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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

I have long been intrigued by an obscure passage in the Old Testament Scriptures, almost a throwaway comment, about a group of men within the people of Israel.

They were known as the men of Issachar.

We don’t know much about them. Issachar himself was the fifth son of Jacob and Leah, and the ninth son overall for the patriarch. The name itself seems to derive from the joining of the Hebrew word for “man” and the Hebrew word for “wages,” thus a “hired man” or “hired worker.” 

He had four sons, and went with his father into Egypt, where he died and was buried. Afterward, his descendants formed one of the tribes of Israel. By the end of the wanderings of Israel through the Sinai desert, they numbered more than 60,000 fighting men. 

When the Promised Land was apportioned, the men of Issachar received 16 cities and their adjoining villages. Moses referred to them as a “strong ass” situated in a beautiful land.

It was a compliment.

They were quick to follow one of their own, the great female judge Deborah, into battle to break the stronghold the Canaanites held over their lives. A minor judge, Tola, was also among their number, as were two kings—Baasha and his son, Elah. 

When Solomon established the 12 administrative districts of Israel, Issachar’s territory became one of those independent provinces. In the book of Revelation, the tribe of Issachar is again mentioned where 12,000 were sealed.

But what is most evident is that by the time of David, then numbering nearly 90,000, they were known supremely for their wisdom. It was even noted in the Talmud that the wisest members of the Sanhedrin came from the men of Issachar. 

But here’s what intrigues me.

It was the nature of their wisdom.

In the first book of Chronicles, we read these words:

“From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders.... All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take” (I Chronicles 12:32, NLT). 

Does that grab you at all?

They knew the “signs of the times” and how best to live in light of them. To me, that is a powerful and important combination. 

First, we need to know the signs of the times.

To know the signs of the times is more than headlines and tweets—it is knowing what is significant among the happenings of our world: events and movements, trends and ideologies, currents and worldviews. 

It’s knowing what is shaping us, forming us, molding us.

It’s knowing that as human beings, we are now alive at a given moment in time; an era that is full of significance, positioned uniquely in the wider story of the world as the world moves toward the final chapter.

But that’s not all. 

The men of Issachar didn’t simply know those signs, but knew how to then live in light of them. They had a sense of what to think, how to act and the manner in which to respond. They knew the role their lives had to play in light of the moment in which they lived.

Knowing the signs of the times and how then to live has to be the most pressing challenge facing any life. Because here’s the full extent of the Issachar question:

What is…

... the nature of the world in which I am living?

... the challenge(s) of my generation?

... the status of the epic struggle between good and evil, right and wrong?

… the direction this culture headed?

… the nature of the world’s great crisis?

And then from that, a second question:

How should I then live? How do I live a life of meaning, consequence, impact and influence for the cause of Christ?

And most of all, how should the church take its place in the vanguard of cultural engagement and missional force.

Do you see the challenge of the men of Issachar?

To know the signs of the times and how to then live?

You should.

Now more than ever.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Adapted from the opening address of the 2015 Church & Culture Conference. Click HERE for past conference resources.

Registration is now open for the 2020 Church & Culture Conference livestream event!

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    

On the 4th of July, I’m always reminded of times I’ve traveled in countries where freedom is severely curtailed. Or where the people had been freshly freed from the chains of injustice, and the joy of their release was palpable.

I was in Johannesburg on the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid.

I was in Korea when the border between North and South was electric with tension.

My most powerful memory came from Moscow, where I was teaching shortly after the fall of communism. 

One night a group of us went to the famed Bolshoi Ballet. It was a long, wonderful evening, and after we took the subway back to where we were staying, the students said, “Come and let us celebrate.” The other two professors with me were as tired as I was, but the students were so intent on our joining them, that we went. 

And then we found out what celebration meant to them. 

They wanted to gather in the dining room and sing hymns and worship God. And we did, late into the night, with more passion and sincerity than I have ever experienced. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know how to sing in Russian—we worshiped God together.

But I went to bed puzzled. I had never seen such passion for spontaneous and heart-filled worship. I was curious as to why they were so ready and eager to offer God love and honor. I received my answer the following Sunday when I was invited to speak at a church in North Moscow. A former underground church that had met in secret (as so many churches had been), they were now meeting openly in a schoolhouse. I had been asked to bring a message that Sunday morning. 

I didn’t know that I was in for a bit of a wait.

The service lasted for nearly three hours. There were three sermons from three different speakers, with long periods of worship between each message. 

I was to go last. 

When it was over, I talked a bit with the pastor of the church. I was surprised at not only the length of the service, but the spirit and energy of the people. Throughout the entire three hours, they never let up. In spite of the length of time, they never seemed to tire. Even at the end, they didn’t seem to want to go home.

“In the States,” I said, “you’re doing well to go a single hour before every watch in the place starts beeping.” (This was before smart phones.) He didn’t get my weak attempt at humor, but he did say something that I will never forget.

“It was only a few years ago that we would have been put in prison for doing what we did today. We were never allowed to gather together as a community of faith and offer worship to God. And we are just so happy, and almost in a state of unbelief, that we can do this now – publicly, together – that we don’t want it to end. And not knowing what the future might hold for us here, we know that every week might just be our last. So we never want to stop. So we keep worshiping together, as long as we can.”

As I left, his words never left my mind. I thought to myself: “I will never think about worship the same again. I’ve been too casual about it, too laid back, taken it too much for granted. These people know what it’s about – really about – and because of that, they have been willing, and would be willing again, to suffer for it. To be imprisoned for it. To die for it. Because they’ve discovered that it holds that high of a yield for their life. It has that much meaning and payoff and significance. It matters that much.”

And it should matter that much to all of us.

Happy 4th of July.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

This blog was originally published in 2013, and the Church & Culture Team thought you would enjoy reading it again.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    

Sexism (2020)

On October 15, 2017, when the actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet that said, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” she woke up the next day to find that more than 30,000 people had used the hashtag #MeToo. Within 24 hours, it rose to 12 million.

#MeToo has been used millions of times in at least 85 countries. It resulted in a very public reckoning as women were emboldened and empowered to come forward. Time magazine said that the #MeToo movement unleashed one of the highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s. In their article on naming the “silence breakers” their Person of the Year, they wrote:

“Women have had it with bosses and coworkers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, or being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women…. [And so they have] started a revolution.”

The classic definition of sexism is the economic exploitation and/or social domination of members of one sex by another. And specifically, of women by men. It’s when women are discriminated against—when they are stereotyped, when there is prejudice—just because they are women. Misogyny, or having a misogynistic attitude or being misogynous in your behavior, all relates to having a negative attitude toward women. The word misogynist literally means someone who is a hater of women.

What is disturbing, in the minds of many, is the perception that the Christian faith is deeply sexist.

Is it true?

While the Bible doesn’t flinch from recording the sexual misdeeds of the men and women in its stories, it doesn’t flinch from its denunciation of them either. There is no place in God’s economy for sexual harassment, assault or rape. There is no place for using positions of power or influence to coerce or pressure for sexual favors. And the call to how we should interact with people of the opposite sex—as men—on a daily basis, is also clear. When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy as his mentor in life and leadership, he said, “Treat… older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1–2).

But what of women being seen as inferior to men? Again, this is often assumed to be part of the fabric of the Christian faith. The truth is you can’t get past the opening page of the Bible without things related to sexism being denounced and God making it very clear that it has no place in our lives. Consider the creation narrative itself. In the opening pages of the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, you read these words:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:26–27)

When God created mankind, He made us male and female. And both were made, equally, in the image of God. There’s not more of the image of God in one than the other. And we were given a mutual charge to steward the world. This means there is not an ounce of sexism in what God created, how God created, or the intent of God’s creation of us as men and women.

When sexism became entrenched due to our sinful natures, God wasted no time in addressing its fundamental disorder. Supremely, through the coming of Jesus to Earth. During the time of Jesus, sexism ran rampant. Let me give you a picture of how devalued women were in the Greco-Roman world. If a couple had a baby girl, they had the option to discard her simply because she was a girl. People wanted sons, so if they had a daughter they could just put the baby girl on the doorstep. Then people would come around and take these infant girls and raise them up to be slaves or prostitutes. There was even a prayer in which Jewish men thanked God that they were not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.

Women were treated as mere objects that could be used for work and sexual fulfillment, and then divorced in a heartbeat without any penalty or societal concern. A man could get a divorce from his wife for anything from a badly cooked meal to the mere fact that he found her less beautiful than another woman. And then he could remarry at will and leave her—much like the baby girl on the doorstep—to fend for herself without any support or any hope.

Jesus didn’t treat women that way. He didn’t view women that way. He invited them to follow Him and be among His burgeoning church. He treated them with respect and honor and enormous sensitivity. And He made it clear that they were anything but second-class citizens.

For example, Mary Magdalene was the first person Jesus appeared to following His resurrection, and He gave her the charge of telling his male followers that He had indeed risen from the dead. That was a cultural bombshell. The Bible records that the first witness to Jesus after He was raised from the dead was a woman! And not only the first witness, but the one person Jesus tasked to go and tell all the men what happened. In the ancient Near Eastern culture of that day, women were extremely low on the societal totem pole. So low that their testimony was not accepted in the Jewish courts of law. Even if multiple women were eyewitnesses of the same event, their testimony was not accepted.

Yet Jesus purposefully went, first, to a woman and chose her to be His eyewitness. And not simply to other women, but to men! He could have appeared to anyone, tasked anyone; He purposefully chose Mary. In other words, He purposefully chose to take a baseball bat to any and all sexism. He purposefully and powerfully dictated that sexism had no place in His kingdom.

Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the value of their witness and role in the life of the revolution He came to unleash. From the very first moments of the early Christian church, the unheard of took root right away: women were involved and treated as equals. Men and women may have different roles, different responsibilities, but they are on completely equal footing before God. In the New Testament we find them speaking in the church, teaching in the church, helping to provide leadership to the church, with church groups meeting in their homes. Names such as Phoebe and Priscilla, Mary and Martha, became as prominent as any man’s.

So let’s close this conversation with what I hope is now clear: sexism, in truth, is not part of the Christian world. At least, not the world (much less church) Jesus came to establish. Sexism manifests itself as part of the sin-stained, sin-soaked nature of all of humanity, Christ followers included, but it is not endemic to the Christian faith. It is precisely what the Christian faith seeks to eradicate from every human life and every human community.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Adapted from the author’s work Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians (Baker) available on Amazon.

James Emery White delivered a series in 2017 called #MeToo. You can get the .mp3 and .pdf versions of each installment HERE.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    

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