This Mother’s Day, Celebrate the Caregivers

I was recently invited to a workshop on “Caregiver Bias,” which was explained as a problem in our society that people who take care of children, older or sick relatives, or others in need don’t do as well in their careers.  In addition, they said, since Caregiving is more often done by women than by men, these social norms are discriminatory and need to be corrected.  The workshop was part of a broader Diversity and Inclusion initiative, which includes support for women’s reproductive choices.

But shouldn’t Caregiving for children, the elderly, the sick, and the needy be what we celebrate and admire most?  Shouldn’t we choose Caregiving?

In that spirit, for this Mother’s Day post, I choose to salute a diverse set of Mothers:

  • I salute those mothers who choose to serve their families and communities full-time.  Those who volunteer on the PTA, at the local church and food pantry, and who make the school plays and concerts run smoothly.
    I salute the working mothers who choose to make time for the PTA, their church or food pantry, and the school play.
  • I salute those full-time mothers who choose to keep their calm when asked “so, what exactly DO you do all day?”
  • I salute those mothers who choose to run their own business in a way that allows time for them to spend with their children.
  • I salute those mothers who didn’t plan on having children but choose to love and care for them always.
  • I salute those mothers who choose a partner who can focus on Caregiving where they can.
  • I salute those who choose to support those in need who are someone else’s children and relatives, as if they were their own.
  • I salute those who choose to support the choices of all mothers, even if their choices aren’t what they would choose themselves.

Mothers[1] very often sacrifice for the benefit of others, and this Mother’s Day let’s celebrate and admire them all, especially the ones who demonstrate that Caregiving might be the most important career of all.  Let’s be biased in their favor, not today but every day.

After all, aren’t our careers a way to provide what not only we need, but also what others need and can’t provide for themselves?  As suggested by the Apostle Paul a long time ago:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” – Ephesians 4:28

[1] Fathers do too, but this is Mother’s Day.  Look for my Father’s Day post about a month from now.

The Meaning of the Bible in Sign Language

As a hearing child of deaf parents myself, I was thrilled earlier this week to see the movie CODA win best picture, deaf actor Troy Kotsur win best supporting actor, and Siân Heder win for best adapted screenplay.  CODA stands for Children of Deaf Adults and the story centers around Ruby Rossi, a hearing teenage girl who is an amazing singer but is the only hearing member of her family.  There are good lessons in the movie about overcoming differences and obstacles through some compassion and creativity.

It was a great movie but be aware: “Mr. Kotsur used the versatility of sign language to enhance Frank’s dialogue, which is sometimes salty enough to push the limits on the movie’s PG-13 rating.”[1]  There’s one scene in particular where Frank Rossi embarrasses his daughter Ruby in front of a boy with some improvised, erotic sign language.  Versatility has negatives but also positives…

My last post, focused on love, showed how multiple words for love in Greek conceal layers of meaning when translated to English.  After watching CODA, I was reminded of an example where the expressiveness of sign language also adds layers of meaning beyond spoken English. (maybe spoken English is just a bad language?)  Not all sign language is the same – there are many dialects – but the sign for Bible I use is actually two signs: “Jesus” followed by “book.”  Every time I sign what I would just speak as “Bible,” there’s a reminder built right in that the Bible is a book about Jesus.  From start to finish, the Bible is a record of why He needed to come, what He was like when He did, and what His followers should believe, know, and do.  Jesus Christ is described right in the sign for Bible!

But there’s still another layer.  In the book of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul defends his ministry saying that his message needs to focus on “Christ crucified”[2], not on performing miracles to those who want signs and impressing with fancy speech those who love wisdom.  To sign “Jesus”, I touch the middle finger of my right hand to the palm of my left hand, then the middle finger of my left to the palm of my right.  What does that signify?  It’s an expressive reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the nails that were barbarically driven into his hands.  Thomas, one of the 12 main disciples of Jesus, said after the first Easter that he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side.”  Eight days later, Jesus presented Himself to Thomas and said “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  To which Thomas replied: “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:24-29).  I don’t know if this was intended by the person who created the sign for Jesus, but it may be a liturgy recalling this encounter, reminding us that Jesus was crucified, yet lives!

So, whenever you think of the Bible, think of it in sign language where every single time you sign it, there is a reminder that the Bible is the book about Christ crucified.  After Thomas declared who Jesus was, Jesus responded: “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Every time I sign “Bible,” it testifies to those who have not seen Jesus of what He has done for them.

One Last Thing
By the way, to sign “book” you place your hands together flat, palms facing each other, in front of you, then open them as if your hands were the front and back of a book.

[1] Jurgensen, John. “Troy Kotsur of ‘CODA’ Wins Best Supporting Actor Oscar.” The Wall Street Journal, 27 March 2022.
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23

What We Need For Christmas #4: An Everlasting Father

What do we NEED for Christmas?

Over the last two days, I’ve described Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, guiding us into the choices that are best for us, and as Mighty God, empowering us to follow through on those choices, which make us able to love Him and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

A third need we have, according to James Boice is: “We are also individuals, but we sense that we are not meant to be alone. We want to belong somewhere. We need satisfying relationships.”  In Isaiah 9:6, Jesus, the Christ of Christmas, is described as our Everlasting Father, inviting all into His family as daughters and sons.

You may not like everyone in your family.  Getting together for Christmas might come with mixed feelings and apprehension.  You may not like “church” people you’ve met.  But as close to man’s beginning as you can get (Genesis chapter 1), God created the family.  His intention from the start was to build His family, and it needed people in it for Him to love.  He wanted to give them the wisdom and power to become loving reflections of His own character.

The gift of Christ as Eternal Father means that He will accept us – as we are – into His family if we will receive Him.  In John’s gospel, the apostle wrote: “To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

By believing in Him, we can be adopted as sons and daughters, giving us a sense of belonging and fellowship, and removing our fear of rejection.  He will accept us fully and eternally, nurturing and working with us to grow into the people He wants us to be.  He knows everything you’ve done and will do, and everything you are and everything you will be.

The gift of Jesus as Everlasting Father meets one of our deepest needs:
“To belong to someone! Jesus answers this need, because he is our Everlasting Father. Through him we are brought into God’s family.”

To be loved as you have never been before.

This is the third gift of Christ in Christmas.

Thanksgiving is Good and Fitting

“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.” – Ecclesiastes 5:18-19

This Thanksgiving will be different for many people.  The company around the table may be different.  The meal may be different.  The familiarity of tradition may have been shaken.  The means of providing the meal may be different.  The pandemic has changed priorities for many people, in addition to its direct impacts.  Many are viewing their daily toil differently. Some are less satisfied with their jobs, some have retired, some have quit for something different, some have few attractive options. Much has changed.

As the Preacher says in the verses above, even those with jobs and possessions find it difficult to truly enjoy them.  It is “good and fitting”, but it is also “the gift of God” to find joy in the now instead of chasing something we don’t already have. It does not come naturally.

Therefore, focus on the Giver behind the gifts you have, and seek contentment with thankfulness that He has provided everything you need.  Now and in eternity.  You are in good company.

Godly Offspring Aren’t an Accident

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” – Genesis 1:28
“Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking?  Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.” – Malachi 2:15

The first recorded words that God spoke to man and woman were “be fruitful and multiply”.  So, as close to man’s beginning as you can get, God created the family.  If God’s intention from the start was to build His kingdom, it needed people in it for Him to love.  Malachi confirms: “what was the one God seeking?  Godly offspring”.  He wanted a family for Himself, and for each other.

After this early command, one might expect the Old Testament between Genesis (the first book) and Malachi (the last) to be an instruction manual on having a Godly family, and many are only familiar with the “hero” stories learned in Sunday School.  In total though, it’s difficult to find examples of good parents in the Bible.  There are plenty of examples of bad parents, but the most striking story is perhaps that of Judah in Genesis 38.  (And here I feel I should provide a warning that this story has a lot of sexual content.  The full Bible is not a PG movie)

The story[1] starts with Judah taking a foreign (Adullamite) wife, named Shua, against God’s guidance to only marry Israelites so as not to be tempted by foreign gods and religious practices[2].  Judah fathers three sons by Shua, named Er, Onan, and Shelah.  Judah takes Tamar to be Er’s wife, but Er died before having children.  Preserving the family line through descendants was extremely important in ancient Israel, and a brother would marry his fallen brother’s widow to bear children in his place[3].  Therefore, Judah told his second-born, Onan, to take Tamar, but Onan would “waste the semen on the ground” because he selfishly didn’t want the children to belong to his older brother.  Onan also died before having children.  Having lost two sons, Judah sent Tamar to live with her father instead of giving the last son, Shelah, to her.  Judah claims that the reason was that Shelah was not old enough, but it’s implied in the story that Judah thinks Tamar is somehow responsible for the two son’s deaths.  Judah had created his own narrative to explain his misfortune as Tamar’s fault, when it was really God’s judgment for the sins of Judah and his sons.  Genesis makes it clear that God was displeased with Judah marrying a foreigner, that Er died for his own wickedness (verse 7), and that Onan died for avoiding his responsibility as a brother (verse 10).

When Judah’s wife died, he waited a while, but then decided to seek a prostitute.  Tamar, having never been wed to Shelah even though he was now old enough, sought offspring by disguising herself as a prostitute and soliciting Judah.  He did not recognize Tamar, and she conceived a son by him.  Prostitution was common in the land then and was often associated with cult fertility rituals for local gods.  Not only did Judah commit a sexual sin, but he was probably also worshiping other gods.  Later, when Tamar is clearly pregnant, Judah accused her of immorality, but she was able to prove that Judah was the father by producing items he left with her when she was disguised.  Ashamed of being discovered, he “did not know her again”.

In just one chapter, we have the command to produce Godly offspring violated by: foreign marriage, wickedness, refusal to conceive, refusal to offer the third brother, and prostitution.  God must be frustrated with His struggling family, but He does not give up.

In the last chapter of Malachi, shortly after the “Godly offspring” reference and before going silent for 400 years, God ends the Old Testament with:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6

A restoration of proper family relations is the promise that ends the Old Testament.  “Elijah the prophet” is later revealed as a reference to John the Baptist, also spoken of in Isaiah 40:3 as the one who would prepare the way for the Lord Jesus.  The same Jesus who is announced in the genealogy that opens the New Testament in the gospel of Matthew:

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.…and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram” – Matthew 1:1, 3

Here is the miracle of the grace of God: the children born of Judah and Tamar were twins named Perez and Zerah[4].  Matthew could have chosen only those “heroes” of the Bible taught in Sunday School to show Jesus’ superior lineage, but instead chooses to highlight the story of Genesis 38.  Why include these people?  Because there is no other kind.

God’s purpose in creating His kingdom, populated by His family, will not be thwarted by sin because sinners are the only people available to join His family and to raise His family on earth.  Isaiah 53:6 declares:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
             and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Through the death of His only begotten Son on the cross, God became Father of His people through adoption into His eternal family.

But if God’s purpose is inevitable, then why should we bother to be good parents and people?

In the movie Tenet, released last year during the pandemic, there is a scene where one character sacrifices himself for another.  The movie revolves around a technology called “inversion” which allows objects and people to be reversed in time.  Near the end of the story, two characters have a conversation “before” one character travels backward to sacrifice himself to save another character, but “after” the other character has been saved.  They both realize the sacrifice was essential to victory, but also that in the “before” character’s timeline, it hasn’t happened yet.  Can the sacrifice be avoided?  Then comes one of the best quotes of the movie: “What’s happened, happened. Which is an expression of faith in the mechanics of the world. It’s not an excuse to do nothing.”

In God’s view from eternity, “what’s happened, happened”, but He has taken into account all the sins and successes of mankind.  The choices we all make, including the mistakes, are part of the “mechanics of the world”.  All the mistakes will be borne in judgment either by the sinner, or on the cross with Christ.  But we also know “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).  Doing God’s work is His will, is our purpose, and will be rewarded in heaven.  Doing nothing is not an option.

Steve’s Instruction Book for Dads
Some years ago, I was a new dad.  I also had a full-time job with a 1 ½ hour each way commute and was getting an MBA.  As you may guess, time was at a premium for me.

My Moral GPS was getting inputs from a couple of places.  First was a coworker I’ll call “Steve”.  He was a senior person at the non-profit where I was working at the time, had a book at his desk called “God’s Instruction Book for Dads”, and liked to speak his mind.  He once told me his teenage daughter refused to ever talk to him, which he brushed off as “typical teenager”.  What made that comment more interesting was that I later mentioned making sure to leave work in time to see my daughter before she went to sleep.  She was only a few months old at the time.  “Steve” asked me “what do you want to waste your time with that for?  She won’t remember any of it!”

The other voice, and the one I listened to, was my wife.  Any opportunity where I was home, and our daughter needed a bath or a book read, or anything, my wife often suggested I do it.  “You’ll regret it if you don’t”.  Of course, her voice aligned with “the right thing to do” and so I did my school or work at other times.  I didn’t get fired, and I graduated in time.  But, most importantly, I just told this story about Steve and mom to my now-teenage daughter a few days ago as we were talking and having pancakes together for dinner[5].  Relationships take time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a perfect dad, but actions have consequences and don’t take anything for granted.  Fathers and mothers matter, and they sometimes need encouragement and reminders to be good parents.  I recently had a conversation with someone right before Father’s Day who said his kid was a teenager and he wasn’t needed any more.  This was a lie.  I told him that he mattered to his son.

Raising Adults
Some quotes just stick with you even if you have no idea where they came from.  During college, I heard a speaker at some event (don’t remember who or where) say that it’s wrong for parents to say they are “raising children”.  They “have children”, but unless they change their focus to “raising adults”, they’re going to end up sending their kids out on their own as unprepared children, he said.

The Old Testament ends with the call to raise Godly offspring, followed by the prediction of restoring the family through Jesus.  So, what are these Godly offspring who are the adults we seek to raise?  If you’ve been following along on this blog, you can probably guess that Godly offspring:

  • Have within themselves the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to choose the path of righteousness over the path of the wicked,
  • Because they fear the Lord with a reverential awe, making them listen to, and act in, wisdom instead of going any which way,
  • Which they learn from tasting and seeing for themselves that the Lord is good, by turning to Him in repentance and finding Him loving and faithful,
  • Building on the cornerstone of Christ and measuring their actions with the tools of righteousness and justice

They can only find this by God’s grace, but these Godly offspring are the adults the world needs.  Able to make strong decisions that impact the world in a positive way for Jesus.  Able to identify and decide among the voices that confront them in the streets and the Spirit that speaks to them.  They need to learn to fear God by first fearing, but then becoming independent of, their parents or guardians.

The Fatherless Aren’t
In my last post I wrote about different perspectives on truth.  Truth of the way the world is.  Truth of the way it should be.  Gospel Truth.  But I’ll add one to the list now:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1:27

God the Father has a special place for those who don’t have an earthly father. He will be Father to them. Therefore, be Jesus to the widows and orphans, showing them the Way to, and the love of, their Father. There is a reason the Lord’s Prayer starts with “Our Father” – because ultimately all depends on Him.

Many in the world reject God as Father because of the failure of fathers in the world.  Genesis 38, with all its warts, shows us that Judah and many others were part of God’s plan to use sinners to reach sinners.  To become the Father of His eternal people, despite the failure of His people to be good fathers.  There are no Godly offspring without the sacrifice of Jesus.  There is no human Jesus without a genealogy of sinners.  There are none to inhabit heaven without the sacrifice of a human Jesus, God’s only Son, given for you.

Although Father’s Day recently passed, take every opportunity to be grateful for fathers, for parents, for those who take on parenthood in other ways, but also think about those who have no earthly provision.  Those who see Jesus see the Father, so help people see Jesus.  God’s purpose for Godly offspring will be fulfilled and praise Him that you have the awesome responsibility and opportunity to be a part of that work.

You matter.  To God and to others.  Whoever you are.

[1] The following two paragraphs summarize Genesis 38
[2] Deuteronomy 7:3-4
[3] Deuteronomy 25:5-10
[4] Genesis 38:27-30
[5] Breakfast for dinner is an amazing thing.

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