nourish

MADE…as men and women (Part 1)

 If God made us in his image, how are women and men designed to reflect something about God’s good nature, how do we tend toward ruin, and how can we recover the good of Eden? There are so many different ways to approach this subject biblically and practically, and I have chosen one. I pray that it is honest and true, but it will be incomplete and, like everything on this side of Heaven, imperfect. Let’s pray that that the Holy Spirit brings us all wisdom and discernment, and let’s use this as an entry point for walking together as a church, committed to God and His Word and each other, as we seek to better understand this issue.

______________________________________________________________________________

The Eternal God placed the newly made man in the garden of Eden in order to work the ground and care for it. He made certain demands of the man regarding life in the garden. Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die.”

 “It is not good for the man to be alone, so I will create a helper for him, a perfectly suited partner”… So the Eternal God put him into a deep sleep, removed a rib from his side, and closed the flesh around the opening. He formed a woman from the rib taken out of the man and presented her to him. And Adam said, “At last, a suitable companion, a perfect partner.
Bone from my bones.
Flesh from my flesh.
I will call  her “woman” as an eternal reminder
 she was taken out of man. 

 Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh. In those days the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed…. The man named his wife Eve (life-giver) because she was destined to become the mother of all living. ” (Genesis 2:15-18; 21-25; 3:21, The Voice) 

_________________________________________________________________________________

You don’t have to read the Bible to recognize that men and women are different. You can study biology, sociology and psychology as a purely secular endeavor and see this clearly.

  • Men get lots of testosterone, women get lots of estrogen. Men tend to be taller and broader, built for confrontation (we actually have thicker skulls).
  • Men have more grey matter in their brains (processing center) and women have more white matter (network connections) in their brains.
  • Women bond with their children chemically (oxytocin) in ways that men don’t. Cells from the unborn baby actually permeate the mother’s body.
  • Men often score better at tasks that involve orienting objects, while women usually do better at language tests.
  • Women tend to build relationships with words, men with activities. It's “Ladies, shall we go out for dinner and talk for 5 hours?” vs. “Hey, you guys want to watch the Superbowl or go golfing?”
  • Women are generally more concerned with how to solve a problem (it’s relational). Men want a solution to demonstrate their competence.
  • Women tend to build support networks; men don’t. In studies, girls tend to go through mazes together with “collective intelligence.” Boys tend to establish a chain-of-command and send out scouts.
  • Women tend to see the interconnectedness of problems in a task and can be more easily overwhelmed. Men get more done, but they tend to minimize the complexity.
  • Women tend to remember things that have strong emotional components. Men tend to remember memorable events. “Do you remember that trip when we really connected with your family?” vs. “Do you remember the zoo?”
  • Men often feel validated through shared activities; women through shared experiences. If my wife goes to Stratford for a Shakespeare Festival she could care less about, that’s a good trip to me. And we could go to the Bahamas, but if we don’t connect emotionally on that trip, the dream trip will be ruined.
  • Women generally determine the quality of a day or a life by their relationships; men value accomplishments. Little girls will make sticks play together; boys will fight something with them. I look at a finished project and think it was a good day; my wife is more likely to consider whether we did projects together to reach the same conclusion.
  • Women tend to respond to emotion with more empathy. Even as babies, girls respond to the emotion around them in ways boys do not.

God’s Word and God’s world give a unified picture of the general way in which men and women see and interact with the world – and that’s differently.  Our culture wants us to view these differences through the lense of power. The Bible views it through the lense of service. Rather than trying to erase these differences, let’s understand them and maximize them for the glory of God and the good of the world.*

(It's important to note that this does not mean there is an insurmountable wall erected between the sexes, or that there is an exclusivity to these generalized categories. Just because men and women generally have different strengths or tendencies does not mean they always do, and neither men nor women are somehow exempted from seeking to flourish in the 'image bearing' commonly found in the other. Men and women combined - and thus the masculine and feminine combined -   fully represent the image of God as revealed in humanity.  If we desire a well-rounded view of God to be increasingly seen in us as individuals as well as in combination, men should desire to have and grow in 'feminine' traits, and women should desire to have and grow in 'masculine' traits. One can identify with both sides of the previous list and still very capably fulfill the tasks God has designed for them.)

So let’s look more closely at what service looks like for men and women.

God is a protector and provider.  So is Adam.  We see Adam tasked with the privilege and responsibility of serving God and the world by doing the same. When Adam is told to “care for” the land, it’s shamar, a word used in Psalm 12 to describe how God keeps Israel safe from evil. This encompassed the physical (the land), the people in it (“be united”), and the spiritual (“Keep that tree off limits”). 

Men, within the reach of your abilities and opportunities, protect and provide for everything in your environment, not because women shouldn't or can’t but because you must. Get involved in the needs around you. Raise the spiritual bar. Protect the oppressed and helpless. Honor and value women. Be a father to your kids or to those whose fathers are gone. ‘Be united’ to your wives. Stand for truth and justice. Fight against sin and for righteousness. Biblically speaking, real men do not sit back and watch the world become overrun with thorns and thistles physically or spiritually. We have got to do work!  This is genuine masculinity, and the world flourishes when we do this well.

God is a creator and sustainer, and we see Eve tasked with the privilege and responsibility of serving God and the world by doing the same. This isn’t just about having children, though that is included. Eve is bringing God’s “help,” a word used throughout the Old Testament to describe the kind of help God Himself gives humanity.  If Adam was to order the land and provide safety and resources for those under his protection, Eve was to take that environment of safety and provision and use it to nurture and encourage the people in it. 

Women, within the reach of your abilities and opportunities, nurture and bring life (literally and/or figuratively), not because men shouldn't or can’t but because you must. The world flourishes when you see the needs around you and engage with and enter into the lives of people. The ways in which you impact our culture reflects this. It’s not just bringing life and nurturing by having children: the top fields women dominate in America show how crucial your presence is for our world to work: day care (99%), health care (78%), social assistance (74%), educational services (69%), and advocacy and civil organizations (67%). (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2009/01/26/10-industries-where-women-rule/). There are plenty of women who are in politics and business and the military, but the vocations that more overtly encourage, sustain, emote, and empathize flourish because of the overwhelming presence of women.

Cue the Fall.

(To Eve) “As a consequence of your actions, I will increase your suffering—the pain of childbirth
and the sorrow of bringing forth the next generation. You will desire your husband; but rather than a companion, he will be the dominant partner.”

(To Adam) “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistle for you and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:16-19)

How do we tend toward ruin? Primarily, we stop seeking to serve and we start wanting to be served.

 Men, at least two things happen as a result of the fall.

First, we now fail to provide as we tend to drift toward the ruin that comes with being lazy. We see a broken world full of thorns and thistles and we just aren’t motivated to break a sweat.

 Second, we now fail to protect as we tend to abuse our power. With other men, everything becomes an unhealthy competition. We gauge our manliness in comparison physically, or financially, or by social status. We think dominance is the mark of a man.

 With children, we aggressively dominate them verbally or physically because they are aren’t strong enough to challenge our anger or frustration, or we force them to become the kids we wish we had been and live vicariously through them with no thought for who they are.

With women, we use them instead of protect them. It might be a recreational approach to sex that uses and discards women so casually – or it could be an approach to sex in marriage that demands availability no matter the circumstances. It might be that we dismiss the intelligence, talents, and gifts that the women around us bring to any given situation. It might be that the jokes we tell or the places our eyes roam make women feel unsafe or demeaned.  

Women, the Fall distorts how God has designed you as well.

Eve’s increasing “pain’ after the Fall was emotional “sorrow” more than physical. The call to relational and emotional engagement with people will now bring you sorrow.

 You will tend to feel the pain of broken lives and failed relationships in ways that men do not, and instead of that motivating you to press in even more, it will bring resentment, despair or anger. You will not want to serve; you will want to be served. You will tend to build emotional walls to preserve your heart and disengage, or you will tend to lash out and hurt others to keep them at bay.

With other women, if they hurt you or intimidate you, you will not try to serve them more. You will try to make them feel it too. Your capacity for empathy and understanding that gives you this tremendous power to bring good also gives you an incredible capacity to bring ruin. That’s why gossip, or comments about appearance or capability are so devastating between women. When deeply relational and empathetic people decide to hurt someone else, they know how to do it.

 You will tend to sabotage your own longing for connection with men by pushing them away instead of engaging with your attitudes and words. How many times have I heard the phrase, “If he can’t handle me at my worst, he doesn’t deserve me at my best!” Or,  “I was just too much woman for him to handle!” What that usually means is that you either withdrew and became hard or cold, or lashed out and insulted or belittled him, and showed him what it looks like when someone decides that ruin is more important than relationships.

Instead of nurturing and serving children, you will want them to serve you. You will tend to resent the obligations they put on your life, or you will count on them to respond perfectly to all your nurturing needs and place on them an impossible burden to bear.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

If we want to recapture a vision of Eden, we must walk in the path of life (Psalm 16:11). In the Old Testament, this was done through the Law. David said it delighted him (Psalm 119:97).Why? God has made clear that you can plant particular things so you can reap a particular kind of harvest. And you CHOOSE. Over and over again:

‘After all, what I’m commanding you today isn’t too difficult for you; it’s not out of reach. It’s not up in the sky, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go up into heaven and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?” It’s not across the sea, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go beyond the watery abyss and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?”  No, the words you need to be faithful to the Eternal are very close to you. They are in your mouth (always talk about these laws, as I’ve commanded you) and in your heart (treasure them there). Look, I’ve given you two choices today: you can have life (“tob”) with all the good things it brings, or death and all the ruin (“roa”) it brings.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-15)

And we are right back to the language of Tree of the Knowledge of Good (tob) and Evil (roa). God’s law is for our good. It’s not just OT law; just read Proverbs, and you will get a fantastic overview of the path of life that anyone who bears the image of God can read, put into practice, and receive the benefit.

 This will not save us, but it will guide us. It won’t transform our heart, but it will guide our hands. (We will talk next week about how Christ fulfills the Law and brings us hope in ways the Law can’t). It will give us general boundaries for “sowing and reaping” so that we can bring good to the world and not ruin.

MEN – – Within the scope of your abilities and opportunities, provide and protect  - not because women shouldn't or can’t, but because we are designed to reflect God’s image in this way as you serve the world. Show the world what it is like to live in a church, a workplace or a home where men not only bring safety, but men are safe. Be committed to character and integrity; make it your goal to help those around you flourish, praise and honor the women around you. The world is desperate for men like that. Watch the women around you flourish.

 WOMEN – Within the scope of your abilities and opportunities, create and sustain life in all its depth and complexity - not because men shouldn't or can’t, but because you are designed to reflect God’s image in this way as you serve the world. Show the world what a nourishing, life-giving presence looks like. I think I speak for all men when I say we long for it, we flourish in it, and we will respond to it. Show us what life is like when our hearts are safe with you, and watch what happens.

This is not yet the path to Eternal Life. Next week we are going to talk about why it took Christ to fulfill what the Law started. But God has given us a path to help us recover the Eden we long for. Let’s choose it for our good and His glory.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

* It's worth noting that the issue of gender distinctions rises to the surface in more places than just the church. While there is plenty of debate about how much we are socialized to act like what we think is masculine and feminine, there is also plenty of reason to think that - no matter whether it is nature, nurture, or both - the differences matter. Here are a few excerpts from studies and articles about this issue from a non-Christian perspective.

“In a 2008 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a group of international researchers compared data on gender and personality across 55 nations. Throughout the world, women tend to be more nurturing, risk averse and emotionally expressive, while men are usually more competitive, risk taking, and emotionally flat. But the most fascinating finding is this: Personality differences between men and women are the largest and most robust in the more prosperous, egalitarian, and educated societies. According to the authors, ‘Higher levels of human development—including long and healthy life, equal access to knowledge and education, and economic wealth—were the main nation-level predictors of sex difference variation across cultures.’ New York Times science columnist John Tierney summarized the study this way: ‘It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India's or Zimbabwe's than in the Netherlands or the United States. A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France." http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/what-lean-in-misunderstands-about-gender-differences/274138/

 “Shared church attendance and normative support for the institution of marriage are associated with higher levels of women’s marital happiness… Specifically, we find that the gendered character of marriage seems to remain sufficiently powerful as a tacit ideal among women to impact women’s marital quality even apart from the effects of the continuing mismatch between female gender role attitudes and male practices…women are not happier in marriages marked by egalitarian practices and beliefs… men’s emotion work (and women’s assessment of that work) is the most crucial determinant of women’s marital quality. It is more important than patterns of household labor, perceptions of housework equity, female labor force participation, childbearing, education, and a host of other traditional predictors of global marital quality.” Social Forces, Volume 84, Number 3, March 2006. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/265713370_What%27s_Love_Got_To_Do_With_It_Equality_EquityCommitment_and_Women%27s_Marital_Quality

"A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction."  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/magazine/does-a-more-equal-marriage-mean-less-sex.html?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Magazine&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article&_r=0

Buildings and Fields


 “
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.  For we are co-workers in God’s service. 
“You are God’s field; God’s building. 
 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,  their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. 
 (1 Corinthians 3:5-12)
_______________________________________________________________________
After Paul greets the church in Corinth, he begins to address the issues that are robbing them of God's grace and peace.  He uses three analogies to describe the church: a field, a building, and a temple. 

Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus at a time when agriculture flourished.  I imagine him walking through the countryside as he ponders how to explain to the church in Corinth what their role was in the Kingdom of God.  Hmmm.... "The church at Corinth is a field on which God has labored so the church would yield a harvest."  The word Paul uses for field” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.  It refers specifically to a "tilled" or "cultivated" field.  It refers to the dirt.

Its a very down-to-earth analogy, but what does it actually tell us? What is the role of a field?
  •         Allow the farmer to get rid of weeds.
  •         Allow the farmer to add compost/mulsh/fertilizer.
  •         Let the farmer plant what he wants.
  •         Nourish what is planted.
What  can the field do to bring about a harvest? Nothing - other than nourish what it’s been given.  If someone else is not involved,  the field is just dirt and weeds. The church is God's field, God's cultivated dirt.  The dirt is important and necessary, but it’s the most humble part of the field.  People wax eloquently about "amber waves of grain"; nobody writes songs about “dirty waves of dirt.” 
“It’s not about you,” says Paul to a Corinthian church so desperate to be impressive.  “Relax.  Be soil. Be willing to nourish what’s been given to you.   Let God do his work.  You will be the field that produces a crop full of grace and peace.”    

Just to be sure the analogy sinks in, Paul looks for another analogy.  If he were walking from the countryside full of fields into the city of Ephesus, he would have approached and walked past an array of impressive structures. Perhaps the second comparison fell into place naturally - church as a building.

If you have ever lived in areas threatened by natural disasters, you know how important it is to have not only a good foundation, but quality materials all the way up.  Storms and earthquakes and natural disasters will happen, and then we will find out whose building will last. 

Think of the foundation as the core truths of Christianity:
  • There is a trinitarian God of all creation;
  • Jesus Christ was God incarnate;
  • Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins;
  • There will be a judgement and a life to come after this one.

The rest of church doctrine and life is built on core truths such as these. Paul said he laid the foundation, and now other teachers are finishing the construction.  If the church wants what they are building to last, it's important that they choose their builders well. The entire construction project matters.

A field is just dirt, but a building is going to be seen.

A field nourishes, but a building protects and shelters.

There's more to being part of the Kingdom of God than the field analogy could capture. But even in this more outwardly impressive picture, the building did not build itself any more than the field planted itself.  There was an architect and a builder.  The building doesn’t cut and paint itself, no matter how awesome it looks.

God uses the church as a field to bring about new life; God uses the church as a building to protect, shelter and showcase this life.

The Corinthians were used to earning favor from their gods, which meant bringing all their own personal awesomeness to the temple and the people. The gods gave them nothing that they did not earned. Paul turns this way of thinking on its head:

  • You don’t have to earn God’s grace
  • You don’t have to prove that you have worth.
  • You don’t have to build yourself up and trample on others to rise to the top.
  • You don’t have to name drop, and tell everybody how awesome you are because of who you know.
  • You just have to be surrendered to the one who plants and builds.
Then you will find fields full of grace and buildings full of peace.

_________________________________________________________________________