Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Subscribing by email

My favorite way to keep up with a blog is to subscribe to it so that I get updates by email. I have been trying to get this set up on this blog. It worked for a day, had to be taken down tonight, and is back up now. If you tried to subscribe before 8 pm PST on Wednesday, April 30, your subscription is lost. My apologies! But you can always sign up again. Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James

Carolyn Custis James has drawn no small amount of criticism from the conservative wing of her denomination. Her books seek to challenge and empower women to step up in ministry. And depending on your background and subsequent perspective, that is either a good thing or a troubling thing. In my neck of the woods, we have a woman governor and two women senators. And that is probably a good reflection of how our state as a whole thinks about women. As women here come to Christ, most don’t struggle to feel empowered for ministry. Instead, most struggle with giving up parts of their dominion in submission to God.

My perception is that Carolyn Custis James comes from a completely different background.
Despite accusations against her, I don’t think she is lobbying against gender roles in the church and home. I have never seen anything explicit in her writings that indicate anything like that. Instead, I think she is well aware that in certain areas in Christianity, many women are indeed weak-willed, and the state of these weak women is as hurtful to the church as the state of those who seek to rule in ways that God did not intend.

More than any other word in my vocabulary, I think the word gentle gives the most insight into the balance to which God has called us as women.
Gentle does not mean weak. This is so important to get!!! Gentle means strength under control. A baby isn’t gentle. A baby is weak. The adult is gentle, because though they are strong enough to crush the baby with their hand, instead they cradle it. They temper their strength. This is God’s call to women. “Don’t be weak. Be strong!!! But keep your strength under My control.”

Now on to the review.
I have finished 2/3 of the book, and I really like it so far. I should wait until I’m finished to post this, but I’m burning to put my thoughts so far on paper (or blog). A friend let me borrow hers, but I had to stop reading it and order my own because there were too many places I wanted to mark up with my pen. This book is making me think, and phrases from the book have haunted me hours after I put the book aside. Maybe it will all fall apart in the end, but so far, I have enjoyed it.

This book is not an expositional look at Ruth.
I love John Stott’s commentaries, but this was nothing like that. The author reads a lot into Ruth, but I am not uncomfortable with the way she does this or the conclusions she draws (so far). In fact, I think she gets it right most of the time. In particular, she spends a good bit of time exploring the implications in that culture of being a widow and childless, as both Naomi and Ruth are at the beginning of the story. And this was a beautiful, honest, painful look at these issues from someone who has been there.

This book may push you out of your comfort zone. James is a reformed female theologian. She has done her study and has an annoying number of references to prove it. But she also has a passionate, vulnerable voice. She has experienced the things that shake women to their core and is honest with the hard questions about God that these things raise.

If you like your books neat and tidy, laid out with linear logic and devoid of emotion, this book is probably not for you. But if you are interested in a somewhat messy but still God-centered exploration of the themes of Ruth that doesn’t let you hide from the hard truths of the Word, this book is a good read.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Who is my God? (continued)

“We ask too much of ourselves to trust a stranger.” Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide

God is my Saviour…

Psalm 25:5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

I John 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

… Who died for me …

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

… and intercedes for me in heaven that I may always boldly enter the presence of God.

Ephesians 3:12 In him (Jesus) and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Romans 5:2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

It's this last part on which I have needed to meditate of late. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has made the way for me to have access to God's throne. And I am to draw near to the throne with confidence because I am in utter, desperate need of the mercy and grace that I can find only there. I need to take better advantage of this access to God!

Who is my God? Part 1

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Marriage to a Difficult Man

How Knowing God Makes a Difference in our Marriages.

Marriage to a Difficult Man is the title of the biography of Sarah Edwards, the wife of the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. I am stuck on that title (I never finished the book itself) because I think of Jonathan Edwards as a great man of God, not a particularly difficult man. My husband once joked with me that would be a good title for my life, though he suggested that the emphasis should be placed on marriage rather than the man, as in Difficult Marriage to a Man. We laughed, but honestly, it was kind of true. I’m married to a complicated man. The funny thing is that I had an elder’s wife joke with me that it could be the title of her biography as well. And I started noting a trend. I am married to a wise and loving man. My friend, the elder’s wife, has a wise, faithful, loving husband. And from reading Jonathan Edwards’ writings, I surmise that he was a man of great wisdom who loved God deeply. And, yet, we have all experienced difficult, complicated relationships with our spouse. But maybe it is not that these are particularly difficult men—though they certainly seem difficult to us. Maybe there is something deeper going on that makes it all so difficult.

For me, marriage was the first place I came to recognize that every reasonable person in the world doesn’t think exactly like I do. It was a great, humbling revelation. Applying myself to understand how my husband approaches issues without condemning him for thinking differently than me has been a 10-year battle. Until I got married and my husband rejected (very politely) my favorite seafood casserole, it never occurred to me that every reasonable person doesn’t necessarily like casseroles. I was threatened that he didn’t find my favorite meals particularly appetizing. Who would have thought it would be so hard to readjust how I thought about cooking? There is no place we tend to be more egocentric than our homes, no place where we are more threatened as women by someone who thinks differently than us.

Marriage threatened things in which I found a false sense of security. And when I was threatened, my reaction was to label my husband “difficult”. He is definitely a sinner. But so am I. The easy road is to blame him. The better road is to examine myself. What has God called me to be in my home? Am I reflecting God’s image in my responses toward my husband? Or have I replaced security in God’s plan for me with false sources of security that inevitably fail?

I know from Genesis 2:18 that God has called me to be a HELPER to my husband. Okay. Fine. But I’m egocentric in even how I define the term “help”. I want to help him the way I THINK HE NEEDS HELP. I want to make him the dinners I want to make him. I want to buy him clothes that I want to buy him. I want to decorate our house the way I want to decorate it. I want to give unsolicited advice that I think he needs. And then I make him feel guilty if he doesn’t respond in flowing gratitude for the “help” I gave him. But that kind of help is so self-centered, it is worthless to the person I think I am helping. I wouldn’t take a roast dinner to a family of vegetarians or buy a Barbie doll for the new parents of a baby boy. But that’s kind of how my egocentric view of helping my husband comes across at times. Instead, I have had to learn to help my husband in the ways HE truly finds helpful. And there is a BIG difference in the two. Here’s a practical piece of advice that may seem obvious: ASK YOUR HUSBAND WHAT HE WOULD FIND HELPFUL. Then ask him an even tougher question—WHAT DO I DO IN OUR HOUSE THAT IS NOT HELPFUL? And instead of pouting because he hurt your feelings, really listen to his answer and give him the freedom to be honest.

I’ve been studying how we as women are made in the image of God, and how understanding the image of God prepares us to embrace our role in marriage. Consider the first mention of the first woman in Scripture.
Genesis 2 18The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

If you don’t know God, His Names, and His character, then hearing that woman was created to be some man’s helper is going to sound incredibly condescending and substandard to you. “I’m called to be Help?! That sounds like some 18th century plantation snob referring to their servants. I’m not the Help.” But before we adopt that attitude, we need to let Scripture and not preconceived notions from our culture guide our thinking on this. The Hebrew word translated “helper” is ezer, meaning to help, nourish, sustain, or strengthen. It’s used often in the Old Testament of GOD HIMSELF. Consider Deuteronomy 33:29.

Deuteronomy 33

29 Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD ? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places."

God Himself here is called our helper, our ezer, the same word used of the first woman in Gen. 2. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is also called our Helper (depending on which translation of the Bible you use, this is the translation of the Greek word “paraklete” or one who comes alongside in aid.) God is our Help. The Holy Spirit is our Helper. When we understand God’s role on this issue, it puts this in perspective. God, Almighty Sovereign Lord of the Universe, is our helper and we, as women, are created in His image. If we hold on to the attitude that being created as a helper is condescending and substandard, we mock the Name of God and His character, for the role of Helper is one God willingly embraces. Christ says in Matthew 10:25 that it is enough for the disciple to be as his master and the servant as his Lord. There is no greater glory for a woman than to be conformed to God’s image on this issue.

So let’s consider God’s example as our Help. Do you see yourself exhibiting God’s characteristics or the contrasting ones? In Exodus 18:4, God our help defends (in contrast to attacking or ignoring the fight altogether). In Psalm 10:14 God our help sees and cares for the oppressed (rather than being indifferent and unconcerned). In Psalm 20:2 and 33:20, God our Help supports, shields and protects (rather than leaving unprotected and defenseless). In Psalms 70:5, God our Help delivers from distress (rather than being the cause of the distress). In Psalm 72:12-14, God our Help rescues the poor, weak, and needy (rather than ignoring the poor and needy). And in Psalm 86:17, God our Help comforts (rather than causing discomfort or avoiding altogether). God’s example reveals a high and worthy calling for wives as “helpers suitable to their husbands”. We are called to show compassion, to support, defend and protect those in our care, to deliver from distress and to comfort. We are called to be like God Himself.

Often, instead of following God’s example on this, I become the very person from whom my husband feels he needs to protect himself. Rather than expecting compassion and support, he tenses as he enters my presence expecting condemnation and criticism. It’s been painful to see this about myself, but self-delusion is even worse.
Proverbs 21 9 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

I have found there is a very fine line between being the “Helper Suitable” for the needs of the man as God intended and being the Contentious/Quarrelsome wife of Proverbs 21. Consider our spiritual heritage, beginning with Eve. In Genesis 3, Eve, created to be the helper who complemented her husband, believed Satan’s lies rather than God’s truth, and instead of being the help to her husband God intended, she “helped” Adam right into the fall of man.

Later, in Genesis 15, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. In the next chapter, his wife Sarah is barren and manipulates Abraham into getting her servant pregnant. Then, after giving her servant to Abraham and talking him into sleeping with her, Sarah gets bitter at Abraham for the whole situation. Sarah didn’t trust God’s promises, took matters into her own hands, nagged her husband into doing her will, and then was bitter with him over the consequences.

We see this pattern throughout the women of Genesis. In Genesis 27, Rebekah manipulates circumstances in her home, getting her son to trick her husband into giving his blessing to her favorite of their children. In Genesis 30, Rachel and Leah have a fertility war. Rather than looking to the ways they could help, nourish, and protect in their homes, they manipulate every factor they can to see who can have the most sons. They have no trust in God’s Hand to provide for them. And just in case we aren’t yet convinced of the pattern, Genesis 38 gives us the story of Tamar, who manipulates her father-in-law into thinking she’s a prostitute and sleeping with her so that she will have an heir. These women weren’t helps--they were nagging manipulators intent on taking matters into their own hands because they didn’t trust God with their husbands or their situation.

Now, nothing I have said to this point should be mistaken as placing the sole blame for these circumstances upon the women in these stories. Each of the men seriously abdicated their responsibilities. Judah, in particular, certainly set Tamar up for failure, and even commends her after the fact for being more righteous than he. But for our purposes right now, the errors of the men are NOT our focus. God has called husbands to serious responsibility and accountability, and I’m always tempted to focus on others’ responsibilities. It’s easier to hear in a message what my husband needs to do and then watch like an Olympic judge to see if he does it by a specified time. But that’s a destructive mental path that I should not follow. Whether my husband is meeting his obligations or not, that does not excuse me from meeting mine.

So, our spiritual heritage is made up of women who twisted their role as helpers suitable for their husbands and became manipulators who sought to control circumstances out of their distrust of God. The word “manipulate” comes from the Latin for hand. It means to influence, manage, or control to one's advantage by artful, subtle, or indirect means, i. e. taking things into our own hands. Contrast this with faith. Faith is confidence in a person or plan, a confident belief in the truth, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. The question we must ask ourselves as Christian wives is do we TRUST GOD in our marriages? Do we have confidence in God’s plan and His trustworthiness? Or do we believe, that to protect our interests in marriage, we have to manipulate circumstances, taking things into OUR OWN HANDS?

When I am fearful of accepting my God-given role of helper, I really need to deal with what I think about God, not what I think about my husband. Do I believe God’s Word is trustworthy? Do I trust Him to protect me? Do I trust that His plan for my life is the best? Do I fear that my circumstances have spiraled out of His control? Do I believe He is sovereign? Bottom line--what do I believe about the character, trustworthiness and effectiveness of God and His plan for my life?

Despite our fallen spiritual heritage as women, I find great hope in God’s ability to redeem sinners. Consider the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1.

Matthew 1

2Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar…

Tamar, who tricked Judah into sleeping with her in Genesis, is greatly honored by being one of only 3 women mentioned in the lineage of Christ. And Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, says of Sarah, that “11By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” The last we heard of Sarah and Tamar in Genesis was pretty negative. And yet, in the New Testament, we see God honoring them as a result of His transforming power in their lives. In particular, Sarah goes from being the woman known for manipulating her husband into sleeping with her maid to being commended for her faith in God to fulfill His promises. That is redemption! And we too have the hope of God’s power to transform us from women who take matters into our own hands out of distrust of God’s plan into women who, in the image of God, help, strengthen, and support our husbands, trusting God in the role He has given us.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Jesus is My Example

I just read an excerpt from a book in which the female author speaks of finding her all-time greatest inspiration from a particular woman in Scripture, and I was bothered by her statement. I am a woman. Jesus is a man. Does this disqualify me from looking to Him for my identity?! Not according to Scripture.

Phil. 2: 5-8 says that our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Romans 8:29 says that God predestined us all (with no distinction of male/female) to be conformed to the image of His son. And the wording of Genesis 1:27 indicates that He created both male and female in His image.

Lately, I’ve heard/read several women publicly pondering how they can identify with Jesus or learn from His example when He never experienced PMS and other girly things. Instead, they look at Ruth, the Proverbs 31 woman, or Mary of Bethany as their highest model. I like all of these women in Scripture and am fascinated by Abigail, Lydia, and Phoebe as well. But they must all take a backseat in terms of role models. These women are great for only two reasons—they are like Jesus, or they model repentance for the ways they are not like Him.

I actually get sick when I hear women talk this way. I don’t want to be like Ruth (thought I like Ruth and am reading a really good book on her). I want to be like Jesus. And I hate, hate, hate hearing talk that makes it sound like Ruth is the ideal for women because Jesus is for the men. It makes me feel so hopeless. I know deep down in my heart of hearts that my identity, even as a woman, is completely tied to who Jesus is and what He’s done for me. He is the vine and I am the branch. He is the head and I am part of His body. And apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15). If I can’t look to Jesus to be completely equipped for my life’s work, I know I am sunk.

Whether we are struggling with PMS, boyfriend problems, a wayward husband, pregnancy fatigue, or disobedient children, Jesus is our example. He was tempted in every way like us (Heb. 4:15). He sympathizes with our weakness and is fully able to equip us to deal with every hormonally induced, non-male type struggle we face.

The gospels especially are a deep well from which to drink for inspiration and example as a wife, mom, sister, daughter, and friend. May we always as sisters in Christ encourage each other to look to Jesus as our first example. And then we may praise God for Ruth and the Proverbs 31 wife for how each points to Him and encourages us to be like Him.

Convicting Thoughts

I like a blog with short articles that make me think. At Work and Worship, my friend Trisha has several recent articles that have pricked my conscience. I especially appreciated Working Through the Junk Drawer, Weary with Work, and Embracing Interruptions as Worship.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Singleness and Infertility

The two hardest emotional struggles I have ever had centered around the issues of singleness and infertility. After breaking up with the man I thought I was going to marry, I moved to a new city to begin a new job. With no prospects on the horizon, I became quickly convinced that I would never get married, that I had lost my one chance at happiness, and now I was doomed to spend holidays in my twilight years as the spinster aunt at my sisters’ houses.

Those were the darkest months of my life. I slept a lot—because waking up and facing my bleak outlook on my future was more than I could bear. Finding a church was excruciating. Church is a family time. And my loneliness was never more painfully obvious that when I walked in, sat, and left by myself at some new church, just to go home and eat lunch by myself afterwards. I ended up choosing my church that year because I had a married friend who attended there. She and her husband would have me over for lunch on Sundays quite often. So that was my church. It had nothing to do with doctrine, and everything to do with escaping my loneliness.

Eventually, I began volunteering with the United Way, helping a family on welfare make the transition to independent living. I don’t know that I made much of a difference to that family. However, getting involved in helping them got my eyes off myself for a time, and things began to transform in my mind. I was distracted from myself. The depression over me began to lift. Soon, I met the man who would become my husband. Crisis over.

Fast forward 5 years. It’s time for us to have kids. I get pregnant and miscarry. But it takes a while to get pregnant again. My mind starts envisioning similar scenarios as it did years before—Andy dies and I’m left to have Christmas dinner at my nephews’ houses if they’ll have me. Who will there be to love? Who will love me? There is an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach as I contemplate my future.

I did get pregnant and now have 2 boys. I didn’t spend that long in either season—and yet it was long enough to learn some valuable lessons.

1) Waiting is hard. And yet, for some reason, it is one of God’s favorite ways of teaching us about Himself.
Isaiah 40:31 Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

2) People who haven’t been through it are oblivious to the pain of the struggle. “Why aren’t you married yet?!” They mean well, but such comments seem insensitive and hurtful when you’re in the midst of the waiting. One friend asked me, “When are you guys going to have kids?” I had miscarried the week before. And I told her. I didn’t do it to hurt her, but I knew seeds of bitterness would take root and grow if I didn’t honestly, graciously deal with it right then. She wasn’t being mean--she was ignorant. So I tried to inform her graciously in hopes she would be more sensitive to the next lady she came across.

3) My understanding of and love for God wasn’t enough to sustain me. These struggles revealed that I wasn’t confident that He would care for me, provide for me, and guide me in a path that was meaningful and fruitful. He wasn’t enough. This was a painful but needed road to walk. I really didn’t believe God was good and trustworthy with MY LIFE. In light of this, you’ll see that I do a lot of meditating here on who God is—that He is trustworthy and good even when our circumstances don’t fit our vision of the good life.

On a final note, a friend of mine recently recommended to me Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye by Carolyn McCulley. Carolyn is a godly single woman who has lots of wisdom to share about the issues of this season of life. I love the subtitle of this book—Trusting God with a Hope Defferred. The interesting thing about my friend’s recommendation of this book is that she isn’t single. She’s infertile. But she found many of the lessons in Carolyn’s book to be applicable to the struggle of infertility as well as singleness and was very encouraged in seeking God’s face through reading it.

I don’t mean to diminish the struggle of either the deferred hope of waiting on a husband or of waiting on children by linking them in this article. But I do hope to provoke thought on the similarities of the issues and point Christian sisters to those in other stages of life who may still well understand and accompany them through their hurts.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Who is my God?

“We ask too much of ourselves to trust a stranger.” Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide

Since “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10), I thought it might be helpful to meditate on Scripture that describes exactly Who He is and what He does.

God is our Father ...

2 Corinthians 6: 18 "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

…Who loves us…

Psalm 103:13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

…Who is in control…

Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

Proverbs 14:26 He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.

…and Who knows what He’s doing.

Romans 11:33
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways

Perhaps you are like me, where you know these things in theory. But my encouragement for us is to examine our responses to the chaos of life today and ask ourselves if our responses show we truly believe this about our God.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Trust by Lydia Brownback

I really like this short, easily readable devotional book from Crossway. Here's a long excerpt from the Introduction that I thought was really good.

"The only way we will learn to trust God is by getting to know God. When our understanding of him is deficient, we are going to view him wrongly. We are going to have a low view of him. If God is low in our estimation, then the things of this world are going to rate too high, which will snow us under. If we believe that somehow it is up to us to take control of our lives and the lives of those we love, fear is inevitable, because we simply aren’t in control of anything. Many of us are quick to dismiss a link between our stress and our view of God. “I don’t hold God in low regard,” we object. “I live a Christian life and attend worship each Sunday, and I spend lots of time with other believers.” But if we suffer from chronic anxiety and fear, we are kidding ourselves. Our view of God isn’t as majestic as we think. A right view of God is the only thing that will dispel our illusion that we have to
control our lives and that everything depends on us.

...Some of us don’t realize that we are trying to pull the wrong yoke. We reach toward dreams and goals designed to further God’s kingdom and to bring blessing, and our prayer requests are for good things. But how do we react when things don’t go according to plan? If, when our plans don’t work out or our prayers aren’t answered in the way or time we think best, we get frustrated and impatient and worried and fearful, that’s a tip-off that something is off-kilter. All wrong views about God result in anxieties and fears about life. The health of our vertical relationship—our relationship with God—will always determine the health of our horizontal relationships—those we have with people, with life, and with ourselves. So the first thing to get straight is our view of God.

Since God overarches everything, we must view our lives and everything that happens to us through that lens. But we often don’t. Instead we allow our circumstances to shape our view of God. We experience something bad, and we allow it to throw our belief about a loving, compassionate Father right out the window. “Where is the God of all comfort in this heartache?” “How could a powerful God let my baby die?” “Why would a good God allow my marriage to fall apart?”

... Perhaps the most faith-shaking, fear-generating experiences are those in which God provides a blessing and then seems to pull the rug out from under us by taking away the blessing as soon as we get a taste of it. The single woman who has waited years for a godly husband meets Mr. Right. God has provided at last! She feels God’s smile as she prepares for her wedding and her new life as a married woman. And then two days before the wedding, Mr. Right changes his mind and calls the whole thing off. The grief-stricken bride wonders why God allowed her to get her hopes up, only to see them dashed to pieces. “Why would a loving God do that?” she asks, and her faith crumbles. God is not who she thought he was.

When we go through that sort of experience, our foundations can be shaken to the core. “I obviously cannot depend on God,” we think, “so somehow I have to fix everything. And if God could do this to me, what other painful thing might he do?” What we don’t see at such times and in the swirl of such thoughts is the fact that we were resting on the wrong foundation in the first place. Our view of God has actually been wrong all along. We thought we’d been relying on God, but the truth is, we’d actually been relying on our idea of God and on what we were hoping God would do for us to make our lives happier. What we don’t see is that disappointments and other difficulties that seem to threaten our faith are really blessings in disguise. They are designed by God to draw us closer to him, to enable us to see him as he really is, and to dispel our misconceptions about him and our wrong understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

When we first discover that God isn’t who we’d thought, when he doesn’t turn out to fit our image of him, our fall into doubt or unbelief can be extraordinary. “Who is God if he is not the one I can count on to rescue me from bad things?” we ask. “Is he a God I can be close to after all? I’ve always gone to him with everything large and small. Does he care? Or have I been kidding myself all this time?” When our view of a loving God is called into question, we don’t know where to turn.

We don’t realize during the throes of such an experience that he is, indeed, all those good things we’d believed before our fall into trouble. But how he works that goodness into our lives is often very different from what we expected—or wanted. Bad things happen to us because God is actually calling us into a deeper faith, one that trusts him and chooses to stay with him even when his love for us includes losses,the relinquishment of dreams and earthly hopes, and painful experiences for which there will be no remedy in this lifetime.

Disappointments do not come from the hand of a cruel God; they come to us from the God who longs to relate and is actually drawing us nearer. Times of intense disappointment and difficulty may well be indicators that God is drawing nearer to us, even though he may seem farther away."

You can read more here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Keeping a Quiet Heart

I am mesmerized by the phrase in I Peter 3:4, “…the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” I want to be that kind of beautiful—a beauty that is “very precious” in God’s vision. But “a gentle and quiet spirit” seems so illusive to me. How do I do that? How do I become a woman characterized that way?

I know what the words mean. Gentle means meek, not weak. It means strength under God’s control. Our culture tends to link the term gentleness with weakness. But gentleness is the strong arm cuddling a tiny infant. Instead of using strength to crush the baby, gentleness is tempering that strength, controlling it, and using it instead to bring comfort. Gentleness and weakness are two entirely different things. The other term in I Pet. 3:4 is “quiet”, meaning tranquil and at peace. I know all that—I know the definitions of the Greek words behind the English translation. And, yet, I struggle to practice such attitudes. I wrestle with how to not wrestle.

I have had times of worry and fear periodically in my life. Yet God has always met me in my need. This led me to believe that the worst was over—that I was heading into the twilight years of Christian maturity where I could rest confidently in all I have already learned of God. I got married, learned more of God, had times of struggle and times of peace—but peace generally won. Then I had kids. A wise pastor once told me that after you have children, it’s like your heart is walking around outside of your body for the rest of your life. Now I have 3 people I love dearly (my husband and children) who all have the power to tear my heart out and stomp that sucker flat (as Lewis Grizzard would say). And my response to the ice-cold fear that grips my heart at times is anything but gentle and peaceful. I respond with control. With agenda.With manipulation. I can’t handle being out of control on something that means so much to me—but I am learning how devastating my efforts at control are on the very things I value.

I sat with a wise, long married elder’s wife recently, and she shared with me great, simple words of wisdom. In a nutshell, let go of my agenda and expectations, and trust the One Whose faithfulness supercedes all of our own unfaithfulness. As Paul says in Phil, 1:6, “He who began the good work in you will be faithful to complete it …”. It all leads back to the simple idea of TRUST. “Let go and let God” is becoming less of a cheesy Christian saying and more of a foundational guiding principle for my life.

Let go of my agenda that I may be completely available to the Holy Spirit’s agenda for me. I can’t change people. I can’t even change myself. But God is faithful and loses none of His children. And now keeping a quiet heart seems possible. Suddenly, the fog clears and it makes sense to me. God says a woman who trusts Him, who lets go of her expectations and waits quietly and expectantly on Him to work, reflects a beauty that is of GREAT PRICE. God says a woman that tempers her strength and responds with graciousness rather than manipulation and anger to situations out of her control is in possession of a beauty that does not fade with age. These are inspiring words from Scripture.

I have found Elisabeth Elliott’s book by this title an easy, encouraging, inspiring, convicting read.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Infertility v. Barrenness

I had a very brief bout with infertility before getting pregnant with my son--just long enough to get a good taste of the intense mental battles that accompany this trial for many women. I have a good friend who has gone through it much longer than I, and she has an interesting perspective on the terms infertility and barrenness. There was something about the term barrenness that really bothered her. Infertility made her think of a field that needed to be fertilized--it needed proper nutrients to make it healthy again. But barrenness implied a much more stark reality--like a field had been given over and had no hope of use in the future.

She shared all this during a discussion on the book Blessings of Barrenness, a rare book on infertility written by and for Christian women. I recommend it. My main criticism of the book is that it is poorly edited, which can be distracting as you read it. My neutral disclaimer of the book is that I don't know the doctrinal background of the author, and there were a few places that I disagreed with a statement she made. I don't know that I need to point that out, since all of my friends are discerning readers. But there it is anyway.

Now on the good points of the book--well, everything else was good. The author writes with hard-earned practical wisdom from her years of struggle with infertility. She well understands the struggles of this season of life. She shared the story of her crippling grief and the feelings of abandonment by God when the mother of the son they were soon to adopt decides to keep him after all. She has vast experience with others' well-meaning but still hurtful comments. She knows the struggle of deciding how far to travel down the path of fertility treatments. She explains the painful situations well and writes with compassion. But she also points consistently to the One who is sovereign over it all and well able to sustain us in the trial.

One thing I especially appreciated about the book is that she shares stories of women from a variety of backgrounds, including those experiencing secondary infertility (infertility after successfully giving birth previously). There were women who adopted, had successful fertility treatments, got pregnant miraculously with no intervention, and those who remained childless after deciding not to adopt. I appreciated their different perspectives. Another plus is that the book had good information on the ins and outs of fertility treatment options from someone who had been through many of them.

So if you or someone you love is experiencing infertility and would like a first hand account by someone who has battled this with faith and confidence in her God, this book is a good resource. Most of us who have been there equally despise the terms infertile and barren, and I hope more Christian women will write on this topic. There is a serious lack of helpful resources from a Christian perspective on this topic.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Women and the Bible

Well, I was trying to avoid controversial topics on women's issues on this blog. But I just stumbled across these notes from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and found it a REALLY helpful summary of the Scripture on the issue. I hope you find it helpful as well.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Miscarriage and the Father

A friend called me last night. She went in for an ultrasound yesterday and found out her baby had died. She was in her 2nd trimester. Now she has to decide if she should have a D & C or wait on a natural miscarriage. There are emotional and physical pros and cons of each. While I have miscarried and could identify with her at one level, I have never had a D & C and didn’t have much wisdom to offer one way or the other on that.

But we talked about God the Father. She already knew the truth of God’s character, but it was helpful to us both to talk through it again.

God the Father is sovereign—in laymen’s terms, He’s in control.

God the Father is wise—He knows what He’s doing.

God the Father is compassionate—He loves His children.

After our conversation, I started to meditate on this 3rd attribute of the Father. Thanks to Mrs. Kissam, my 8th grade Latin teacher, I know that the term compassion is from the root Latin words for suffering together (com—with or together, and pati—to suffer). And meditating on the root of this term opened my eyes to something about my Father. He doesn’t just generally feel sorry for me or love me with a standoffish type of concern. He enters into my suffering. He suffers WITH me.

Exodus 34:6 (NIV) And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,

Understanding the term compassion, that God accompanies us in our suffering, leads me to wonder about this verse on Paul’s desire to enter into Jesus’ suffering.

Philippians 3:10 (NIV) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

I can’t say I fully understand either one—God entering into my suffering or the possibility of fellowship with Christ in His. But as I go through my own suffering, it changes my perspective significantly to think that my Sovereign Father is walking intimately with me through it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

What is theology and why should I care?

Let me begin this post by sharing a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. We were discussing what we were learning at our churches. When I brought up a particular doctrinal issue my pastor had mentioned in his message, my friend (who attended another good church in our town) said to me that she studies the Bible only for its practical application and avoids getting involved in discussions of the deep things of the Word of God. She was the first person to put in words to me what I have come to understand as a widespread issue in conservative Christianity—“Don’t talk to me about doctrine and theology—just teach me some practical things that will help me in my daily life. Doctrine and theology are complicated issues that should be reserved for pastors and aspiring seminary students. But don’t bog the common man or woman in the church pew down with those types of things—that will just weigh them down and distract them from the important issues of life with which they are dealing. “

I think there is a very real reason that many people feel this way. Of course, some people just don’t want to know God. They just want an easy answer to what ails them. But there is another reason that really bothers me—a lot of theologians are full of pride in their knowledge. They love their Latin phrases and flaunt the depth of their religious library. And when you try to talk to them or even just sit in their class or read their papers, they talk right over the average guy’s head. They talk over him instead of to him. They intimidate him (or her) and scare him/her off from their own theological adventure.

But biblically, there is no justification for pastors and seminary professors to be the only ones who understand, articulate, and appreciate doctrine and theology. For our purposes, let me be clear what I mean by each of these terms.

Doctrine: simply, a teaching—in this case, the teaching of Scripture

Theology: the study of the character, attributes, and purposes of God

Here is the passage that really gets me on this issue.

Proverbs 9: 10 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowl
edge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Most church attendees admit that they need wisdom. Many come to church each Sunday hoping for something they can apply to their lives that week to be a wiser parent or spouse, employer or employee. Proverbs 9:10 holds the answer. The Bible says over and over again (Job 28:28, Ps. 11:10, Prov. 15:33) that wisdom—practical daily living—is preceded by the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of the Holy One.

In other words, wise, practical daily living is preceded by a knowledge of God that leads to fear, awe, and reverence of Him, His power, and His purposes. Theology is the root, the foundation, the framework for practical living that reflects wisdom and understanding.

This naturally leads to the question—just exactly who is my God and what does that mean for me today? More coming soon.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What's in a name?

I've chosen Practical Theology for Women as the name for this blog, in part because that is the name of my book published by Crossway in July. I think each word in this name is pretty important. Here are some thoughts on why I think theology is of practical value for women:

Theology: by this I mean simply the study of God. We tend to associate the term theology with seminary level courses on Latin religious phrases. But when I use the term, I think of it at its root meaning. Just as biology is the study of life, zoology is the study of animals, and anthropology is the study of man, theology is the study of God--who He is and what He does.

Practical Theology: by this I mean that our study of God is relevant to our daily lives. So this is not an esoteric issue, something understood by and of value for only a select few. Our understanding of the character and purposes of God has real, relevant, daily value for us as individuals.

Practical Theology for Women: why would I specify women? For some time, my burden has been that theology texts and courses are usually taught by men and aimed at a largely male audience. I want to break down the notion that theology is for men and parenting, sewing, or dieting classes are for women. I have a fairly conservative view on women's issues from Scripture. But this blog is not intended as a place for debate either for or against feminism or gender roles. Rather, the purpose is simply to study who God is and what He reveals about Himself directly through His Word and figure out what that means for women at all stages of life--single, married, with kids, without, in the workplace, or at home.

So welcome to Practical Theology for Women. I hope you find something here that points you to God.