall out if she participated in sports come from?) The result? Women were banned or strongly discouraged from taking part in social and professional endeavors open to men.

Bad science leading to mistaken social practices is one thing. But does this really happen in the Body of Christ, the Church that God has called together through the Holy Spirit?

Yes, and it has for millennia.

Everybody Belongs

Does the stereotypical high school band member play a wind instrument? Yes, at least in my high school band. Does that mean someone who doesn’t play a wind instrument is not a true member of the band? Don’t tell that to the percussionists, nor to the rest of us. We need them and they need us. That’s how bands exist. It’s the same in the Body of Christ.

Paul dealt with exclusive thinking and practices 2000 years ago, as he explored the reality of belonging to God by analogizing to the human body:

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:15-21.)

It is because of this diversity – this lack of conforming to stereotype – that we are able to truly be one Body in the Spirit of God.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27.)

The Good Shepherd, Jean Baptiste de Champaigne 17th C. (Wikipedia)

You think you don’t fit in because you don’t conform to a stereotype someone else has laid on you? Jesus says you do. You are part of him because you are a part of the Body of Christ. There is no stereotyping here. There is only belonging. As Jesus said when he used another analogy, that of a shepherd and sheep:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:28-30.)

Where you belong is with Jesus and that’s where he longs for you to belong as well, now and forever.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

God’s Got Plans – pain and hardship and getting beyond

[Today’s guest post is from Damon J. Gray, a writer who knows pain and what is past the pain.]

Donning a look of deep concern, my counselor fixed his eyes on mine and said, “With everything you have been through over the past two years, I am amazed that you are still sane.” Sometimes life astonishes us with its ability to inflict pain.

During a keynote address at the 2019 West Coast Christian Writers Conference, Bill Giovanneti said “The world is a morally broken pain machine.” Adding emphasis to his point, he made the same statement twice. Everyone reading this knows the truth of Bill’s words.

The Appalling Capacity to Abuse

In our egocentric lust for money, sex, and power, the human race has an appalling capacity for using and abusing others with absolute disregard. We form an emotional callus to the needs of all but ourselves, convinced that our needs and our comforts are paramount. It is sociopathic, and it is not the life to which God has called us.

Such has been the story of humanity since the day Cain killed Abel. But the Christ-follower knows God’s history of turning horror into glory, and secure in that knowledge, we refuse to play the role of a victim. “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:6, ESV)

Joseph’s brothers, in their hatred and jealousy, sold him into slavery. God used Joseph to “save many lives” from seven years of famine. The Persian official, Haman, hated the Jew, Mordecai, and in his rage toward Mordecai attempted to annihilate the entirety of the Jewish people. But God turned circumstances on their head, exalting Mordecai and humiliating Haman. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were to be burned to death in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. Daniel was to be devoured by lions for refusing to pray to Darius. Jeremiah was to be drowned in a well. Jesus was to be beaten, crucified, dead and buried forever.

None of these succeeded!

God Frustrates Evil and Ensures Victory

God has other plans, and in those plans, the wrath of humanity is turned to the praise of God. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise you.” (Psalm 76:10a, ESV) The more God’s enemies rage against him and his people, the more their plans are turned to frustration because we will not be defeated, and in this, God is glorified.

I am not proposing that life is without pain and trouble. The Word of God never promises that. What I am saying is that as we walk faithfully with Jesus the troubles of life do not defeat us, and that the wrath of humanity cannot prevail against us. We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who are called according to his purposes. (Romans 8:28)

As Christ-followers, we purposely do not look at the momentary bitterness life dishes out to us. Rather, we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) It is he who will bind up our wounds and comfort our sorrows.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV-1973)

 

Blessings upon you my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon

***

Damon J. Gray is a writer, speaker, husband, father, grandfather, former pastor, and Director of Communications for Inspire Christian Writers. Damon pursues his passion for teaching, making disciples, and advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ, by calling on men and women to embrace Long-View Living in a Short-View World. Damon, his wife Alean, and their cats, Mister Bear and Sebastien, live in beautiful Lynden, WA, just three miles south of the Canadian border. YOu can find him at his blog, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Cara Meredith: “Everything I Ever Needed to Know in Parenting I Learned from Tim Fall” (a guest post)

[I begged Cara Meredith to write a guest post. She did, sending me something I never expected: a beautiful Thank You Note that made me blush. She is quite an encourager as you will soon see. Everyone should be Cara’s biggest fan.]

***

This is how it happened: I’d been invited to lunch. And not only was it a lunch where Real Live Food was involved (which tends to be a draw for me), but it featured a tableful of female writers, of women seeking to find the balance between heart and passion, motherhood and creativity.

We sat at Bronwyn’s dining room table, homemade bread in the center and bubbly, steaming bowls of soup before us. Children screamed in the background and Lesley bounced her new baby boy on her lap, shushing and cooing and sprinkling him with love. One by one, updates were given and questions were asked; dreams were whispered and ideas were birthed.

I talked a bit here and there, but mostly, like water to sponge, I soaked up their camaraderie. I questioned whether I fit in then and would fit in in the future. And I listened, intently, closely, scrutinizing their interactions to see if I was one of them, to figure out if I could belong.

And that’s when it happened: as I sought validation, advice spewed forth.

“Cara, you should connect with Tim Fall. He loves women in ministry.”

The woman who spoke abruptly corrected herself, clarifying that Tim, a married, faithful Christian man, had a heart for promoting male and female writers alike.

“He’ll be your biggest fan,” one of them said. And that was all I needed to hear.

Later that afternoon I struck up a conversation with Tim, a man I’ve still never met in person, but – like with many of you, I’d assume – has been one of my biggest cheerleaders over the past two years. He’s asked questions and he’s told his own stories; he’s linked to earlier posts of similar nature and he’s passed along buckets of wisdom to me.

Every comment he’s left, I’ve read and responded to, and friendship, in return, has emerged. Maybe because I’ve known that he is an encourager, an exhorter, a fleshy, living example of Paul’s words to the church to encourage and build one another up, just as we each should be doing, I’ve taken notes.

So you may think it snarky or even weird, a bit overzealous and extreme, but for our purposes today, this I’ll tell you: Everything I ever needed to know in parenting I learned from Tim Fall.

When I’ve had a hard day, and I’ve wanted to be right, and I’ve not wanted my son to wear swim trunks for the 30th day in a row, and I’ve Spirit-reign-down been made to say I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry to said tag-a-long three year old boy, Tim says this: “Do-overs with the kids is tons better than because-I-said-so.”

And when I’ve been up all night with the newborn, and I’ve wondered if I’ll be binge watching Gilmore Girls for the rest of my life at 2:45 every morning, my friend reminds me that This Too Shall Pass. [This, of course, is soon followed by a more realistic dose of parenting advice: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Dante’s words, I’d add, don’t merely apply to the entrance of hell, but to all households with cherubs under the age of three.]

There’s Tim’s ever-popular parental math: “As soon as parents have the second child they are outnumbered.” With a two-to-one ratio, parents come out equal to the task – but when a second child comes along, all laws of seventh grade math are thrown out the window.

For example: 2 kids > 2 parents.

(For you brave, brave parents of three, four, five children or more, first, I salute you. And I’ll let you add in your own math equation, which I assume will quantifiably leap from addition to multiplication).

But he also makes me think and, in the midst of hard questions and conversations around issues of race in particular, he reminds me of Truth: “People and color and society are full of beauty in ways that lead to tension, I think. Some people can’t handle that others are precious too.”

And the preciousness of others is one truth I am eager to pass on to my children.

So thank you, friend, for your wise words.

***

Cara MeredithCara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco area, whose new memoir The Color of Life speaks of white privilege, racial healing and seeing the image of God in everyone around you. She is passionate about theology and books, her family, meals around the table, and finding beauty in the most unlikely of places. A seven on the Enneagram, she also can’t help but try to laugh and smile at the ordinary everyday. You can find her on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

***

 

Posted in Guest Post | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments