A Letter from a White South African to White Americans

A Letter from A White South African to White Amerians

Dear friend,

It has been an eerie thing for me these past few years: sort of a déjà vu experience to watch the news and read about Ferguson, Eric Garner, Baltimore riots, McKinney and, most recently, the horrific shooting in Charleston. I’ve been watching #blacklivesmatter trend on Twitter: grief and outrage and opinions from every corner. And, as someone who grew up in Apartheid South Africa, this all feels eerily familiar to me. I listen to people talk and think I remember, and I recognize that.

America did away with legislated racism a few decades before South Africa did (I remember reading many of the early US cases in my constitutional law classes in SA), but institutional racism is still alive and well, and people are hurting.

I recognize the fear, the blaming, the use of “they” and “them” in people’s language. I remember hearing the voices of brave voices in the black community appealing to people to listen, to learn, to please, please acknowledge that there are hurts I don’t see or understand. I remember the talk of white privilege, and feeling unjustly accused by the term. I remember grappling with what it meant to be regarded as an oppressor, even though I was too young to have done any wrong myself.

I know there are many differences between America and South Africa’s histories: they are complex narratives, woven in blood and ink. I do not write this as an expert analyst, or as a political pundit – but as one confessing there is so much I don’t know and understand. But, I offer the little I’ve learned living in a country which shed tears and blood over race, and now living in another doing the same:

That, even though I was raised as a “liberal” white person, I was still a beneficiary of privilege. I still had more opportunities than people with more melanin in their skin, just because of race. I had not yet learned that we are all blind to our own privileges until we hear the stories of those who have lived without. Just as we don’t know what a privilege it is to be able-bodied until we, or someone close to us, loses significant body function, we don’t know what white privilege is until we, or someone close to us, experiences significant discrimination on the basis of their skin color. For example, I didn’t know until recently that even the color of band aids reflected privilege: the “norm” is a skin-tone suited for caucasians, not people of color.

That, just because I wasn’t a hate-mongering “racist” and even though I had friends of other races (I was one of the few who went to a private, multiracial school in the 80’s), didn’t mean I knew what it was like to be black. I had not yet learned to listen to people’s stories. 

That, even though my mom did much to try and teach us not to use racial slurs (for example, black men are not “boys”), there were still other presumptions and prejudices and blindspots I carried because of the culture I was born into.

That, even though I believed in a gospel where “there is no male and female, slave nor free, but we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), that there was still a significant need for reconciliation and restoration within the church. The denomination of which I was a part (REACH-SA) held a number of meetings in the mid-nineties, seeking to discuss this very thing: what needed to be done so that predominantly “white” churches” and predominantly “black churches” within the same denomination could have healed and whole relationships with each other. At first, I scoffed at the need for such talks (Why do we need that? Haven’t we all been forgiven by Jesus and so we just forgive each other and move on?), to later on a deep and dawning realization that just offering to have that conversation showed a humility, and offered an olive branch, which had been sorely lacking. As it turned out, we needed to say I’m sorry, even thought I hadn’t realized there was an offense.

To you, beloved Americans, I offer this humble suggestion: please learn something from South Africa’s history in the current crisis? Read Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country. Read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Consider Desmond Tutu’s words and example. Read Michael Cassidy. Read about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Listen to what happened (and how the church responded) when a group of terrorists walked into St James Church and massacred the worshippers there in 1993.

Listen to the stories of the white families around you who are adopting black children, and are learning in their own families about how their darker skinned children are treated differently to their white ones (like Jen Hatmaker, Karen Yates, and Kristen Howerton). Listen to the words of writers like Austin Channing, and Osheta, who are seeking to be peacemakers (not trouble causers) by telling the stories we need to hear about race. Acknowledge that if you are white, you have no idea what it’s like to be not-white.

Can I also gently say that you are not going to hear the stories that will move you towards grace and better understanding if you are exclusively watching FOX news. (Or reading Matt Walsh.) South African would never have been able to move forward if we all just kept listening to the people we had always listened to. We need to read and listen outside of our little circles. It was really only when I had finished law school and was at seminary, side by side with South Africans from every race group, and people were sharing their testimonies of growing up that the penny really began to drop for me. I’m still trying to listen. It’s hard. God knows, I want to be a better listener than I’ve been.

I’m a long time fan of Jodi Picoult’s novels: I love the way she weaves together stories about deeply divisive ethical issues, and places characters in her story who represent various viewpoints on those issues. What amazes me about her writing is how, as each chapter skips to a different character, their views make sense to me when told from within their perspective. Her writing has made me realize that everyone says and does things in accordance with their viewpoint, and that differences of opinion are often less about who has the facts, and all about where a person is coming from in viewing the facts.

I’m in my late thirties, and still learning how much my opinions have been shaped by my being white and growing up in the predominantly white communities and schools I did. Watching South Africa go through its painful transition to democracy was the beginning of a lesson in needing to listen well (and silently) to other’s stories. The difference between a freedom fighter and terrorist is really just a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

I write this with tears, prayer, and hopes that we can do better. Listen better. Love better.

Things are not okay the way they are.

 

What You Don’t Know About Immigration

immigration

In the ten years I have lived in the United States, people have often been shocked when I tell them that not only do I not have a green card, but that I couldn’t get one even if I tried.

I would love to be the holder of a green card—that elusive piece of paper which would grant me the right to remain in the US indefinitely—but as it is, I don’t and can’t qualify. There is not a single category under which I can legally apply for permanent residence.

This is shocking to many, perhaps because I defy some of the stereotypes about immigrants and immigration laws. After all, I am English-speaking and hold two graduate degrees. I am white, I am a committed member of my church, I have three children who are natural-born American citizens. I volunteer on the PTA, I do community service. I have both the skills and the desire to work, but when people want to pay me for writing or speaking, I have to decline. My visa status allows me to volunteer, but not to earn any income. (This strikes me as a pity, because I would so gladly pay taxes on any income I could earn. The perks of living in a country like the US are well worth the taxes, if you ask me.)

This is what I want you to know about immigration: being English-speaking, privileged, white, skilled, educated, hard-working, legally above-board, and socially respectable are not enough to apply for residence in the US.

As it turns out, there are very few categories under which one can apply for permanent residence, and unless your employer is sponsoring you or you are marrying in, you have to be a bit of an über-mensch (as in, a scholar of international standing, a Pulitzer prize winner, an Olympic athlete, to name some of the examples listed on the website) to qualify.

I am none of these things.

But, I have hitched my wagon to a man who holds a PhD in Engineering from a well-respected US university and works in research that affects the spending of millions of tax dollars. Our immigration attorneys tell us they are “hopeful” that his application will be successful. No guarantees. But all our eggs are in that one basket, and if he gets a green card, I—his loving wife and maker of the sandwiches—can have one too.

Until the day we have permanent residence, though, I live under the constant threat that something will happen: funding will be cut and my husband will lose his job/ he will get hit by a driver who is texting/ he will have a heart attack – and I would instantly lose my status as a legal alien in the US. I would have no grounds to apply to stay on my own merit. I would have to leave the country immediately, without time to pack up our house or bury my loved ones, and I would have to pull my American children from their schools and therapies and take them back to a country where they would then become immigrant kids.

Until the day we have green cards, I live under the constant threat of being “randomly” pulled over for hours of questioning in arrivals halls at airports (Not being paranoid. This has happened.) I live with the fear that an official will make a notation on one of our pieces of paper which we don’t understand or don’t notice, but which jeopardizes the legality of our stay here and requires us to leave the country to fix it (Not being paranoid. This just happened to us, too). We have been finger printed, retina scanned, swabbed and searched; submitted documents detailing every place we have every worked and studied, every address of every member of our families worldwide. (This has happened. Who is paranoid?)

We have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to stay legal and keep our paperwork current – but still, as immigrants we live aware that something unforeseen and uncontrollable could happen to our visa status, and we would be vulnerable. Fleeing. Homeless.

I am a legal, documented, and in-every-way-welcomed-by-our-community immigrant, and yet I want you to know that being an immigrant still means I live with the fear that our paperwork is a house of cards, just waiting to come tumbling down. I am afraid of losing my home. I am afraid of being separated from my children. I am afraid that we will have spent ten years trying to build a life here, and still we will lose everything.

To be an immigrant is to be vulnerable. And if I, as a legal immigrant, feel vulnerable – how much more so are those who have a black mark against their record that they feel powerless to erase?

To be an immigrant is to fear. And if I, as a legal immigrant, feel scared – how much more so are those who would not just have to leave, but who would be punished?

To be an immigrant is to risk being unexpectedly wrenched from your family. And if I, as a legal immigrant, fear this – how much more do others?

I’m not justifying illegal immigration. We have done everything we can to stay and be legal in our efforts, and we would do everything we can to encourage and others to be documented, rather than undocumented, workers.

But I do want you to know that being allowed to stay in this beautiful land of opportunity is far tougher and more complicated than you might think. The laws which protect the US’s borders are the same laws which apply to our family. Even though we don’t “look” like immigrants, we are.

When people talk with us about immigration and hear our story, sometimes they say, “oh, we’re not talking about you… we’re talking about all those who came here illegally.” They say, “they shouldn’t be rewarded for their crimes with citizenship.” They say, “if they want to move to the US, they should do it legally and just get in line.”

What I want you to know is that there is no line. Immigration is not like Disneyland, where if you pay enough money and queue patiently for several hours, anyone can ride Space Mountain. There is not a single line that I can stand in on my own merit. Even with language and education and money and privilege aplenty, even though I don’t come from India or China or Mexico, there is no line for me. So, I’m holding my husband’s hand while he stands in that elusive, exclusive line; and we’re hoping for the best.

In the mean while, I’m telling my story because, unlike so many others who know the vulnerability and fear of living as an immigrant, my speaking out doesn’t put my status in the US at risk. I am one of a smaller group who have experienced just how narrow and broken the immigration laws can be, but who can speak about it without fear of being discovered and deported.

I want you to know what it’s like to be an immigrant because perhaps you, like so many of the wonderful, thoughtful people we have come to know in the US, will hear our story and say, “I had no idea,” and “I’m so sorry,” and “Whoa! That’s so much more broken than I realized.”

Maybe you didn’t know these things. We certainly didn’t when we first came. The system is complex and deeply flawed. And so, I thought you should know.

Do you have a story to tell about this? Please feel free to tell it in the comment section: it can be anonymous, too. Telling your story matters.

Why I Won’t Be Watching 50 Shades of Gray

Why I'm Not Going to See

The 50 Shades of Gray movie releases next week and I feel thoroughly icky about it.

When the book came out a while back, part of me wondered whether I should read it. I have read a trashy novel or two in my time, but the lustre of smooth-chested literary lust lost its appeal a while back. I wondered whether I should read it because so many of the women I knew were reading and talking about it. I wondered whether I would be able to participate in any conversation, even if it was to hold out a redemptive view of sex, if I hadn’t read it and was thus disqualified from commenting from the get-go.

In the end, I decided not to read it. And I didn’t comment either.

But for some reason, I feel I need to comment on the movie – even though I have no intention of seeing it. I know enough about myself to know that I am deeply affected by the things I see – no matter how philosophical or detached I try to make myself. I know that watching commercials with beautiful things often leaves me feeling discontent with what I have. I know that that watching horror movies makes me afraid and sad. I know that watching stories where terrible things happen to women and children make me blind with anger and heavy with hopelessness.

And I know that watching movies with lots and lots of unhealthy sex will elicit feelings (illicit feelings!) of desire and fear.

Desire and fear don’t belong together.

I know, too, that once you’ve seen something you can’t unsee it. And for me, the echoes of the image on the walls of my mind bring with them echoes of the feelings that accompanied them. I don’t want sex and fear to go together in my heart or in my head.

I believe that God made sex to be beautiful, celebratory and intimate. As an expression of marital love, it is meant to be all the things that 1 Corinthians 13 says: not self-seeking, not arrogant, not easily angered.

Sex is meant to be an expression of love, and perfect love casts out fear. A sexual relationship laced with fear is not one where love will find expression.

I am all for amazing sex, and I believe God is too. Perhaps one helpful analogy is to think of sex like Lake Tahoe. We live within driving distance of one of the deepest lakes in the world: it is a gorgeous body of water surrounded by the most glorious mountains.

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Lake Tahoe is stunning for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it is a stunning, crystal-clear, shimmering blue lake. It is also a popular tourist destination spot, and is vulnerable to all sorts of pollution. Californian and Nevada drivers alike sport “Keep Tahoe Blue” stickers on their cars: an appeal to the world at large to consider what they dump in the lake… because the water is deep, and once the gunk gets in there, the entire lake is affected.

It is, by definition, adulterated.

Sex has all the potential beauty of Lake Tahoe: something of vast beauty, but deeply vulnerable to human pollution. The way I see it, seeing 50 Shades of Gray would dump a toxic load into the lake. You can’t unsee the filth once it’s in there.

Skip the Gray, and Keep Tahoe Blue. 

Photo credit: Steven Dunleavy (Secret Cove Harbor) – Flickr Creative Commons

When Smartphones Put Pressure On Your Marriage…

I received this letter from a reader, and immediately knew this was a Big Issue: one which we are struggling with too and to which I also wanted an answer. So, I thought about who I’d really like to ask for advice on this one, and immediately thought of two people: Ashleigh Slater, author of Team Us: Marriage Together, and Arlene Pellicane, whose new book Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (co-authored with Gary Chapman) I am currently reading. I’m so grateful they both agreed to help. So, instead of an “Ask Bronwyn” slot this week, here’s the new edition: “Ask Ashleigh, Arlene AND Bronwyn!”

When Smartphones Put Pressure On Your-2

Dear Bronwyn,

I’ve heard many “unplug to reconnect” sermons, but have resisted them, thinking instead about how much email, phone calls, and facebook have helped me to connect to loved ones far away. Much good can come of technology: for my husband and I these are quick messages during a work day, little bits of encouragement when we are apart, etc.)

But what do you do when you feel like your partner habitually checks his phone, twitter, emails, etc. way too often? At the dinner table? in bed? in the midst of family time? Even the phrase “way too often” assumes that someone is right about their expectations and about what is too much and when is or is not a good time for these things. But I am stumped about HOW to talk about this without falling into a bunch of conversational traps: moral high-grounding instead of giving the benefit of the doubt, being just one of them. The question, “Can we spend some time together?” is now a loaded one in our house, really meaning, “Will you please put down the computer or phone now?” Neither of those questions go well.

It hurts to be sharing something (even something simple, like how my day went) when I can see his eyes tracking, line by line, whatever he is reading in addition to listening to me. I sometimes feel resentment well up when he laughs or smiles at something he reads, which is lousy because I love to see him happy, love to hear that something delighted him or was funny or turned out well. But over time it is hard to feel seen and valued, hard to feel like I’m interesting to him. I get that my routine or experiences are not captivating. But feeling not captivating as a person, feeling like I have a hard time getting his attention versus the endlessly entertaining or stressful or soothing or just NEW stream of information always waiting for him–this has a profound effect on how I experience our relationship.

He is a loving dad and husband, cares deeply about us, works hard to provide for us, and is aware of these issues. But we are stuck. We’re long-married and deep into these habits. We have not had much success with setting aside time for non-gadget interaction. Even family time often includes sharing something funny we saw or getting a tutorial on a program that really speaks to our kids’ interests.

I guess the questions here are several. But really, relationally, I feel weary and sad about this issue a lot. Any thoughts on how to have productive conversation on this? – Overwhelmed

Arlene Pellicane 600x600jpg-1Arlene writes:

Dear overwhelmed friend,

Thanks so much for your honest wrestling. It sounds like you and your husband have some digital habits that are eroding the sense of closeness you have in your marriage. Habits are hard to break, but it is certainly doable. First, you and your husband have to believe. You have to believe, both believe, that technology is interfering with your relationship. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t be having these feelings. You must also believe that it’s within your power to make positive changes and that those changes will be well worth it.

Once you and your husband have the “why” in place (why do we need to make changes?), the “how” will make itself clear. Don’t be discouraged if you’ve tried different digital fasts to no avail in the past. Start with small steps. Start with, “When we are talking to each other, let’s put down our phones and look each other in the eyes instead.”

Just that one step will make a big difference.

Once that comes naturally, you can maybe a try tech-free hour every day. Or shut down screens after 10:00 p.m. Just changing habits by sheer willpower is difficult. You must create an environment where change can take place.

In Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World, I quote author William Powers who tried a digital Sabbath with his wife and teenage son. They unplugged their home modem from Friday at bedtime until Monday morning. Listen to what he said:

“We’d peeled our minds away from the screens where they’d been stuck. We were really there with one another and nobody else, and we could all feel it. There was an atmospheric change in our minds, a shift to a slower, less restless, more relaxed way of thinking. We could just be in one place, doing one particular thing, and enjoy it…The digital medium allows everything to be stored for later use. It was still out there, it was just a little further away. The notion that we could put the crowd, and the crowded part of our life, at a distance like this was empowering in a subtle but significant way. It was a reminder that it was ours to put at a distance.”

The entertainment, emails to return, news stories – all of these things can be put at a distance. That can be very liberating! Neither one of you should feel like you have to compete with pixels for the attention of your spouse. In ten years, what will really matter?

What will really matter is that you gave your loved one your undivided attention when he or she wanted it. May God bless your home with peace and guide you with wisdom to take the next step towards being closer in your marriage.
GrowingUpSocial
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife. She has been featured on the Today Show, Family Life Today, K-LOVE, and The Better Show. She lives in San Diego with her husband James and three children. Visit Arlene at www.ArlenePellicane.com for free family resources including a monthly Happy Home podcast.

ashleigh slaterAshleigh writes: 

First, you aren’t alone in this issue. My husband Ted and I struggle with it at times too.

Ted’s a web developer. Dozens and dozens of websites depend on his skill set and expertise, which means he’s basically on call 24 hours a day. iPhones, iPads, and laptops are always within reach. The more they’re used for work, the easier it is to also use them for continual play. And it’s not just him who struggles, I do too. We’re continually working toward balance. And that’s what I hear you saying you want too: balance.

So how do we talk about an issue like this in a productive way? In a way that helps bring change?

When we face issues, Ted and I like to use one of our favorite communication techniques called the communication sandwich. It means that when we have criticism to share with each other, we sandwich it between praise. Much like we’d place liverwurst (not that I actually eat that, mind you) and Swiss between two slices of Wonder Bread. We’ve found that we’re both more willing to chew on the negative, if we’re fed some positive also.

You mentioned that your husband is already aware of these issues. Since he knows it’s a problem already, how can you put together a communication sandwich that will spur him on to actively seek balance? Well, I’ve crafted an example of a communication sandwich for you below. And, I asked Ted – since he has similar struggles – to edit it for me. I wanted to know what he’d best respond to if he were in your husband’s shoes. Here’s what we came up with:

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p style=”text-align:center;”>PRAISE
I’m daily reminded of what a great husband and dad you are. You really do work hard to provide for us. I’m really thankful for how well you care for me and our kids. And I love how proficient you are with technology. It is helpful to me and to our family.
CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
But I miss the undistracted connection we once had. You know, back before technology was such a big part of it. I don’t think we need to go cold turkey with technology, but I would love to see us have more balance. It would mean a lot to me if we could start setting aside blocks of time that are technology free where we both disconnect from stuff like Facebook, viral videos, texts, and emails. Where we’re off the grid together and nobody can interrupt us. Maybe during that time we could take a walk or pull out an old board game or read together.
PRAISE
You really are such a fun to spend time with. I love to see you laugh and enjoy yourself, so that’s why I really want to find ways to do that better together.

It’s not the perfect sandwich, but hopefully it gives you an outline from which to work. I pray that you and your husband will be able to successfully find balance long-term in this area.

41xItKlfZELAshleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us: Marriage Together. As the founder and editor of the webzine Ungrind and a writer with almost 20 years of experience, she unites the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application to encourage readers. Ashleigh and her husband, Ted, have been married for more than a decade. They have four daughters and reside in Atlanta, Georgia. To learn more, visit AshleighSlater.com.

IMG_0185Bronwyn writes:

I struggle with this so much too: I am guilty of often being too absorbed in my own screen and ignoring my family, but I get so quickly hurt or frustrated when I feel like I cannot get my husband’s attention. It makes me feel that I have to be More Interesting Than The Entire Internet for him to look up, which, even on my most awesome days, isn’t even close to possible.

I wonder sometimes what people did in years past during their evening hours. I have romantic notions that in the years-before-the-internet, couples spent every evening amiably chatting to each other, fully absorbed and engaged in one another’s company.

But there must have been introverts in previous centuries too, and so this makes me think that I’m quite sure the problem of ‘how do we spend our downtime?’, and ‘I feel I am competing with his/her hobby for attention’ is an old one. I read the after-dinner scenes in Jane Austen with some interest: the habits of men and women retiring to read/crochet/smoke and play board games – and all the time hoping for snatches of real conversation in the midst of it. Maybe the competition we feel from the internet is not that different from the competition people felt from TV in the 70s, or from newspapers, or novels, or whittling, or quilting, or (add your pleasurable pastime of choice).

When I think of it that way, it makes the pressure of technology seem a little less frightening to me, because while it’s true that spouses have never had to compete with All The Information In The World for attention, it is also true that couples have been wondering how to stay interesting to distracted spouses for centuries. I think the internet does complicate things, because while novels or quilting projects or woodwork projects may distract for a while – they have a natural end and eventually someone has to look up because they’ve reached the end of that activity. But the Internet has NO END. So there’s that – and I think it calls for more a little more self-awareness and better internal boundaries, since the externally-imposed boundaries (like running out of pages to read in a book, or a movie ending) don’t apply.

I think that for us, one reason we get entrenched in screen time is that we think the other is distracted/engaged with something else – and so while they’re busy/unavailable, we then busy ourselves with our own interests. So for example, I’m emailing when he sits down to chat, so he waits and gets busy catching up on tech news. Then I’m done but can’t catch his eye, so I pull up that article I bookmarked to read. He looks up and I’m still reading, so he clicks over to read the comments on his favorite website. I look up and see him scrolling, so I check into Facebook and instantly fall down a social media rabbit hole. He looks up and sees the ominous blue and white glow on the screen and knows I may not come up for a while, so he starts watching a show he knows I’m not interested in. I eventually surface from Facebook, hurt that I’ve been wanting his attention all night, but because he was busy I had to keep myself busy, and now he’s watching a show I hate, so I may as well go to bed with my book…

Agh. A tragedy. I can’t tell you how many nights we spend like this.

Here are my thoughts: I need to acknowledge the behaviors I am guilty of which communicate distraction/disinterest to him, and do my part to be available and interested: “Sorry, I know I’ve been distracted, but I will shut this thing down in 5 minutes”. I also need to speak up and ask for what I want: “when you’re finished reading that, can we hang out/talk about something? I’d like to talk to you and it’s hard to share when I feel I’m competing with the screen. Let me know when you’re done…” Also, I need to acknowledge that we may have to talk about this more times than I’d like: we are all struggling with how the technology tsunami interfaces with our lives, and it is (for sure) a conversation we are going to have to have again and again.

In the final analysis though, I’m thinking that the fact that you have children provides one significant way to help have that conversation, because while it’s one thing to talk about technology between the two of you, its another thing to ask (and have to periodically revisit): “what lessons about technology and relationships are our children learning from our behavior as well as from our words?” I’m starting to see how my children, young as they are, are reflecting our changing attitudes to the internet: “Well, we can just order that online,”, or instead of debating an answer, saying “we can look that up on Wikipedia”. More sinister, though, is having them watch a show and ignore us when we speak, or saying “I”m just finishing this first”, and dismissing us. It hurts and angers us both to be treated like that by our children, but strangely enough – that is also possibly the best reality check we have both had to realizing they are learning that behavior from us.

Perhaps a conversation about “what lessons are we modeling about priority in relationships” with your spouse might also be a safer way to tread the waters, and keep you both accountable?

Thanks for asking such a great question. I hope that something here has been of use. Praying for you, and for us – for we all need so much wisdom in this.

Bronwyn Lea has not written any books, and is the only one on this answer page who is not endorsed by Gary Chapman, but gets to write an answer here because this is her blog 🙂 If you have a question you’d like to send in (about anything: life, faith, relationships or anything – click over here. Thanks for reading. 

To the Beautiful, Smart Girl Dropping F-bombs

To The Beautiful, Smart Girl Dropping

To the beautiful, smart young woman I saw today,

I was one of the passers by at the restaurant you were at this afternoon: a nameless face walking past while you sat on the patio with your friends. I heard you before I saw you, telling a story about pillows. You called them f!#ing pillows. It got my attention. By the time I got near to where you were at I’d heard a little more about how f#@ing frustrated you were about having to change them, and you asked your friends beseechingly: “how was I supposed to f@#*ing know?”

By then, I was near my car and nearly out of earshot, so I looked back quickly one more time. Yes, you are beautiful. And you had everyone’s attention. And I could tell by your collegiate sweater that you are smart too: it takes a 4.0 to get into the school whose name you wore today. And I wondered if you knew how very beautiful and smart and captivating you are – and how the constant use of F@*# in your dialog detracted, rather than added, to your attractiveness?

I wasn’t with my kids today, so it wasn’t that I was worried they’d hear and do their repeat-the-new-word playbook all the way home. It also wasn’t that I was offended. I have said similar things in times of extreme stress (it is a tough ask to find a woman who has given birth and didn’t reserve some choice words for the process). But the story you were telling was about pillows. And housemates. And chores. And I think you wasted the big words on such very not-big things.

Which is a pity.

I can remember a time when I swore a lot more. At the time, the words tasted like independence and free speech and power. They said “I’m an adult – I can say what I want. The teachers and my parents can’t hear me or stop me.”  But a few years down the road I realized they left an empty taste in my mouth – and my words were powerful, more independent, and actually freer without them. There were so many other, marvelous, descriptive adjectives I had been missing while relying on the cheap-thrill of the F-bomb. Like pusillanimous. And geriatric. And wretched. And bombastic. Even once I’d realized that swearing wasn’t doing me any favors, it took a while to break the habit… but it was a habit worth breaking.

Really, adulthood means not just saying what you want – but saying what is needed, what is true, what is right. Even if you’re telling a story about pillows.

Just a thought, from a stranger who thought you were lovely, and could have been lovelier yet with a few less words.

Teaching My Children To Drink

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Growing up, 18 was the Age At Which It All Happened. At 18, I could vote. At 18, I could drive. And at 18, I could legally purchase alcohol.

When we moved to the USA some ten years later, more than a few of my new American friends expressed surprise that our mother country could be so unwise as to allow teenagers to “drink and drive” at the same time. My honest response was that I didn’t see that it was a problem: it was (of course) illegal to drink and drive simultaneously, but that 18 was the age at which we could choose whether we would drink or drive seemed reasonable to me.

At the same time, I was grappling with a very different “drinking culture” in the college town we were in, where most of the student population were clearly too young to drink legally, but were doing so anyway. I heard more than one story of a college student nearly poisoned to death by alcohol on their 21st birthday. The drinking excesses seemed extreme to me.

And yet, the tee-totalling culture in our little Christian community seemed extreme to me too. As a volunteer in the college ministry, I was advised that if I chose to keep alcohol in my house, I should keep it out of sight in case any students saw it when they dropped in.

My husband and I tried hard to comply, but I cannot guarantee that there weren’t any occasional Merlot sightings.

Another 10 years has passed, and I find myself in a different world once again. In this world I have small children, and two of those children are now of an age where they can read my Facebook newsfeed and see things like this:

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Last week Kristen Howerton wrote about whether parents should tone down the drinking jokes on social media, and I took her advice to heart. The thing is: my children are learning about drinking, whether I say something about it or not.

I’m thinking, then, that it might be best for me to say something. Yes, I’m going to teach my children how to drink, because I don’t want them taught by my silence and my jokes. In particular, I want to teach them:

The WHO of drinking:

We drink with people we trust, people with whom we feel safe. If we are in a public place, we need a “buddy”.  We don’t drink alone. My kids need to see this modeled at home, in real life as well as on my facebook page. It strikes me that much of our cultural joking about drinking makes it seem like a glass of wine is all about relaxing-me and rewarding-me. But as with all things: life is not about me.

The WHEN of drinking:

We need to consider the timing and context of drinking: if you’re underage, it’s not time. If you’re in the company of someone who struggles with it, it’s not time.

The WHY of drinking:

We drink to celebrate, to remember, to honor. I loved this quote from Tony Kriz:

Alcohol can be used to medicate and to numb the soul. Too many hope for a pause, to forget their many pains: heart pains, soul pains, relational pains, hopelessness, and loss. Yet the Bible doesn’t support these uses.

In the divisive church climate around alcohol, I don’t know if you choose to drink or not. But either way, the best theology of wine is that it is a metaphor of joy and heaven. It was not created to be a tool of personal and interpersonal destruction. (Teetotalers and imbibers can certainly agree on that.)

Alcohol was created to help commemorate the significant moments of life. My theology is simple: God gave us wine to remember, not to forget.

The WHAMMY of drinking:

I want to tell my kids what alcohol does: it affects the way your body processes information, and it affects our decisions. This is part of what is nice about drinking – it makes us feel light-hearted (at first). But I also want to tell them that this is what I don’t like about drinking – the feeling that I am not in control of my own body. We talk a lot about self-control in our house. I want my kids to know that self-control is not just a word which we use to talk about whether we drink. Self-control is also the thing we increasingly forfeit if we have too much, and as a Christian that is concerning.

I haven’t yet decided whether teaching my kids about drinking will mean we let them sip from our glasses as teens in the safety of home, as my parents did. But for sure, it means we’re going to talk about it rather than smirk about it. When it comes to my kids’ “script” on the topic of alcohol, I want to be the primary author.

Their education about alcohol will not begin when they are 18, or 21, or whatever the legal age might be. Their drinking education begins now: theory first, and prac in the years to come.

Photo credit: wine monkey love by sfgirlbybay (Flickr Creative Commons)

Note to a Junior High Student

A Note to a Junior High Student

Dear Student,

Today, I sat next to your teacher on the plane. We sat down and exchanged names and destinations. We were both returning home from the same writers conference. “Are you a writer?” I asked. “I’m an English teacher,” she said, “but I go for the love of reading.”

We settled into our flight. I dived into a bowl of pretzels; she pulled out her laptop. I confess I peeked at her screen.

She was grading your paper.

Her fingers shimmered over the keyboard: selecting text and typing notes in the margin: “use size 12 font here”, “capitalize your title”, “can you think of a way to tie these sentences together for more emphasis?” and, “this paragraph would be better if you introduced your big idea here.”

And then this: “:-)” . . . A smiley face of encouragement and enjoyment.

I think perhaps she spent more time molding your first paragraph than even you did: shaping it, clarifying it, edging it towards expression and excellence.

And I wondered, student, if you know how much your teacher loves you? Did you know that she writes all those notes not to point out your faults but to point out your future: she is shaping YOU, clarifying YOU, edging YOU towards expression and excellence.

Did you know she spent so much time on this? She was tired this morning. She could have slept or read a book, she could have read your paper and just issued you a grade. But instead, she made notes because she is investing in you. She fussed with your grammar and punctuation and sentence structure because she believes you have a voice and it is important and she wants it to be heard.

“This is a strong paragraph,” she typed. “Make this active rather than passive,” and “add a space at the beginning of this sentence.”

I remember getting papers back in high school. I remember greedily searching for my grade. The grade was all that mattered: the teachers’ notes a supplementary thought. If the grade was a B, I was already upset. The notes, I thought, were just details to put me down.

Student, I watched your teacher grade your paper, and I want you to know she is not writing to put you down. She is writing to help you up. She loves you. She believes you matter.

Tomorrow you will get your paper back and it will be filled with the red ink of correction. Perhaps you will feel discouraged. Angry. Disappointed. Bummed.

But I write this in the hope that maybe, just for a moment, in those notes you will see something else: the time and dedication of a teacher who believes in you, wants you to succeed, wants you to fly.

She’s not on your back, she’s at your side.

Please, read her notes, and know that you are loved.

My dear Wormwood, about World Vision…

My Dear Wormwood, About World Vision

My dear Wormwood,

It has been a while since our last correspondence, but Headquarters has sent out a fresh batch of directives which require our most immediate and urgent attention. Our Father is particularly delighted at the ways in which the Christians are slinging arrows at each other following the gleeful little rumpus regarding World Vision. Usually it is our task to aim the fiery darts, but it seems at present our bows have been all but snatched from our hands. All we need do is work at twisting the arrows in where they have found purchase.

It is rare that I congratulate you on a job well done, but I must applaud you for your fine work on your patient this week. Where there was disappointment at first, you managed to nudge it towards disdain and even anger in the hours that followed. We count it a victory that you kept your patient reading and engaging online for hours before the Enemy pulled him away for an infuriating moment of prayer and reflection.

It is, of course, the Enemy’s habit to unravel and undo our best efforts at disunity and confusion, but our immediate attention must be to delay the inevitable as long as possible. Collateral damage is key, even if the final battle cannot be won. The longer you can stir feelings of grief and outrage, the better. Put it into his head to feel a pitiful sorrow for himself, for the starving children, for the opportunities lost; and pit his sorrow against the “others” who call themselves Christians. Make frequent use of the words ‘they’ and ‘them’: those sneaky pronouns make such delightful inroads into so-called Christian “community”.

Self-righteous reflection will be our greatest ally here. Do your very best to keep a level of deep disappointment and blame simmering in his chest, but under no circumstances should you let his regret develop into remorse or repentance. Let him be sad, but do not let him wallow near godly sorrow. Have him question the state of the souls of others: it will keep him from soul-searching himself, at least for a time.

Time is of the essence, dear nephew. Do all you can to keep him at his computer, and off his knees. If we cannot dissuade our patients from calling themselves biblical Christians, our best bet is to make critics rather than students of them all. I look forward to your next missive reporting increased levels of frustration and folly all round.

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE

C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters have long been a favorite of mine. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to beware of our enemy, who prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. This week, I have wondered what that prowling lion has made of the World Vision controversy, and I confess I spent too much time online and not on my knees. Writing this was a helpful spiritual exercise for me. I publish it in the hope that it might be for you.

Help, I’m newly married and pregnant

Yes, this is a photo of a stick with pee on it.

Yes, this is a photo of a stick with pee on it.

Dear Bronwyn,

I just found out that I am pregnant and have only been married 5 months! We were diligently taking birth control, I am in the middle of my graduate program & my husband makes very little money. How are we to handle such a big change that we did NOT plan on having for another 4 or 5 years?                                   – Not Ready

Dear Not Ready,

I well remember feeling so broke and afraid of getting pregnant when we first moved to the US. We were newly married, had no money and very little support and I couldn’t afford any health care at all. I think I would have collapsed on the floor weeping at first if that pregnancy test had two positive little lines.

It is a BIG surprise. And it means BIG changes for you. But this is one of those classic examples where we have to say that while man makes plans, The Lord ultimately directs our steps. And the things we know to be true about Him is that He is good. He loves you. And He calls us, just like Jesus said to the disciples in the boat in mark 6 when the waves were threatening to engulf them, to not be afraid, but to have faith.

Jesus will lead you through this.

I remember a few years into our marriage doing some reading and being convicted that I had had some very wrong thinking about marriage and kids. I realized I had been making pro and con lists about whether and when we should have kids. And then at some point it was as if God said to me: “Bronwyn, I have said that children are a BLESSING. By definition that means they are a PRO. why are you making pro and con lists when I already told you which it is?” It was hard to hear at first, but actually greatly freeing for me.

God has obviously decided that right now you get to be blessed with this pregnancy. He intends it for good. You are definitely old enough. You are married enough.

You are ten years older than Mary was when God chose her to be the mother of Jesus.
And you have more marital experience than she.
And you have better health care.
And you have the spirit of the living God jnside you.
You are going to do GREAT. Have faith: if God has called you to this, He will equip and provide!

As far as feeling ready or prepared for parenting…. Well, let me just say that I don’t think we are ever really READY to be parents. It’s a huge big surprising adventure in grace. God gives us pregnancy months not just to grow a baby, but also to grow us. By the time baby comes, we are as ready as we will ever be – and in God’s grace, it will be enough. We don’t get a second shot at anything in parenting: we are never ready for babies, or for the first time our kids sass us, or the first time they really hurt themselves, or for them to be teenagers. Parenting is all about living in the moment by Gods grace.

On a practical note: your ob-gyn may not see you for several weeks. A doctor may consider your home test sufficient proof and only schedule a first visit and ultrasound at around 10-12 weeks, so it is possible you will have a few weeks to wait. If so, here’s my advice:

  • Take pre natal vitamins. Start this TODAY and don’t delay. The big thing with prenatals is the folic acid which, in the first weeks of baby’s life, eradicate the possibility of spina biffida. If you get nauseous taking them, try taking them with food or at different times of the day. But do take them.
  • Even if you’re planning to keep this a secret for a while, tell a handful of people. The first trimester is sometimes easy going, but sometimes rough. It is exhausting physically, especially around weeks 8-11, and you may need help and grace from friends. Also, if something does happen with the baby, you will need support. Trust me on this: we had one miscarriage and I was glad I had told just a few people. I needed them.
  • Finally, look into state sponsored prenatal care, which may cover many (if not all) your prenatal costs, and possibly also your baby’s healthcare for the first year of their life. If you already have health care, state health care will pick up the co-pay/deductibles etc. In our case, we were only be able to apply after the first ultrasound as we had to take in the picture to prove your pregnancy, but it was totally worth the red tape and the wait. We were SO THANKFUL for it. The state support for young families made us all the more willing to pay tax dollars in the years that followed.

You are going to be okay! There is a community of older, godly women which God has prepared JUST FOR YOU to give you all the advice, help, nurture and encouragement you need. He will give you more mothers to bear you up as you set out on this new journey of being a mother yourself.

I hope this helps. You and your husband are starting out on a grand adventure. You may not be ready to hear this yet, but CONGRATULATIONS!

The Illustrated Guide to Justification


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I’ve been wanting to write this post for nearly a year now. In fact, the reason I chose the topic “31 Days of Belonging” was because I wanted to include a mini-series on Justification. Thinking through this topic has arguably been the most rewarding thing I’ve learned from the Bible in several years. I hope and pray it is true to the Scripture, and helpful to you. If you just want the pictures part, please feel free to scroll down past the introduction.

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but it is not true that all words are created equal. Some words are more important than others, and for people of faith, JUSTIFICATION is one of those words.

The early church, persecuted and condemned by the courts of Rome, clung to the truth that they were justified by the court of God.

1700 years later, the course of Western Civilization changed because of the reformation rallying cry of “justification by faith”.

Blood has been spilled over this issue. It’s important to understand it.

After three years at seminary, I thought I had a fairly good grip on what justification meant. I had studied church history and soteriology and (good grief!) even translated Romans from the original Greek into English. So when I started preparing a series of conference talks on the big words used to describe what Jesus accomplished on the cross (redemption, justification, adoption), I thought I would just be brushing up on my bible college notes. I could not have been more wrong.

In my studies, I discovered that in the dozen or so years since I finished seminary, some of my theological heroes have been fencing with ink over what justification means. NT Wright and John Piper, in particular, have both written books on the topic in the last few years: publicly, heatedly, passionately disagreeing with each other – and both appealing to the Bible for support. I was beginning to appreciate why my friend Dan Seitz had said he believed “justification was the biggest issue facing the church today.”

I hit the books. The conference date was coming up and I was panicking. When I read Piper, I totally understood what he was saying. But when I read Wright, I found myself nodding and underlining and agreeing with him too. Weeks of wrestling later, I found myself trying to wrangle these big ideas into sentences. I felt like I was trying to capture wild tigers running loose in my head. I labored with words as I labored with the Word.

I sifted through ideas, and landed up with a series of annotated illustrations which, to me, were an “aha!!!” moment in understanding. What follows is my attempt to understand what the Bible teaches about justification – incorporating both Piper’s insistence that it means our complete pardon by God due to the merits of Christ, and also Wright’s insistence that we explain justification with reference to the wider Biblical context, and particularly, with reference to Father Abraham, whose name appears in every New Testament passage dealing with justification.

Before we get to the pictures, there are two brief things to note:

1) Justification is a LEGAL word. It is the opposite of condemnation, one of two possible verdicts which can be given in a legal trial. When the Bible talks about justification, it is a courtroom image – where a contract (particularly, a relational contract, or COVENANT) is being adjudicated by God the judge.

2) Justification and righteousness are WORD BUDDIES. In both Hebrew and Greek, righteousness, justice, and justification are all different forms of the same word. It would be theologically correct (but linguistically awkward) to think of justification as “righteoussifying”, or righteousness as “being legally considered to be JUST, or exonerated, or declared to be in the right, by God”.

But now… on to the pictures.

-The Illustrated Guide to Justification-

Way back when, in a hot middle eastern land, God bound himself up in a relationship with a man named Abram. Just like marriage covenants are created by making vows, so God initiated a (wonderful, intimate) binding legal relationship by making vows to Abram. Renaming him Abraham, God vowed that he would bless Abraham: he would give him a land, many descendants, an honored name and a world impact. Most importantly, he promised himself to Abraham. “I am your very great reward,” God said (Genesis 12:1-3).

Genesis 15 tells us what Abraham’s profound response was: he believed God.

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Abraham believed God, and God “credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). In other words: God JUSTIFIED Abraham, or gave him a legal stamp of approval.

Here is my attempt to depict what this relationship looked like: against the backdrop of Genesis 1-11 and the sin of the whole world, culminating in the tower of Babel, God created a sphere of blessing and started a new relationship with people. He would be Abraham’s God, and Abe would be his person. Abraham believed God (in other words, he had faith).

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Now when a contract is contested in court, the judge’s job is to determine whether the parties have performed their side of the contract. Each party is judged according to what they promised to do. If the court finds that they have performed properly, they would receive a verdict of “justified”. If they don’t, they would be “condemned”.

So at this point, if Abraham and God’s covenant (or contract relationship) was to be scrutinized, in order to be “justified”, each of them would need to keep their promises. God would need to keep his promises to bless Abraham, and Abraham had to believe it. And the verdict? Abraham was “justified by faith”. This does not mean that Abraham was sinless, but it does mean he was within the sphere of blessing. He was relating rightly to God, and was one of His people.

400 years later, God had a “vow renewal ceremony” with his people, this time at Mt Sinai with Moses and some angels officiating. This time, God was making a covenant with Abraham’s descendants (whom we call Israel). Exodus and Deuteronomy record God’s “I will” promises. Specifically, he promised to keep his promises to Abraham. He promised again to be their God, and have Israel be His people. And He gave them the law, to show them how to live.

This time, however, Israel made vows too. “We will do everything you say in the law,” they promised. As God’s people, Israel had to choose how they would behave in this relationship. If they were faithful and obeyed the house rules, things would go well for them and they would receive blessing upon blessing. (Just like in marriage, if you are faithful, you reap blessings!) However, if they were unfaithful to Him and rebelled, there would be sanctions and curses (to use the language of Deuteronomy.

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It is important to realize this about the covenant between God and Israel: he KNEW they were not perfect people, and so within the law He made provision for sins to be confessed, paid for and forgiven through the sacrificial system. The “sphere of blessing” included provision for dealing with sin. This is crucial because we often confuse “righteousness” with “sinlessness”, but they are not the same. Abraham wasn’t sinless. He sinned aplenty, but his heart was orineted towards God. Israel wasn’t sinless either. To say that you needed to be “sinless” to be justified (or found righteous) means that God set Israel up for failure from the start, which cannot be true.

To be found “righteous” or “justified”, Israel didn’t have to be sinless, but they did have to have their sins DEALT with. God gave them the substitutionary sacrificial system and called Israel to confess their sins and have FAITH (just like Abraham did), that their sins were dealt with. Sinful Israel could still, by faith, be in God’s “sphere of blessing”, and if that’s where they were then they could get God’s judicial stamp of approval, or justified. Being righteous doesn’t mean being sinless, it means being in a RIGHT-RELATIONSHIP according to the covenant (while that covenant provides for forgiveness).

Consider how Romans 4 explains David’s understanding of justification under the Mosaic Covenant:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,  just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;

blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:4-8 ESV)

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The law given at the “vow renewal ceremony” highlighted one big problem: sin. Israel had hearts that were “prone to wander”: their sinful hearts were always pulling them away from God. The law put into words what already lurked beneath: their tendency was to drift away, to distrust and disbelieve God, and by walking towards the nations – they walked out of the sphere of blessing.  The Old Testament recounts God sending prophet after prophet with the message “Come back! Come back to me! Come back because I love you, and come back because if you move away from me your sins can’t and won’t be dealt with!” But Israel kept wandering.

What, then, shall we say of the “verdicts” on God and Israel’s promise-keeping on their covenant? The prayer on Nehemiah’s lips towards the end of Israel’s history is very revealing:

“You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans. You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him a covenant to give his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous. ” (Nehemiah 9:7-8)

“Nevertheless, Israel was disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.” (Nehemiah 9:26)

“Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. (Nehemiah 9:32-33 ESV)

Verdict on Israel? Condemned. Unrighteous.

Verdict on God? Righteous. But…. uh oh. Here was a problem. God had a covenant conundrum.

To be found righteous according to the covenant, God had to keep ALL the promises he had made to Israel, which included a promises to:

1) BLESS Abraham’s descendants and the whole world through them (Genesis 12), and yet he had also promised to

2) PUNISH them for breaking the covenant.

What to do? What to do?

Well, the New Testament is very clear that the brilliant and wise way God kept his promise was by initiating a new covenant through Jesus, the promised Messiah. The original covenant had been with Abraham, the vow renewal with Abraham’s descendants, but the new covenant would be with Abraham’s descendant . Galatians 3 makes a big deal of pointing out that God had promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendant (singular), not descendants (plural). Jesus, Abraham’s descendant, would live as the perfect, righteous and faithful Israelite. He would make vows back to God: “Here I am,” he said, “I have come to do your will.”

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Finally, there was perfect covenant performance. Jesus completely kept God’s covenant. He was completely faithful, completely obedience, completely sinless (thus earning ALL the blessings of the Mosaic covenant for doing it right). However, in his death he offered a full and perfect sacrifice for the sins of sinful people (thus paying for ALL the curses of the Mosaic covenant for sin).

So how did this covenant do in court?

Jesus – was declared completely righteous. He was justified. He checked all the boxes.

And God? was justified too, in that He kept EVERY promise he had made in the former covenants by fulfilling them in Jesus.

Jesus alone stood in and created a new “sphere of blessing” in the covenant he sealed with his blood. He ALONE was justified as the covenant keeper. He ALONE earned the right to be one of God’s people, and to have God be His God.

The good news of the gospel, though, is that while all of us by nature are in the blue zone of judgment for sin, if we have FAITH in Jesus, we will be “IN CHRIST”. By faith, we can literally move into Jesus’ sphere of blessing – NOT because of our own works, but because of Jesus. We can be legally declared to be “one of God’s people”, “justified”, “in the right with Him”, with our sins having been dealt with.

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Justification means more than just having our guilty verdicts removed. In light of the promises with Abraham, it includes our judicial pardon, but it also speaks to our inclusion in God’s people by faith – just as Abraham, David, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, Anna and Simeon were.

Consider the following verses:

Christ died for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1Peter 3:18)

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 ESV)

I understand the last two verses to be saying “see how God has solved the covenant conundrum!” God’s surprise ending in Jesus was not foreseen by Israel, but in hindsight the pattern was there all along (“the law and the prophets bore witness to it”)

“For as many are the promises of God, in Him (that is, Jesus) they are YES!” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20)

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No-one deserves to be in a covenant relationship with God. Abraham didn’t, Israel didn’t, you and I don’t. However, God wanted to be in a relationship with us, and made a way to do that through Christ. The pattern of how he would do it legally (through a covenant) was there from the beginning, and the pattern of how he would deal with sin (through a covenant) was foreshadowed too – but the final “ta daaaaa!” of his plan was only revealed in Jesus.

Justification means being legally declared to be right with God.

Sins forgiven. Included in God’s covenant. One of His people.

Always and forever, because of Jesus.

All it takes to be in God’s sphere of blessing is to believe in Jesus. Stand in the circle, friends. Stand in the circle. There’s nowhere better in the whole world (Romans 5:1-5).

This is day 8 of 31 Days of Belonging. Over the next few days I’ll be sharing some thoughts of the practical implications of justification: “If we belong to God, then what?” Stay tuned.