Quitters never win…

And winners never quit.” I’m sure the saying has been around forever, but my grandfather (we call him “Bear”) and my mother would often hand me this saying when I would inevitably want to stop something I had started. Whether on the little league baseball diamond, band drama in high school, or my stupidity in over-committing in college, this phrase rang around in my head. It’s also akin to some phrases Paul liked to give about running the race marked out for us, and being willing to push through suffering because it produces character, and then hope.

I may even take this to extremes sometimes. I have a hard time not finishing things now, which has led me to hate-read a book or two out of spite in order to say I had finished it. An unfinished project will keep me awake at night. Ok, so maybe this attitude is not the healthiest at its compulsive level, but it has helped me to tackle some daunting challenges and make it through in one piece.

To me, honoring commitment is a thoroughly godly trait. Now, I admit there are exceptions for when that commitment turns out to be in the direction of something ungodly – theft, injustice, murder, selfishness. (See the amazing act of the Egyptian midwives in Exodus 1 who refused to follow through on their commitment to their Pharaoh when he required them to murder.) But for the most part, if we commit to something, we should stick with it.

I see faith this way. As with all of us, I have had my periods of doubt and frustration. (I don’t relate to to the prophet Elijah and the apostle Thomas for nothing.) I’ve gone through a whole year of questioning, of bowing, kneeling, begging God for some kind of direction and answer. But here’s what made the difference – walking away was never on the table for me. I have known what my baptism meant – a vow made before a congregation to God and a transformation – and I wasn’t going to quit. Quitters never win, and winners never quit. Faith to me is a trust, a commitment, a decision that goes beyond doubt or belief. Faith is what keeps a marriage healthy. Faith is what keeps friendships viable. Faith is what keeps a congregation together. Mutual commitment is at the heart of every relationship, human and divine.

Our children must have a foundation of what commitment means. Our children must value their word as their bond. Jesus said to let our yes be yes, and our no be no. If we commit, we must stick with it, no matter the challenge. We shouldn’t need to use vast promises and reassurances to convince others that we will keep up our end of the agreement – we should just do it, and let our actions speak for us.

When do you find time to discuss and encourage commitment in your children? How does your example of commitment and faith differ from the culture around you? What have you struggled keeping commitment-wise? What kept you going?

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Sex: What’s the point?

It’s been a while since we discussed sex on this blog, mostly due to the fact that I have had several good, hard thinks and conversations about the subject and am nearly ready to put some ideas down in writing. I want to start vaguely and then move to specifics.

Conversations about sexuality are much like building a house. It really does no good to argue about the color of the paint or the particular furnishings of the house unless the foundations are discussed and decided upon. Most of the debates I hear about sexuality are more concerned with the furnishings of the house than the foundations of the house itself. Sure, the couch might look nice and be well made, but if it won’t fit through any of the doors, it’s of very little use.

Foundationally speaking, Jews and Christians often look to the same place: Genesis. Genesis begins with the building of a grand house, Creation, and the making of humans to inhabit that house as God’s representatives. These representatives were designed to reflect God’s character, love, and authority into the world, and reflect creation’s praise back to God. This is the idea of the royal priesthood, the role humans were made to fill.

Following this idea through Genesis shows what happens when humans are unfaithful to that calling and cease reflecting God’s character and begin reflecting nature back to itself. At that point, violence, exploitation, the beginnings of empire, power grabbing, greed, and lust all take shape as the story of Genesis continues into the story of Babel.

Abraham is then chosen to be the recipient of the Covenant. God cuts a covenant with Abraham and his family, which sees a dramatic illustration in the strange vision of Genesis 15, where God, as King, takes responsibility for the covenant with Abraham. This covenant is renewed in Exodus at Mt. Sinai where the people are given their royal, priestly vocation and then are told what would happen in case of infidelity on their part followed by God’s promise to redeem them.

After this covenant is cut with Abraham, with circumcision being the sign, the rest of Genesis is interwoven with the theme of sexuality. There are temptations, refusal of duty, lying, almost adultery, fornication, polygamy, and more. It makes more sense in light of Jewish interpretation (provided by Rabbi Sacks in his Covenant and Conversation materials, specifically the podcast “What is the Theme of the Stories of Genesis?” published 12/19/16) which points to the theme of sexual fidelity being parallel to fidelity to God. Marital faithfulness reflects faithfulness to God.

This makes sense as throughout the prophetic writings, the prophets use the image of Israel as the bride of God, which is then echoed in the letters of Paul which often reference the church as the bride of Christ. The idea of marriage being a covenant of faithfulness enacting our faithfulness to God is an ancient one, indeed. Israel’s sin is often couched as one of infidelity, of adultery, by chasing after other gods or putting other objects in the place of God. (See the entire book of Hosea which is a long illustration of this idea.) Reflecting the will of money, sex, power, or the individual led to exploitation, oppression, and violence among God’s people, which God, through the prophets, condemned. The issue at the center, though, was God’s longing to have Israel return to faithful covenant living. (And before anyone is quick to throw blame on the Israelites, we are all guilty of handing over ourselves to objects and drives that are not God. We, too, are called to repent and return to faithfulness.)

Sex is something that does matter to God. It matters as the method of human procreation. It matters as the way marital partners share in the joy of faithful covenant-keeping. It is a crucial part of the grand vocation to reflect God’s character, authority, and order to creation in that our committed faithfulness should reflect God’s own committed faithfulness.

A quick note on circumcision: John Goldingay notes that circumcision is pointedly a male issue. Why? Because in ancient times, as well as now, society has often given men free rein with their sexuality, while women often have been expected to be much more reserved. In part, God is literally cutting the male ego, especially in regards to sex, down to size. (This is not the only interpretation of circumcision, which is primarily the “cutting in” of the covenant illustrated by God marking this people as separate with a particular purpose.)

The foundation for sex is faithfulness. Sex without faithfulness is an exercise in handing our God-given authority to nature. We are called not to succumb to nature, but to rise above it, to join in God’s task of giving more meaning to the act of sex than mere pleasure, or mere procreation, but something deeper, more humble, and far more important.

Sources for this post are: Genesis parts One and Two by John Goldingay, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ various Covenant and Conversation resources, written and in podcast form. (As far as Bible translations used in studying these books, see the JPS version, the NAB, and John Goldingay’s literal translation included in his commentaries.

Photo Credit: Free stock photo of man, couple, love, woman via Pexels