Bible Memes You Never See

I’m thinking of publishing a new Scripture translation. I’m going to call it The Meme Bible.

Meme – a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.

Bible – a collection of texts sacred in Judaism and Christianity.

Spend any time on social media and you’ll see memes. Spend time on social media where Christians post their thoughts and you’ll see Bible memes, complete with chapter and verse, offered to inspire and encourage people through the word of God.

Yet I’ve never seen a meme for Job 2:9b. Instead, I see memes on the blessing of abiding in Christ, and on the love of God and loving one another. They always feature pleasant typeface and compelling imagery  such as rainbows, running horses, storm-tossed seas, and more images that draw the eye to the text.

Meming Responsibly

I have to admit that there are days when I run across a Bible meme and it encourages me greatly. God’s word will do that. After all:

[God’s] word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105.)

and,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17.)

Which brings me back to my original observation. If all Scripture is God-breathed, why are some verses overlooked? Perhaps if they were coupled with compelling images – rainbows and landscapes, perhaps – like this one about an Apostle from the first chapter of Acts:

Acts 1_18Hm, not as encouraging as I’d hoped.

Or here’s a verse from Genesis regarding Abraham’s descendants:

Gen 23_13-15Well, that didn’t illuminate my understanding of God as much as I’d hoped either.

How about that verse I mentioned in the beginning of this post? We never see a meme quoting Job’s wife:

Job 2_9That one just didn’t bring me any hope at all.

These are all taken straight from God’s word – they even have those compelling images to go with the words – so why aren’t they popular meme verses? It’s because while all Scripture is useful, it’s not all useful in the same way. God’s word doesn’t work that simplistically. Or as Nick Quient said:

“It’s the Bible. We don’t have the luxury of simple.”

Description versus Prescription

The Bible both describes and prescribes. Consider those three memes I proposed:

  • When we’re told how Judas died, it’s not an invitation for us to strive for the same kind of death. It’s merely an explanation to help us understand why the rest of the Apostles chose someone to take his place in Acts 2.
  • To understand the importance of Abraham’s line of descendants through Ishmael, the passage needs to be read in light of all of Israel’s subsequent history. Context always counts.
  • And the quote from Job’s wife is a product of her grief at losing her children in a horrible accident, one she recognized rightly as being allowed by God. Yet we are not encouraged to emulate her but are given her words to understand the revelation of God’s true character in the final chapters of the book of Job.

The need for context doesn’t come up only with verses like those I choose from Genesis, Job and Acts, but when understanding the other verses more common to Scripture memes. For the abiding and love memes you might run across as mentioned above, they are both descriptive and prescriptive: they describe a truth about God and prescribe action on our part. But even memes like these are incomplete.

  • Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. That is true. But to understand a meme referencing what these branches (God’s people) are doing abiding in the vine (which is Christ) you need to read the rest of that passage in John 15 about branches bearing the vine’s fruit, and you should also read Galatians 5 concerning the fruit of the Holy Spirit produced in God’s people. A knowledge of Old Testament passages describing Israel as the vineyard of God would help too.
  • Also, surely the Bible says love is from God and we are to love others as he has loved us. But how great is this love of God? To understand the love of God you need to study Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the patient ministry of the Holy Spirit in everyone who belongs to God, as well as read of the relationship God has had with his people from Genesis chapter one to Revelation chapter 22. Memes can’t cover all that.

I’m not down on memes. though. They get people thinking and can encourage you to turn to God with your cares and thanks and struggles and triumphs and questions. God’s word, even verses in isolation, can achieve much.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12.)

This doesn’t mean you can take God’s word out of context and spout it off willy-nilly. That would be irresponsible (like the three memes I created from Genesis, Job and Acts). God entrusts his word to you to use wisely, through the power of the Spirit of Christ within you. (John 16:13, Ephesians 1:13-14.)

A Meme Bible isn’t the most complete way to learn the word of God, but Bible memes can be a good way to get people thinking about God and his word.

***

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Listening To The Wrong God’s Voice

I thought I heard the voice of God. It wasn’t. No matter how much I wanted it to be, it wasn’t.

It’s not that I didn’t ask. I did. It was in my prayers daily.

“God, if this isn’t your will please let me know.”

But I already knew. I knew what I was doing was not God-approved. I’d read the Bible. I knew what it said. The words of the Bible couldn’t be any plainer.

I already knew.

God's VoiceI kept asking, though, trying to convince myself that God didn’t mind, that he was perfectly fine with my choices. I tried to convince myself not only that my choices were not contrary to God’s will but that they were well within his desire for my life.

They weren’t. As Jim Croce said:

I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real, but that’s not the way it feels
(Jim Croce, Operator, 1972.)

I knew what was real, but I didn’t want to deal with reality. I was like one of the people God spoke of in Isaiah 29:13.

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

My heart was on my desire, not on my Savior. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that God must approve – else why would I have such strong desires – I couldn’t get around the fact that the Bible clearly prohibited what I wanted, and what I did to get what I wanted.

A Change Came Along

What changed? Not my understanding. That had already been set. I understood that what I was doing was wrong, but I wanted it so badly I did it anyway. No amount of convincing was going to keep me from pursuing that desire.

So what changed? The desire itself.

Almost overnight.

One day I desired the sin. The next day I didn’t.

God took the desire from me. That was the answer to my prayer: “God, if this isn’t your will please let me know.” It turns out I didn’t understand the prayer, but the Spirit did. The answer to the prayer was to change the desire within me.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27.)

I’m glad God answers prayer, even when it’s not the prayer I thought I was praying.

***

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Mega-Pastors Abandon Patriarchy, Promote Women Leaders

[An appropriate post each April 1.]

In an abrupt about-face, a group of well-known mega-pastors have announced plans to welcome and promote women in all positions of church leadership.

“There are so many passages of women leading men in the Bible,” said Pastor Les Izmoore, director of My Way Ministries. “I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed before. So I did a little experiment and asked the first woman I saw at church last Sunday what she knew about the woman at the well in John 4, the one who led her entire village to Christ.”

“It turned out she knew a lot,” he said, “and helped me understand how that conversation must have looked to the woman Jesus spoke with. Then she gave me a lesson on Samaritan cultural anthropology in contrast with 1st Century Judaism. Who knew?”

The group is also reconsidering its position on the role of wives and husbands.

“It’s a little embarrassing,” said Mickey McMickleson, former pastor of Church Of the Best Sellers. “I was reading that passage in Ephesians about people submitting, but this time out of a Bible that didn’t have those section breaks or subject headings that editors put in. It turns out that the command to submit applies to husbands submitting to wives as much as wives to husbands.”

When asked whether he’d spoke about this revelation with his wife, he said, “Yeah. She asked what took me so long.”

Change is coming not only in the mega-churches but also to seminaries. One professor, who preferred not to be named, admitted he now needed to revise his well-known list of gender roles and functions. “It should be easy. All I have to do is go down the list and remove the headings that label some roles in the church as restricted to men only.”

He showed visible signs of relief. “I am so looking forward to not having to defend that silly list of 83 roles any more.”

Prominent women theologians and pastors welcomed the news, but declined to give statements. As one scholar put it when this reporter called, “I’m in the middle of researching Chaldean architecture as an expression of ancient religious practices, so I haven’t had much time to pay attention to those men. They’ve changed their minds about women, huh? Glad they’re finally catching up with the rest of us.”

***

[The significance of running this post on April 1.]

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On Writing a Book About My Late Husband’s Dementia

[Carol Noren Johnson gives a glimpse of what it’s like to write and then publish a book on marriage, dementia, loss, grief, hope and prayer.]

During the illness of my late husband, Herb Johnson, I kept a blog of what I was experiencing and learning–what was his dementia/Alzheimer’s and how could I cope.  Hu

Carol and Herb

bby never knew I had that blog.  Prayer was a big factor. Early on when we prayed together, Herb asked the LORD to “give me a shot of joy”! Prayer and answers to prayer kept us going, even when Herb prayed the same prayer over and over again as his thinking declined.

At the same time Herb was going downhill, I took seminary counseling classes, free to church members. I sought out biblical counselors such as Dr. Howard Eyrich and my papers for the seminary were peppered with footnotes about dementia. Later after Herb died, grief counselor, Rev. Carl Mahn, helped me with the last chapter on grief that the seminary wanted in my dissertation. What I was learning could get me an Ed.D in biblical counseling—perhaps.

Reality Struck

As a senior citizen and a widow who had now moved from Florida to Huntsville, Alabama where I have family, how would I manage traveling to defend a dissertation? I went to Florida twice and would have to go again. Did I need a degree? Maybe not. But speak on the topic? Bring it on! I have been in Toastmasters for years!

I decided that as a senior I better finish a book that could help others. I had some time to revise my dissertation draft when I substitute taught. There was time in my schedule. Middle school and high school students would often have excellent behavior for me here in Huntsville, Alabama, so that I would rap for them at the end of the period.  Many knew I was writing a book.  Didn’t think I had time to find a real publisher.

So I invested money in a self-publisher, Xlibris, who gave me a discount perhaps because the main manuscript was done.  $900. They told me I could have twenty-five pictures and it was fun to provide them with twenty-five pictures—not something my dissertation would have had.

Problem one. Footnotes from the incomplete dissertation needed permissions that took a lot of time. I learned that poems and hymns needed permission, but small sections of other books did not. I used the New King James Version of the Bible and noted that at the beginning of the book. Our couple friend’s names were changed to “Sally and Jake” and they gave permission to have part of their story in the book.

Problem two. Money. Xlibris made the book available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can get the book as an eBook, hardback or paperback in anyone of three venues. Xlibris marketing wanted more money from me to market the book—to get me on TV, etc., or to sell the book to a “real” publisher. No, I decided. No money for marketing. I marketed my YouTube channel, MC AC The Rap Lady, myself. If 8000 plus people have viewed my rap “Rocket City Ditty”, then maybe the right people will buy the book.

Besides, I want this book to help, even if it doesn’t make money. We need more than deacons in the church to help with this book. As the back cover says:

This book is biographical, practical and theological. It covers strategies to help Christian counselor, pastors and caregivers and friends minister to the needs of care receivers. Behaviors of dementia care receivers and others are detailed, as are strategies for caregiver stress and facing the mourning that follows.

The day I first showed students the book, Getting Through the Dark Days of Caregiving, they clapped louder for me than when I rap!

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Men and Women: a false gender dichotomy of being rational and emotional

People are emotional beings. Yet when it comes to classifying men and women it comes across differently, as Erica Limkeman recently observed:

Isn’t it telling that being “emotional” is considered a feminine quality and is frowned upon, whereas men are often admired for being “passionate.” Go figure. (Erica Limkeman.)

This is because emotional reactions are considered weak, while passion* is strong. It’s a false distinction, of course. What one person calls passionate another might call emotional. It depends on whether the action appears rational or not. And when it comes to being emotional or rational, there are plenty of examples of women and men displaying either.

Even in the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 25 David had not yet been crowned king over all of Israel as King Saul (David’s master) still reigned. David had been anointed as Saul’s successor but he and his men lived as wanderers. From time to time they needed new supplies.

Nabal was a rich farmer with vast flocks, herds and fields. David sent his men to Nabal, pointing out that they had kept watch over his lands to keep them safe from marauders. Nabal refused them any aid.

Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. (1 Samuel 25:10-13.)

Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saw disaster approaching.

Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” (1 Samuel 25:18-22.)

Abigail told David that her husband was a fool and not worth killing, and that he should accept the supplies she brought rather than carry out his plan for revenge. David agreed.

The Prudent Abigail, Juan Antonio de Frias y Escalante (1667), Museo del Prado

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” (1 Samuel 25:32-34.)

Soon after, Nabal died and Abigail married David. (1 Samuel 25:38-42.)

This story is a fascinating tale, and all the more so for the role reversals.

Take a look at the two main characters. Who let emotions dictate action? David. Who acted rationally? Abigail. In this whole event, Nabal’s a fool, David is ruled by anger and feeling unappreciated, and Abigail keeps her head and saves the day.

If she had not stepped in and advised David wisely and rationally, he’d have slaked his blood-thirst at the expense of gaining a powerful ally. Who was that ally? Again, it’s Abigail. From the interaction with her servants it looks like she already managed Nabal’s operations and it’s possible David took it all for himself when he married her.**

Anyone who says women are supposed to be emotional while men get to be rational is not only wrong; they deny the Bible itself. Emotions and clear thinking are found in both women and men.

That’s the way God made us.

***

*Passion itself can be problematic. See The Perils of Passionate Speech.

**If Nabal had male relatives, they might have laid claim to the estate. Whether David would honor that claim is another matter, seeing as how he felt justified to destroy it all when Nabal was still alive.

***

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That Time I Chose a Church My Friends Wouldn’t Approve Of

[Today’s guest post is from Jeanette Hanscome, who writes of the powerful blessings God delivers when women and men engage in the pastoral work God has prepared for them.]

I sat in church getting so much out of the sermon that I couldn’t take notes fast enough, thinking of at least half a dozen friends who would tell me why this congregation was unbiblical. A knot formed in my stomach. If any of those friends visited and I invited them to church, they would feel uncomfortable. They would express their concern during our post-service lunch and point out the obvious flaw:

There were far too many women in leadership here.

This church had two female pastors on staff. One of them was preaching an incredible sermon today.

The amazing worship director was also a woman. So were some of the elders.

I’d been raised in churches where only men preached. Some of my friends were all for women becoming pastors and elders, but I knew more people with strong opinions against it. Their voices scolded me whenever I entered the sanctuary: Oh, Jeanette. I’m afraid for you. God is not pleased with your choice.

How could I feel so drawn to a church that God wouldn’t approve of? And why did what God wouldn’t approve of seem like exactly where I needed to be? Was I that easily deceived?

A Congregation to Love

I hadn’t expected to find a congregation that I loved as much as the one I left behind when divorce forced me and my younger son to move. My dad’s cousin had invited me to this church. She led a Bible study where I was making friends and learning things about Jesus that made me want to get to know him in a deeper way. That group had become a haven of healing.

The church had resources I needed to recover from my divorce and what led to it. Another female pastor oversaw those ministries. She seemed so kind. I could see myself opening up to her. My cousin had started asking me to fill in for her as Bible study leader occasionally, so I was starting to get more involved.

My parents, who’d dropped out of church attendance, had started coming with me on Sundays. So had my sisters, nephews, and niece.

But were any of these benefits legitimate reasons to stay in a church that allowed something I’d been taught was wrong? Did I not trust God to provide another haven—one with fewer females on the platform?

One day, I found myself in tears over my love for this church and my obvious need to move on. God, what am I going to do?

When God Stops You

Then I sensed God stopping me. Did I think I needed to leave because I truly believed this church was unbiblical, or did I feel pressured to because it didn’t look like what I was used to? Was I concerned about what he thought of my choice, or what my friends thought?

Did I even know what the Bible said about women? Really? I knew some women who were pastors. Had I ever thought she’s doing something wrong about those women? No. The whole issue was a confusing mystery to me.

I felt strongly that I was supposed to stay put and pay attention to what God wanted to teach me.

I asked my cousin/friend to help me understand what the Bible had to say about women in leadership, beyond the few verses that had been drilled into my conscience. When reading my Bible, I noticed how Jesus regarded women. I started observing those two female pastors, and the male pastors, and those I knew who served as elders. Each of them was clearly doing exactly what God had gifted him or her to do. And the dynamic of women and men serving together as equals—I’d never seen anything like it.

One Sunday, I arrived at church rattled from a confrontational text from my ex-husband. I saw the female pastor who oversaw Care Ministries and immediately felt drawn to ask…

“Would it be possible to pray?”

“Of course.”

She sat with me, so we could talk for a few minutes. We prayed then talked some more. She gave me a hug. She asked me to check in with her later in the week, and I did. This pastor became a valuable part of my support system.

The Powerful Prayer of a Pastoral Woman

That’s when it clicked. I’d needed to pray with a pastor that day. I’d also needed to pray with a woman. I was struggling with some deep things at the time and needed a go-to pastor but wouldn’t have felt comfortable opening up to a man. I’d been hurt by some men in church leadership and—though I didn’t realize it at the time—had a hard time trusting pastors because of it. But I trusted her.

It occurred to me that when women have a need, we need support from another woman. Needs put us in a vulnerable place. Pastor’s wives are great, so are women’s ministry leaders and Bible study teachers. But sometimes, we need a pastor to go to, and meeting one-on-one with a guy can feel awkward. For some of us, depending on our experiences, it might even feel scary. How can we get the support and guidance we need if all the pastors and elders are men?

God used all of this to reshape what I’d always been taught. More importantly than that, I learned the importance of seeking his guidance rather than blindly basing what is biblical/unbiblical on what the most opinionated believers have to say, which, in my opinion, can be just as dangerous as attending the “wrong” church.

In the end, I learned to stop limiting God to someone else’s comfort zone, or mine.

I learned to make my faith about following Jesus, not people, and to trust him to know where each of us needs to be in order to grow.

If I had left based on what my friends would feel comfortable with if they visited, I would’ve missed out on the church home that I love and serve in. I would’ve missed out on deep healing and growth that came thanks to both men and women using their gifts.

***

Jeanette Hanscome is the author of five books including Suddenly Single Mom: 52 Messages of Hope, Grace, and Promise, as well as a speaker, writer’s workshop leader, freelance editor, and proud mom of two sons (one grown and one teenager). She enjoys spending some of her free time singing at her church and in the Blackhawk Chorus. You can read Jeanette’s weekly blog posts at Jeanettehanscome.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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