Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reforming Women's Ministry Part 2 -- God is the Gospel

In part 1 of this two part series, I put forth the following summary of the questions a women's ministry should answer as its foundational ministry.

What has God created me to be? Why am I not that way now? And what has God done and is continuing to do to bring me back to the perfection for which He created me?

Part 1 dealt with just the first question, what has God created me to be? The answer is that I was created in His image to reflect something about Him. Even the distinct role of a "helper suitable" to her husband in Genesis 2:18 is only understood correctly when examined in the context of the character of God the Helper to whom we are called to reflect.

Next, I'd like to deal with the 2nd and 3rd questions as a unit. Scripture consistently deals with both the problem of our sin and the answer in the gospel in inseparable ways. The gospel is meaningless apart from a correct understanding of our condition apart from God. And our condition apart from God is so utterly hopeless as to be unable to be heard and processed apart from the corresponding grace of God.

Last Sunday, our assistant pastor defined the gospel as everything that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ accomplished for us, and this gospel changes everything. Subsequently, the entirety of the "Christian life" is figuring out for a lifetime all the things the gospel changes about ourselves and how it changes them. And this is as true for women as any other demographic in the church and must be the foundational focus of our women's ministries.

Paul talks about the interconnectedness between our condition apart from Christ and all God has accomplished for us on the cross repeatedly in Ephesians (Eph. 2:1-10, 11-13, 4:17-24, 5:8). I'll include just the first one here, but it's noteworthy that throughout his letter to the Ephesians, he repeats this idea again and again--what you were apart from Christ contrasted to what we are now IN Christ. And he wraps the wealth of practical teaching in Ephesians on church life, husbands, wives, children, parents, slaves, masters, and general spiritual warfare on this repeated foundation.

Ephesians 2 1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The phrase that I was "by nature" an object of God's wrath is fairly important. It frees me, especially as a woman, from performance idolatry. Even if I know exactly what God created me to be, I by nature can not muster it up on my own to fix myself and reflect God's character. It is completely impossible for me. I will always fail. Until I get this piece of the gospel, I will dwell in desperate attempts to pick myself up from my bootstraps that either result in a stupid pride in my version of morality or wretched self condemnation in my failures. But understanding my nature apart from Christ paves the way for me to walk the only path that leads to the glory of God.

I love the title of Piper's book, God is the Gospel. I'm embarassed to say that I've never read the book though I have it on my bookshelf. But I've thought on that title again and again since I first heard it. It is so true. The good news of the cross is that Christ has made the way for me to talk to God, walk with God, praise God, enjoy God. God Himself is the good news of the gospel. In Christ, I have access to Him! And THAT is what changes everything.

Psalms 73 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

God Himself is my strength. God Himself is my portion, my inheritance. It is fully IN HIM that all benefits of the Christian life are found. Once we get that truth in its proper place, then we can start filtering all life issues through these truths, including those that affect us in particularly strong ways as women. Singleness, problem marriages, infertility, rebellious children, stressful work situations, the loss of identity perceived by stay at home moms, church strife, and any other particular application you can think of--our only hope for wisely responding to any situation is understanding how the grace of the gospel and His call to reflect His image based on His transformation of me through the cross equip me in that particular instance.

Inherent in this is understanding who God is. Part of the transformation process depends on a correct understanding of the character of God as Scripture reveals Him. That was my burden in writing Practical Theology for Women. If I had to do it all over again, I'd start with the study of Ephesians and then let the theology book be the sequel. Instead, I learned (and wrote) it backwards, but that's ok too.

Oh, so much more could be written. I am not an authority and am only writing to put into words thoughts that have run around in my head for a while. I've enjoyed sitting under this kind of general ministry in my home church. And I've enjoyed thinking about what it looks like to reclaim a gospel-saturated view of all of the Christian life particularly in the realm of women's ministry.

If you'd like to add thoughts, I always enjoy the input. Bless you all as you minister the gospel in your homes and ministries to which God has called you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reforming Women's Ministries Part 1

In posts here and here, I discussed the problems I perceive with many women's ministries. Now I'd like to redirect the conversation in a positive way. I stand open to correction, but here are some beginning thoughts on the appropriate emphasis of women's ministry.

We tend to think of women's ministries as distinctly feminine. It's tea and flower arrangements, lavendar and ribbon. And that's not a problem. There is something beautiful about coming apart as women and enjoying food, entertainment, and activities that our male counterparts don't value as we do. The community of sisters in Christ rubbing shoulders in various activities apart from any particular teaching is a valuable part of Christian community in the Body of Christ.

But even non-teaching social experiences will always reflect, even at the most informal level, a group's underlying assumptions on what it means to be a godly Christian woman. So what should our underlying assumptions be in women's ministry? I submit to you that our underlying assumptions should really be the same as any targeted ministry in the church--men, women, senior adult, teens, children, you name it. Here's how I'll sum up the big picture as I see it presented in Scripture.

What has God created me to be? Why am I not that way now? And what has He done and is continuing to do to bring me back to the perfection for which He created me?

In Part 1, I'll deal with just the first question--what has God created me to be? This is the same question we need to answer for all believers. And the answer for all believers is that we were created to be image bearers of God.

Genesis 1 26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Both man and woman were created in God's own image. This is crucial for every woman to understand. SHE was created in His image. SHE is being conformed to His image even now (Romans 8:28-30). Sometimes in emphasizing the wife's reflection of the church in her particular relationship with her husband, we lose a vision for every woman's identity as an image bearer of God, marred by the fall but redeemed through the cross (we'll get to both of those latter ideas in another post).

In the creation of woman in the image of God, God uses the particular Hebrew term "ezer" or Helper.

Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

I thank Susan Hunt and Ligon Duncan in their book Women's Ministry in the Local Church for first pointing me to how God Himself is our example on what it means to be a helper suitable to the needs of our male counterpart.

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. “I’m called to be Help?! That sounds like some 18th century plantation snob referring to their servants. I’m not the Help.” Instead, if we let Scripture and not our culture be our guide, we'll see something altogether different. 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 it’s use in 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. 2:18. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is also called our Helper, Counselor, and Comforter (depending on which translation of the Bible you use—these are all translations of the Holy Spirit’s role of “paraklete”, or one who comes alongside in help.) 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. It is enough that we seek to be like Him.

So let’s consider God’s example on this issue of Help. 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 causing 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 conduits of God’s grace in our homes. We are called to be like Christ.

Note that Genesis 2:18 occurs before the fall. This is important because the woman was created not as a response to her man’s sinfulness but to his loneliness and incompleteness. All of God’s creation up to that point was very good. Man being alone was the first thing God looked at and said it was NOT GOOD. Man was not complete—it was NOT GOOD that He be alone. And in order to make His creation GOOD, God created the woman to correspond to and complement that which was lacking in the man. To be his helper.

When we teach women that they were created to be helpers suitable to the needs of their male counterpart, we must teach it in the context of the Imago Dei--the woman created in the image of God to reflect something about God Himself, the woman marred by the fall of man but now being conformed back to that image as particularly revealed in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 5:1). The saddest statement I think I ever heard a woman utter was that Christ's example in the gospels wasn't relevant to her as a woman. He was a man--what did that have to offer her as she struggled to be a godly woman? So she looked to Ruth, or Mary, or Martha, or Sarah, or Deborah. But she didn't look to Christ to teach her who God had called her to be. I am definitely a fan of Ruth and Mary. And I particularly love Phoebe and Abigail. But I was not created in their image, and I am not now being conformed to their image. Their examples certainly have something to offer me, but only as secondary illustrations of what it looks like to be a Helper like God Himself or humble like Jesus.

I'll continue this week or next with some thoughts on the next questions--now that we know what God created us to be, why am I not like that and what is God doing to transform me back to reflect His image as He created me?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Getting My Masters in Faith

After a week of profitable discussion on women's ministry issues here and here, I'm going to take a moment to reflect on a different issue. This involves my personal journey of faith. In the preface of Practical Theology for Women, I gave testimony of a very intense few years in which God showed up in my life in a big way, teaching me things about Himself through tangible circumstances. I learned a lot. I learned that God is trustworthy. I learned that God does things very differently than I would if I were God. I learned that His way of doing things was brilliant when compared to mine. I learned that His timetable was very different than mine. I learned that He is the source of all good things in my life. I learned that He is a sure foundation when things don't go as I expect. There were moments when God was silent. There were moments when I was fearful. But God always came through--usually within days, weeks, or months of whatever crisis I faced.

I thought I had graduated from the school of faith. I had persevered for TWO LONG YEARS (don't laugh). God had showed up in my life in big ways. He had increased my faith. I had learned the lessons I needed to equip me for a lifetime.


Oh niave me. I'd like to think that was my bachelors degree in faith and now I am on to my masters degree. But it may be more like kindergarten to grade school. Whatever the best analogy, I realize I am still learning of faith. I am still being taught through the Word and my circumstances. But I've graduated from some level of faith learning and testing, and this new season in the school of faith is much tougher than the last season. In my undergraduate season, God showed up in tangible ways in my circumstances every few days. There were weeks and months between the big things, but He still showed up in ways that were obvious. Now, not so much. Now, I wait for years. Still waiting. Still praying. Now when He shows up, it's in the parables in which He instructs us to persevere in prayer (Luke 11). It's in Ephesians 4 when He teaches that walking worthy of the gospel of Christ means I bear long with others. It's in James when He teaches that the man who perseveres is blessed. It's in the Scripture that teaches life is a marathon, not a sprint.

I realize now that round 1, the bachelors degree of faith, was a sprint. I thought it was God's big teaching event in my life. Now I realize it was only the warm up, preparing me for the marathon of persevering endurance to which He has called us all. I wouldn't trade what I'm learning in what I sarcastically refer to as my masters degree in faith for anything in the world. But at the same time, it wasn't what I bargained for.

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

First of all, I don't think of enduring as pure joy. The first place I wrestle with God in this passage is how to see this long, hard graduate education as PURE JOY. Secondly, I am rebuked by the Word that says PERSEVERANCE will make me mature and complete. I have no desire for long term peseverance. I want short term deliverance! So I see two objectives in phase 1 of masters degree training in faith.

1) Find the gospel joy in long term endurance in hard seasons. I CAN be joyful in this hard season.

2) Value perseverance as the very thing through which God will bring me to maturity in Him.

I haven't yet met these objectives. I've just identified them. But I think therein lies more than half the battle. Dear sister who has graduated past niave faith in which life issues reconciled in weeks or months and who now endures for years in a place you long for deliverance, I am with you. I trust God will give us each gospel joy, that beautiful fruit of the Spirit, in the midst of our long marathon. And I believe in faith that persevering itself will produce in you and I a beautiful maturity in Christ that will reflect well on the beauty of God's good plan for us all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Complementarian Idolatry

I plan for this to be my last post on the problems with Reformed Women's Ministries from a negative standpoint. The last post seem to strike a nerve and start a good conversation that I hope we can continue positively. Today, however, I want to spend a little more time articulating what I see as the problem of teaching on women's issues apart from a thorough fleshing out of the gospel. I have witnessed it in my own life and talked about it with many godly friends. I know of no better name for it than "Complementarian Idolatry". I submit to you that this idolatry is every bit as destructive to the true cause of Christ as any egalitarian idea we are trying to argue against.

Here is the progression I've witnessed.

1) A woman comes to Christ. To this point in her life she has found her identity in perhaps her fashion sense, her boyfriend, or if she's really got it together, her respectable career.

2) This woman is seeking to obey. She hears teaching about women's roles in the church and home. She wants to conform. It's hard to switch from finding your identity and self respect in how you look or your high paying job. But her new set of friends seem to really value marriage and raising children. Keeping your house, training your children, being a good cook. This woman now starts to value these things in place of the old things she used to look to for her identity.

The conclusion is that this woman has only transferred her old idolatry of her job, fashion sense, respect in her community, boyfriend, and so forth. Her new idolatry is her home, her husband, and her children. Her self worth depends on how neat her home, how tasteful and well presented her meals, how well behaved and Biblically informed her children. For many, they excel here. They find self worth in their accomplishments in the home. For many others, they only find self condemnation. I was in this second camp. I am messy and find it very hard to keep my house clean. Though I'm from a family of great cooks, I myself am not the best. And, though I feel much better about raising my boys right now than I did even 6 months ago, I have struggled watching my friends with children their same age who excel at things to which it hasn't even occurred to me to expose my boys.

Thankfully, God has worked long and hard to free me from finding my identity and self worth in either my job at the community college or my house keeping skills. He has been prying out of my grasp all those things I look to daily for self worth. Instead, He is replacing my quest for identity with the gift of Himself. In particular, it is my spiritual blessings in Christ as outlined in Ephesians 1 that have been a resting place for me in the life long battle to figure out why I should get up in the morning.

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.

I am God's daughter, chosen by Him before time began to reflect the lavish beauty of His glorious grace. He has deposited in me the Holy Spirit as the seal that guarantees that God will fulfill every last thing He has promised to me and hold my inheritance securely for me for eternity. Then Paul concludes the chapter with the great prayer.

17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,

This is the prayer that I must make my own. Father, open my eyes. Enlighten me to all you have done for me and called me to be. Help me understand the hope of my inheritance. Help me live in light of the incomparable power at work on my behalf. May my eternal inheritance alone be the filter through which I view all my successes and failures in life. I am just a steward of the gifts you give (and take away) in this life. The meaning of all of it is lost if I don't read it through the lense of my unshakeable inheritance in You.

Then, I can move from finding either self worth or self condemnation in my home keeping skills. Oddly enough, I usually feel much more equipped to do the things I need to do to keep my home functioning in God-honoring ways once I lose my grip on it in terms of self-identity. I have found that God is pretty jealous and quite willing to frustrate my attempts to find my worth in anything other than His finished work for me on the cross.

I hope you too will examine yourself. Complementarian idolatry is alive and vibrant in the church. And it is as evil as any other option.

Next week, I hope to offer some positive thoughts on reforming women's ministries.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Problem with Reformed Women's Ministries and Resources

I know that calling this post "Problems with Reformed Women's Ministries and Resources" is not completely fair. I have only been a part personally of a handful of reformed women's ministries. And I certainly haven't had a chance to explore all reformed women's resources. I have read through some of the women's books traditionally recommended in reformed circles. There are many other great ones that I have heard much about but not yet read. In this post, I am going to speak in very broad and not always specifically accurate generalities. I am burdened for a general idea to take hold in women's ministries and not lobbying against any particular group, author, or book.

I have really appreciated Tim Keller's focus on genuine gospel-centered preaching at the core of teaching on all topics. If you are going to teach on God's view of sex, you found it on the gospel. If you are going to teach on God's view of money, you found it on the gospel. If you are going to teach on God's view of social justice, you found it on the gospel. My pastor interned under Tim Keller, and I don't know if that affected anything about his preaching. But week in and week out, I too get to hear preaching through Scripture on a variety of Christian disciplines that are always founded upon our understanding of the gospel to ourselves and how that informs our relationships with others.

But I have NEVER heard teaching to women on women's roles founded and empowered by the gospel (except in a small group class on Ephesians 5 given by my pastor and his wife). I have never READ gospel centered teaching on women's roles. I have never LISTENED to gospel centered teaching on women's roles in a downloaded sermon.

I just finished writing a manuscript on Ephesians geared toward women. It may or may not ever get published, but it transformed me, particularly on how I think about women's issues in Christianity. Ephesians holds the most controversial words to women in all of Christianity. Submit. Respect. Painful, chafing words--at least when taken out of context of the GOSPEL that Paul spends chapter after chapter setting up for us in Ephesians before he ever utters those specific words to women. Paul is really clear in Ephesians (at least when you read it in context), that it is our adoption into God's family and all the spiritual blessings on us in Christ that call all of us, both men and women, to mutual submission in the Body of Christ. He spends chapters 1-3 on our spiritual blessings in Christ, exploring the gospel in great detail. In chapter 4 he teaches that the way we walk worthy of the beauty of this gospel he has presented is in humble, forbearing love with one another. He opens Ephesians 5 reminding us that the point of what God is doing in us is rooting out our old selves and conforming ALL of us to the image of Christ. Christ IS our catechism. His life is the exact representation of all God is calling us to. Humble, sacrificial service. Loving forbearance. Grace. Philippians 2 is a good commentary on what it means when Paul calls us to be imitators of God in Ephesians 5:1.

Then in Ephesians 5:21, Paul summarizes what it looks like for all those living in light of the gospel to be imitators of God. We all submit one to another in reverence for Christ. That is the context for the next instructions to husbands, wives, children, parents, slaves, and masters. When Paul next tells wives to submit to and respect their husbands in the Lord, it is in the context of the spiritual inheritance we all have in Christ and what it looks like to be conformed to the image of the humble Christ specifically in the life of a wife. To be honest, teaching Ephesians 5:22 to the end of the chapter just sets women up for failure if it is taken out of context of the whole of Paul's teaching in the book.

Do you know of good women's resources that teach such things in context of the gospel--not just saying the word "gospel" periodically but really fleshing out what God has done for us in and through Christ as the empowerment and example for what He has called us to? If so, please tell me about it in the comment section. I would like to call on all of us to accept nothing less than gospel-centered teaching to women even on women's issues. I am firmly convicted that teaching anything specifically to women (or children or husbands or whomever) without founding it concretely on all Christ has purchased for us on the cross sets us all up for failure.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Joshua on the Character of God

After a very profitable study from the book of Ephesians, I knew I needed to discipline myself to study some from the Old Testament next. Our pastor is working through Exodus right now, and it has been an excellent series on how God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt gives us a blueprint for the ultimate salvation He provides through Christ. But despite the good experience in Exodus, I've sat under some really bad teaching from the Old Testament over the years and have to work hard to unlearn the old ways of reading it from preachers who don't look to the New Testament as the ultimate Bible commentary on the Old. All that to say, I still have to make myself read the Old Testament, and right now, I'm making myself read Joshua.

Joshua has been very difficult for me. It comes on the heals of Exodus, which is truly a beautiful, clear picture of the coming salvation through Christ. Exodus points to Him from multiple angles and shows God's mercy again and again toward those who can not deliver themselves. In contrast, Joshua is about a bunch of battles. Fight after fight. They kill everyone (or most everyone) and publicly execute their kings, and everyone else runs hiding. It was unpleasant to read. The first thing that was clear is that God is not for everyone. That is likely the hardest truth there is to accept in all of orthodox Christianity. I wonder, why doesn't God save everyone?! And then I remember that the cross of Christ demands I change my question to, "Why does God save anyone?" When God steps to save in Exodus, He makes it look easy. But when He steps in with ultimate salvation at the cross, we see that it was anything but easy for Him. It cost Him everything. Understanding that truth is the only way I can move from distress that He doesn't save everyone to fall-on-my-face humble thankfulness that He saves me.

Thankfully, as I progressed through my study of Joshua, God finally made it very clear what His purpose was for all those who read it. In fact, He says it in no uncertain terms at the end of Joshua 21.

41 The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands. 42These cities each had its pasturelands around it. So it was with all these cities.

43 Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

There it is. THIS is the point of what God did for Israel and what He is teaching us today of His character when we read it. Yahweh keeps His promises. Yahweh does what He says. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

This is your Father, dear sister in Christ. If you are in the midst of circumstances that make your heavenly Father look ineffective or uncaring, be encouraged. Your Father has made real promises to you, and His character is that He always keeps them.

Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

MJ and the Imago Dei

Like all good stay at home moms who are too tired once the kids go to bed to do anything profitable, I have been watching CNN for a few hours and am well steeped in all the details of Michael Jackson's memorial service today. It has made me sad. What is clear to me is that he was an incredibly talented child, then man, who never saw himself as created in the image of God in a way that should be valued. People magazine had a progression of his looks from childhood to his death, detailing the changes he made in his own appearance through plastic surgery. My theology teaches me that the depravity within him surely contributed. But it's clear there were a lot of depraved forces working against him as well. He had an abusive father. And he entered a self-absorbed, sensationalist, narcissistic, eat-your-own-wounded culture at an age when he had no social, self-protective coping mechanisms. The result was a "freak show" that much of the world watched, gossiped about, and disected on talk television. I thought he was a freak too. Now, I'm convicted. He wasn't a freak. He was created in the image of God. It was our "civilized" society that loves self and hates God that projected onto him something that fed weaknesses in himself.

He is not the first African-American child I have seen that hated their image, wishing for a smaller nose and lighter skin. He is not the first child star thrust into a spotlight they were too immature to handle. He is not the first adult I've known with such a warped childhood that they go to innappropriate lengths to recreate the idyllic childhood they perceive they have missed. It's just that all these things came together in his life in very public ways, and we all watched the sensational spectacle with our own innapropriate fascination.

MJ was just one of millions of people who are pained and wounded, and whose efforts to relieve their pain and wounding only created new pain and new wounds. I'm reminded that there is only one hope for dealing with such pain and wounding--it is the Man of Sorrows who is well acquainted with grief. He alone is the cure for the depravity without us that wounds us and feeds the depravity within us.

I am in the midst of reading Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, a collection of short stories from various Christian writers. I was asked to contribute a story and have enjoyed reading the stories of others. The big idea is that our wounding is like the grit of sand in the oyster shell that becomes a pearl of great price. Sometimes we wound ourselves through our stupid sinfulness. But many times, we are wounded by the very ones we should most be able to trust--spouses, parents, church family. Sometimes it's sickness seemingly out of anyone's control. Other times it's a very specific, intentional act done for the very purpose of wounding the victim. Women share stories of both their wounding and God's transformation of it in their lives. Not all of the stories spoke to me, but many really did. It was neat to hear woman after woman share how the goodness of God transcended the worst life had to offer. It's by no means the final answer from Scripture on how to deal with abuse and wounding situations, but it is an encouraging supplementary read if you are walking that walk right now.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sex and Kids

I have long been aware of my need to vigilantly prepare and protect my kids from sexual predators. I have way too many friends who were sexually abused as children, and I have tried to learn from their experiences to wisely guide my own children. Our preschool uses a curriculum that teaches kids among other things that anywhere a bathing suit covers is their private parts and to always tell a grownup if someone touches them and keep telling more grownups until someone actually listens.

But in the last few months, a new issue has come up. A friend shared with me how her naive preteen little brother, homeschooled and well protected from sexually explicit influences, sexually fondled/assalted another friend's little sister. Now THAT scared the h*** out of me. I have thought lots about protecting my sons from being abused but had never given thought about equipping them to not be the abuser. I thought it would be enough if they weren't exposed to sexual content on TV or in song. Now, as I examine my earlier assumptions, I realize how niave that was on my part. Our hearts are deceitfully wicked, and it doesn't take explicit exposure to such things to bring it out in ourselves.

I am only just beginning to think on how to prepare my boys to neither be abused or the abuser, but to have God's view of sex and respect for the worth of each individual created in the image of God. I thought I'd need to start worrying about that when they were preteens. But now I am thinking that it's past time I started.

I have found John Stott's perspective on Paul's teaching on sex in Ephesians 5 very helpful. In his Message of Ephesians commentary, Stott summarizes Paul's teaching against innapropriate sexual language and practices as "don't joke about sex, but rather give thanks for it." It's an excellent summary. I realize I need to start thinking now about how to teach my boys to value sex as God intended it, with neither a Victorian prudery that refuses to acknowledge it or our modern flippancy that treats it only as fodder for stupid jokes or chick flicks.

In the end, I think this will be a test case for how I teach them to think about being created in the Image of God, and I hope to instill them with a strong identity of who they are in Christ. But despite my awareness and resolve, I realize I am utterly dependent on Christ to protect my boys from both sinning against others and being sinned against by others. Jesus' instructions on prayer now makes great sense to me. I will definitely be praying for myself and my boys, "Lead us not into temptaton, but deliver us from evil." This is definitely a joint venture with God in which I depend on Him to do the heavy work.