Sunday, January 31, 2010

For Rash, Impetuous Women

I’m embarking on a study of I Peter. Of all the characters described in the Old and New Testament, Peter is the one with whom I most self identify. I love Paul – the legalist who finally realized he was the chief of sinners. I am inspired by Joseph – who grasped like few others how God’s grand eternal plans give perspective to hellish betrayal on earth. I want to meet Ruth, whose steadfastness for someone so new in the faith is striking, and Mary of Bethany, who understood Christ’s coming death well before any of the disciples figured it out. In contrast, I do not really admire Peter. He is too impulsive and impetuous, his mistakes too big at too much an expense of his Lord. I understand his personality well, and I know the painful consequences of rash, poorly thought out words. I know, as Peter does when he writes I Peter, that God has shown him great patience, mercy, and grace despite himself. This makes Peter’s discussion of the gospel stand out to me that much more. Peter has stuck his foot in his mouth and asked insulting questions. He has boasted in his superior faith and turned around to betray the Lord at his darkest hour.

I understand the self-loathing and disgust that come along with an impetuous personality, for I have offended others and embarrassed myself time after time with impulsive, poorly thought out words. To which of the other disciples did Jesus say, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.” (Mt. 16:23). That is a harsh word from Jesus. We do not have a record of Peter’s response after that rebuke, but I can imagine that he was likely devastated. He was just trying to protest the idea that Jesus was going to be killed. I am sure it seemed well meaning to Peter at the time, and Christ’s rebuke was surely wounding to him. But faithful are God’s wounds, and Christ’s rebuke was formative as Peter slowly transforms from the impetuous disciple of the gospels to the rock on which Jesus builds his church.

The most soul wrenching interaction between Teacher and disciple is recounted in Matthew 26. On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, He tells the disciples of the coming crucifixion and their scattering. Peter rashly proclaims, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Mt. 26:33) Yet, just hours later, Peter denies Jesus – not once, not twice, but three times -- even swearing curses that he never knew Him. Peter quickly comes to himself, goes out, and weeps bitterly (Mt. 26:75). It is a sad, sad scene. Peter has failed Christ miserably. His failure is all the more bitter in light of his bold, na├»ve protestations that he would never do such a thing.

The first time Peter sees Jesus after the resurrection is recorded in John 21. In contrast to the previous scene, it is all the more beautiful. If anyone should be ashamed, hiding themselves from Jesus, it is Peter. He failed Christ miserably at His darkest hour. Yet both Peter and Jesus have a different reaction than expected. Christ offers no condemnation, and Peter exhibits no shame.

4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, "Children, do you have any fish?" They answered him, "No." 6 He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

While the other disciples make a respectful return in the boat, Peter jumps right into the water and swims/runs to Jesus. I can imagine the moment for him—they had crucified his Lord. He had denied Jesus. And there the Savior was, standing on the shore. Peter’s response reflects his utter need for Jesus. “Jesus, I can’t do this on my own. I just denied You three times. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing now. I can’t even catch fish on my own. I’m sitting here fishing on this boat because I have no idea what else I’m supposed to be doing. I need You!” In that moment, NOTHING else mattered. His shame was preempted by his NEED of Jesus. Getting to Jesus was number one priority.

After that scene, Jesus gives Peter a chance to affirm his love for Christ the same number of times Peter had denied it. And each time, Jesus tasks him with the great responsibility, “feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17). Do you see the great mercy and grace Christ deliberately shows Peter and deliberately records for us today in his Word? This man, Peter, got it wrong more times than he got it right in the gospels. And, yet, Jesus tells Peter that God will build his house upon Peter the Rock!

This is Peter. As he writes I Peter, he and his audience know exactly who he is, for his mistakes are recorded for posterity in the Gospels and probably regularly read aloud to the very believers to whom he is writing. He has been broken and transformed by the grace of Jesus. Listen to what this impetuous man, betrayer of Jesus, the rock on whom God builds his church, has to say to us under the Spirit’s inspiration in I Peter 1.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

If you are like me--a rash, impetuous woman who has wept bitterly over the stupid, inappropriate things you have said at times, crushed by your ability to ruin a situation that you had every intention of helping—grace and peace to you, dear sister, from someone who understands. Your inheritance in Christ will never perish, spoil or fade. It is kept in heaven for you and is shielded by God Himself until the day you see Him face to face. Stand up. Ask forgiveness if you must. But do not be crushed by the weight of your failures. God has more than made up for your failures. And He will over time transform the qualities of your personality that you likely hate into the very things that He uses to further His kingdom.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rights, Oppression, and Bitterness

I am quite thankful for the Bill of Rights. I am thankful too for the suffragists of the last century that fought for a woman’s right to vote. But I’m also aware that our western view of civil and human rights are not shared universally. Even more importantly, I think they become a tricky issue when we are about God’s kingdom business. While God certainly set up a just system protective of human rights in His instructions on government to Moses, I don’t see God as overly preoccupied by individual civil rights as He calls His children to some pretty glorious roads of obedience through suffering.

Consider Joseph. His rights were certainly trampled upon. When his brothers present themselves, and Joseph has the chance to avenge the loss of his rights, he doesn’t slap them across the face and send them on their way to starve to death. He eats it. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) He is in effect saying, “You trampled upon every human right endowed me by God, but God had a plan to use the very trampling of my rights to preserve His people and the line of Christ. The line of the Messiah and His kingdom to come are more important than my rights.” Then he instructs them to take his bones after his death with them, because he believes there is something coming that none of them has realized yet. THAT is the thing for which Joseph is lauded in the Hall of Fame of faith in Hebrews 11.

What do we do with the issue of our personal rights? Do we fight for them? That’s our national mantra, isn’t it? And yet, I’m confronted with first, God’s example to me in Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2, God instructs me in no uncertain terms to make Christ’s attitude my attitude. And His attitude is characterized by the fact He gave up His rights and made Himself a servant for the good of God’s kingdom. Second, I watch empirically sister after sister in Christ ensnared and enchained by bitterness over the loss of her rights. Someone oppressed her, sinned against her, did her wrong. Sometimes, bitter people are poor judges of who has and has not legitimately sinned against them. But the other half of the time, they are exactly right. Someone truly has done them wrong. The husband who slept with another woman. The Christian sister who spread lies about them. The church member who went to their pastor with a problem instead of coming to them in person. The pastor who silenced them. The government that denied them the right to vote. The Christian institution that systematically undermined their credibility and destroyed their career. Boy, that can certainly incite bitterness.

My sister and I have talked much about this. I have invited her to write a post on bitterness and hope she gets it finished soon. She was the queen of bitter women—and at least half of the things she was bitter about were legitimate. She tells me of the day the Spirit freed her from the oppressive bitterness that weighed her down constantly. She knew she had to let go of her rights. Her rights to retaliate. Her rights to anger. Her right to fight for her way. It didn’t matter if she had the ammunition to win every fight with everyone she was mad at. She was crushed by the weight of it all and fell on her face before God. It was almost like a physical opening of her hands and letting go of the weight of defending her rights. Like Peter talks about in I Peter 2, she FINALLY entrusted herself to the “One who judges justly.”

It was after this that her husband left her for another woman. I watched her walk through that bitter betrayal, and I remain amazed to this day at the freedom God granted her when she let go of her rights to bitterness and anger and entrusted herself to Him who judges justly. She wasn’t defined by her husband’s infidelity. And she didn’t have to spend her days figuring out how to get even with him or show him how badly he had failed his obligations to her. She trusted herself to God, and He worked in that situation to free her precisely through grace rather than a bitter grasping of her rights. She is one of the most vibrant, free divorced women I know, with a crazy busy life of ministry. I have watched her enslaved by her bitterness since I was a child, and now that she has the biggest circumstance in her life over which to be bitter, it holds no power over her at all. It’s beautiful.

Someone sinned against you. They may have done it in an institutional setting surrounded by people who knew better but said nothing. They may have done it privately in your home. It was wrong. It hurt dearly. It affected you long term. Your choices now are bitterness or grace. I highly recommend grace. Ladies, it’s ok to let go of your rights. You can trust the One who judges justly to perhaps defend you, but to most definitely use you as you are spent like Christ for the furtherance of His kingdom. And THAT is freedom, my friends.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hard Words to Women from I Peter

If I write another women’s Bible study, I think I’ll do it on I Peter. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I am burdened that we usually teach the passages that deal with women submitting, respecting, or generally being quiet out of context with the Scripture in which they are presented. My study of Ephesians transformed my attitude toward Paul’s instructions to wives in Ephesians 5. There Paul teaches this fully in the context of a very long, fleshed out exposition of all the benefits Christ has purchased for us on the cross. Then he presents what it looks like when men and women who are IN CHRIST and being conformed to the image of God apply the gospel to their marriage.

Like Paul, Peter presents controversial words to women in I Peter 3:1-2.

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

For many in conservative Christianity, this instruction to women basically boils down to something along the lines of “sit down and shut up.” That’s because it’s repeatedly taught out of context of the entire message of I Peter – which again is about the gospel and what it looks like for all of us, men and women, to be like Christ.

Before we flesh out I Peter 2 and 3, let’s consider the reality of the need for these instructions. We all know that husbands sin. Every last one of them. We sin, and they sin. And just as we don’t always recognize our sin, they often don’t recognize theirs. (Let me give an important disclaimer—I do not intend to deal with issues of sexual or physical abuse or those involving illegal behavior. I may do that in another post, but for today, when you read my thoughts, please don’t put them in that context.)

Throughout my life experiences, I’ve noted two particular types of reactions to a husband’s real or perceived sins among Christian women. And I willingly confess, sometimes the person I’m observing is myself.

The first reaction goes something like this—“my husband just made a terrible decision. He is stupid, self-centered, and needs my input to correct his error. I notice small things everyday that others wouldn’t notice that reflect his ineptness.”


“If my husband ever does sin, please don’t bring it to my attention. I must pretend I didn’t notice it. The only way I can be a helper in my home is if I ignore and deny that my husband may be wrong about something. If I acknowledge his sin to myself, my whole world starts to crumble around me.”

These two reactions may seem like polar opposites, but in many ways the root of each is the same—fear and unbelief in God’s trustworthiness. The first one is obvious in its unbelief. This wife doesn’t love her husband and doesn’t trust her God. You probably know this woman. Heck, you may even BE this woman. She is unable to give her husband the benefit of the doubt. She is obviously manipulative and distrustful of anything that doesn’t have her completely in control.

The 2nd example is a bit more deceptive, and I’d like to park on this reaction for a bit. Women who react like #2 are usually good Christian women who are involved in their church and committed to their obligations at home. Their husbands likely have a good reputation within and without the church. Women in this situation can feel threatened when they become aware of a sin issue in their husband’s life. They don’t know what to do with their husband’s sin. So they say nothing. They do nothing. And they think they are obeying I Peter 3:1-2 by doing so.

My experience is that Christian teaching from the Bible on the roles of men and women in the home often falls off the jetway when it gets to this issue. Consider again I Peter 3:1-2, but this time in context.

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

Here are three observations on this verse in context.

1) The instruction is not to ignore sin. It is actually quite the opposite. The whole premise of the verse is that the wife is well aware of her husband’s disobedience to the word. In fact, I submit to you that if your husband is in sin, one of the worst things you can do to him and those affected by his sin is stick your head in the sand and ignore it.

2) There is something very powerful about a calm reaction by a wife to a very serious problem in her husband. There is a response that does not rely on words but nevertheless influences others powerfully towards repentance and righteousness. Most of us don’t really believe this—we don’t grasp that God has methods that are much more powerful for change than the ones we normally use (primarily our words). We don’t understand that shutting our mouths in the context that Peter presents it can be MORE POWERFUL than opening it.

3) Most importantly, this verse begins with the phrase “in the same way.” For those familiar with this instruction to wives, have you read the previous verses? The last verses in the previous chapter are all about Christ’s example. And the instruction to wives is to respond “in the same way” that He did.

21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,


23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;

24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

25For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. 3:1 In the same way, you wives ….

Suddenly, reading this in context, this instruction to wives takes on new meaning. This isn’t “shut up and stop nagging.” The command is to deal with your husband’s sin the way Christ deals with yours.

Here are some practical things that come to mind as I meditate on how Christ dealt with sin and therefore how we should respond to our husband’s. First, if my husband sins against me, I do not return it in kind. I entrust myself to Him who judges righteously. Nowhere does this say I do not acknowledge that I was sinned against. But there is a way to communicate the truth of his sin that is not manipulative but instead is reflective of the character of Christ—chaste and respectful.

Second, if my husband sins against someone else, I still respond with grace—with grace toward my husband (acknowledging his sin but influencing him toward repentance with respect rather than manipulation) and grace toward those he sinned against (in particular, acknowledging the truth of what was done to them and looking for respectful, non-manipulative ways to aid in reconciliation between the parties—Abigail in the OT is an example of this).

Finally, lest this seem like sexist instructions to wives, I remind you that the example Peter gives us is NOT a woman. It’s Jesus Christ Himself. Peter gives a particular application to wives, but the larger context of these instructions transcends gender and role--for we are all, male and female, called to be conformed to the image of Christ. We are all called to return grace for evil—noting that this never means that we sweep sin under the carpet. The goal is always to rightly deal with sin—to reconcile, to make things right, to repair the harm we (or our husbands) have done to others. But it is the goodness of God that draws any of us to repentance. Wives, don’t underestimate the power of grace-filled, purposeful silence. According to Peter, it is potentially much more influential than words. Grace is the most powerful influence toward authentic repentance ever known. But it’s not grace if you don’t acknowledge the sin in the first place. Wives, that is just self-delusion, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Women's Bible Study Format

In a previous post, I recommended Nancy Guthrie's Hoping for Something Better as a good Bible study for women through Hebrews.  With both Nancy's book and Practical Theology for Women, I've heard consistent requests for help to transition these books to use in a small or large group Bible study.  I am now writing a Leader's Guide for Practical Theology for Women, and I have several questions for which I'm hoping that you, the reader, will offer feedback. 

The big question is simply what are you looking for in a Leader's Guide?  I have always envisioned a fairly simple format for group study of my work -- maybe 15 minutes where a leader reviews the big ideas from any assigned chapter and then 45 minutes for ladies to sit around tables and discuss the ideas that struck them.  In a Leader's Guide, do you need guidance in what you should review with everyone?  Do you prefer videos where the author actually presents the review?  Do you need reproducible worksheets to hand out?

I am thinking through the best way to format the upcoming manuscript on Ephesians that I hope to publish in March.  I loved the old Experiencing God Workbook .  It had the text of the book with plenty of space to write my interactions with the text and Scripture presented.  Is that a format you would prefer for a group study?  Would you use that format in private study? 

The big question is what format will facilitate study by both individuals and groups?  There are many different learning styles.  What is helpful to your personal learning style?  What does not help and actually makes it harder to hear and process the material?  Thanks for any feedback you can give.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Oswald Chambers On Disillusionment

This is from the updated version of Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest. Thanks to my good friend Mary for sending this to me.

The Teaching of Disillusionment

Jesus did not commit Himself to them . . . , for He knew what was in man —John 2:24-25

Disillusionment means having no more misconceptions, false impressions, and false judgments in life; it means being free from these deceptions. However, though no longer deceived, our experience of disillusionment may actually leave us cynical and overly critical in our judgment of others. But the disillusionment that comes from God brings us to the point where we see people as they really are, yet without any cynicism or any stinging and bitter criticism. Many of the things in life that inflict the greatest injury, grief, or pain, stem from the fact that we suffer from illusions. We are not true to one another as facts, seeing each other as we really are; we are only true to our misconceived ideas of one another. According to our thinking, everything is either delightful and good, or it is evil, malicious, and cowardly.

Refusing to be disillusioned is the cause of much of the suffering of human life. And this is how that suffering happens— if we love someone, but do not love God, we demand total perfection and righteousness from that person, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; yet we are demanding of a human being something which he or she cannot possibly give. There is only one Being who can completely satisfy to the absolute depth of the hurting human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord is so obviously uncompromising with regard to every human relationship because He knows that every relationship that is not based on faithfulness to Himself will end in disaster. Our Lord trusted no one, and never placed His faith in people, yet He was never suspicious or bitter. Our Lord’s confidence in God, and in what God’s grace could do for anyone, was so perfect that He never despaired, never giving up hope for any person. If our trust is placed in human beings, we will end up despairing of everyone.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reforming Female Sexuality Part 2

This is the second part of this series (both excerpts from By His Wounds You Are Healed).

As I said in the last (post), I believe that sexual sin is an area many Christian women struggle in silence. If you do not struggle with it personally, be thankful, but also recognize that you likely have a close friend who does, albeit in silence and shame. From the soft-core porn of romance novels to hard-core online websites and videos, there is a wide breadth of opportunity for women to participate in sexual sin, with or without a partner. Even though I spent a long time in the last chapter defining the terms that Paul is using, I do not think I need to focus attention on convicting you or others of their sexual sin. Instead, I think many women are well convicted already and are stuck in the cycle of shame and guilt, hiding their past in great fear of being found out for their sexual history. I am going to take time in this chapter to apply the whole of what we have learned in Ephesians up to this point to the specific area of sexual sin.

There are many diverse ways we can be sexually immoral. But I’d like to focus on the overarching sin that feeds sexual addictions because I believe that understanding the foundation of such sin is our hope for dealing with it successfully for the long term. The foundational sin to which I am referring is the sin of idolatry.

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

We talked in the last chapter about how Paul links sexual sin to covetousness. He does the same in Colossians 3, adding the additional qualifier of idolatry. The sin of idolatry is clearly seen when you analyze trends among those who successfully conquer one addiction only to move on to another. An article in a recent popular magazine included interviews with several women who had surgery to reduce their stomach size to help them deal with severe obesity. Though each lost significant weight, the point of the article was that they all moved on to excessive behavior in another realm. One became a compulsive shopper, another a gambling addict, and so forth. Some studies indicate that upwards of 30 percent of compulsive eaters that have stomach stapling or lap band surgery transfer their addictions to some other substance.

For believers struggling with sexual sin and addiction, the same transference of addiction can happen. Several friends of mine have told me of overcoming sexual addiction only to realize brand new struggles with gluttony, compulsive shopping, or perfectionism. Their sexual sin was a symptom of something deeper going on in their hearts. They may have managed to stop particularly shameful sexual behavior, but they replaced it with something that, while perhaps more respectable, was still equally controlling of them in place of God.

The true condition of their heart was that they simply were not satisfied in God. They did not understand the wealth of their inheritance in him or the power at work on their behalf. They were not so thirsty for Him that the inferior satisfaction of other things lost their attraction to them. When they had a longing in their heart, they turned to food, shopping, obsessive compulsive cleaning, pornography, romance novels, or you name it. When we turn to these other things, they become addictive because they cannot satisfy long term. You can drink a gallon but only get a teaspoon of gratification. So you do it more and more trying to pursue that fleeting moment of satisfaction, rest, or peace.

What do you do if you feel stuck in the cycle of sin, shame, and guilt? First, examine yourself, for we often confuse worldly sorrow that only leads to death with godly sorrow over our sins, which leads to repentance.

I Corinthians 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Worldly sorrow is characterized by feelings of shame and pain that you got caught or hopelessness over ever being cleansed from your sin, and it is only relieved by someone else doing something for you or you doing something for yourself (someone affirming you, someone or something distracting you, you manipulating how others think of you, etc.). In contrast, godly sorrow is sorrow that directs you to Christ. You do not need someone else to do something for you. You do not need to do something for yourself. Instead, you fall flat on your face before God alone, for godly sorrow points you directly to Him. Godly sorrow is relieved by repentance and faith in what Christ has already done for you.

Many of us spend years of our lives mistaking worldly sorrow on a wide range of sin issues for authentic repentance and then wonder why we never change. Feeling bad about what you have done is not the same as a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. This is an important place to examine ourselves.

The journey from sin to restoration is a deeply personal walk that begins with an intimate relationship with Jesus. We know Him. We cry out to Him. He meets us in our need with forgiveness through His death on the cross. Then we journey with Him through this process. Eventually, this walk of repentance and restoration includes confession and reconciliation to those we have wronged.

If you find yourself in this place, I encourage you to go back to Paul’s prayer at the end of Ephesians 1 and personalize it for yourself. “God, open my eyes that I may know you better. Enlighten me to all You have accomplished for me on the cross and the sustaining hope I can have in Christ. I need to understand my inheritance in you. Help me make use of the awesome power of the resurrection at work in me because my sin seems so powerful over me.” God has poured His wrath out on Christ in your place. Instead of wrath, God offers you forgiveness and cleansing through Jesus. We are WASHED in Jesus’ blood. Washed. Cleansed. Purified. Think what it means when you wash away the grime after a day of hard exercise or work. God has scrubbed us in Christ’s blood and washed our sin and stain AWAY. Just as the dirt pours off us and flows down the drain never to be seen again, God has washed away our sin and guilt. We smell clean and look clean because WE ARE CLEAN.

1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Sister in Christ who struggles with her sexual history, enter God’s throne room now by the blood of Jesus Christ and look to Him to wash you clean. By His wounds, you are healed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reforming Female Sexuality

This is an excerpt from By His Wounds You Are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman's Identity

Ephesians 5: 3-4 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Filthiness v. thanksgiving

As I studied this section of Ephesians, it dawned on me that I could write an entire separate manuscript to women just on these two verses. There is much to unpack here, so I appreciate Stott’s summary phrase for these two verses—“Don’t joke about sex, but rather give thanks for it.” It is helpful to have this overview in mind as we look at the specific parts of these verses. Some reading this might nod their head vehemently in agreement and be content to move on quickly. But I was hit in the gut that this was not going to be a simple, short section on which to write. This is about the redemption of our views of sex—about moving from the sexual perversions brought on by our depravity and replacing it with a view of sex that does not just endure it but actually enjoys God’s design and is thankful for it. On this subject more than any other, I am glad this book is geared toward women and not because I would be embarrassed to write on this subject if it was geared toward men. That is another issue altogether. No, I am overjoyed to write on this to women primarily because others rarely do.

Over the years, I have seen more and more written in evangelical circles toward men concerning sexual sin. While I think that is a helpful development, I have realized in terms of sexual sin that women (at least in my culture) have definitely reached equality with men. Why would churches spend so much time on men’s sexual addictions without realizing the need to have a similar focus for women? Perhaps the reason is, that as shameful as it is for a man to struggle with pornography, masturbation, multiple partners, or the like, the shame our Christian society projects on a woman for such sin is a hundred times worse. Because of the shame attached to sin in this area, Christian women tend to struggle in silence with sexual sin more than any other sin issue in my humble opinion.

Several godly friends of mine, all leaders in women’s ministry in their respective churches, shared with me their own experience, calling my attention to the fact that women can struggle with sexual sin as deeply as men. This required them to publicly share their struggles with sexual sin and was a hard, humbling step for these women to take. But once they were honest with their struggle, other women started coming forward in droves. If you are struggling with sexual sin, I hope you know that you are not alone and that God is powerful to redeem and restore you.

I am burdened for both those who have struggled with sexual sin and those who have not. In Christian circles, many remnants of the story line from the Scarlet Letter—shaming of those who have sinned, self-flagellation by offenders in an attempt to clean their conscience, isolation from Christian community, and so forth remain the default response to sexual sin. Ephesians equips those of us who have struggled with sexual sin to deal with our sin in Christ and those of us who have not to humbly walk beside those who have without casting shame. If you get anything of the gospel that Paul has presented to this point, you know that sexual sin or not, all of us have sinned against God in dark, alienating ways. But instead of shaming us, God sent his son to bear the shame for us, and by his wounds we are healed.

In terms of sex, I want to focus on what God is moving us away from, what he is moving us toward, and how he accomplishes this in our lives. First, we see that our old clothing included sexual immorality, all types of impurity, filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. Let’s plod through the definitions of each so that we let Scripture filter out our cultural assumptions and fully understand what God means with these terms.

The Greek term for sexual immorality, porneia, covers a wide spectrum—adultery, sex with animals, and general fornication (sex with anyone outside of marriage) . The term for all impurity in 5:3 is the same word used in Ephesians 4:19.

19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

It simply means not pure. To get a better frame of reference for what impurity indicates here, we need to understand what pure, untainted, pollution free sex looks like. What did God intend sex to be? He designed sex to be selflessly enjoyed between a husband and a wife. It is not to be sacrificially endured at the expense of one spouse. Nor is it to be pursued for individual selfish enjoyment (I Corinthians 7). Understanding God’s good plan for sex allows us to recognize those views of sex that fall short of his standard and fit the very broad category of all impurity.

In both Ephesians 4:19 and here, Paul gives an interesting qualifier with the term pleonexia that helps us recognize what things are incompatible with God’s pure, untainted plan for sex. In Ephesians 4:19 it is translated greedy, and here it is covetousness. It points to an insatiable desire for more. This unquenchable desire, which even when it gets what it thinks it wants is still not satisfied, is the root of what separates God’s good design for sex in marriage with all perversions of it.

Paul then mentions filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. The term for filthiness points to something that is dishonorable and is derived from the word translated shameful in verse 12, which we’ll get to in a bit. Foolish talk is the Greek word morologia, which basically means the language of morons or the talk of fools. And finally there is crude joking. The Greek word means humorous banter. The King James Version uses the simple word “jesting” and is probably the closest translation. Other versions have added the adjective coarse or crude because the instruction against this humorous banter is in the context of sexual impurity.

Some people will adamantly argue that these Greek words have very specific meanings that we should all agree on in our current generation. But in my experience, that is a simplistic understanding of both the teaching in this section and our culture in general. I have lived in South Carolina, South Korea, and Seattle, Washington. When I lived in South Carolina, I attached to this instruction a set of words, phrases, and topics that were off limits. Then I moved to South Korea and realized how many of my southern cultural assumptions were irrelevant or outright offensive in this strange new culture I was learning. I learned that some elements of my polite southern behavior actually communicated the exact opposite of what I intended. Then I moved to Seattle and was faced with learning even more about my inadequate understanding of the language of morons and jokes that do not fit the occasion. Not long after I moved to Seattle, I asked a friend who was raised in Seattle what she thought of as offensive joking. Her response convicted me of many things about which I had not given much thought.

Each of these Greek terms is rather broad in its definition. Therefore, I find the clarifying phrase, “which are out of place” quite helpful. How do you determine what types of talk and what types of jokes are foolish and immoral? Well, they are out of place, they do not meet the needs of the moment, and they do not minister grace to the hearer. This requires us to move beyond checklists of inappropriate words, phrases, or jokes. We have to actually engage with others to be aware of their needs. What type of words fit this occasion? What type of joking (if any) is appropriate in this particular setting with these particular people? What will cause offense? What words or jokes reflect a depraved view of sex? Do my words reflect a fool’s view of sex or thanksgiving for sex as God designed it?

This is what God is moving us away from. And we know what he is moving us toward in terms of sex—selfless, enjoyable sex between husband and wife as God intended when he created us in perfection in his image. But how do we get there? The final phrase from verse 4 is the missing link, “instead let there be thanksgiving.” If you are like me, you likely wondering what thanksgiving has to do with the topic at hand. We are moving from self-centered to God-centered views and practices of sex. We are moving away from greedy personal practices to thanksgiving to God in earnest appreciation of all he created it to be. Stott says this well.

In itself thanksgiving is not an obvious substitute for vulgarity, since the latter is essentially self-centered and the former God-centered. But perhaps this the point that Paul is making …. Paul is setting vulgarity and thanksgiving even more plainly in opposition to each other, namely as alternative pagan and Christian attitudes to sex. Of course Christians have a bad reputation for being negative towards sex. … But the reason why Christians should dislike and avoid vulgarity is not because we have a warped view of sex, and are either ashamed or afraid of it, but because we have a high and holy view of it as being in its right place God’s good gift, which we do not want to see cheapened. All God’s gifts, including sex, are subjects for thanksgiving, rather than for joking.

More to come later this week.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Self Publishing and Self Promotion

In the post on Pink Fluffy Bunny Women's Studies, I mentioned my burden for women's Bible studies that do 2 things.  First--that walk straight through Scripture.  I believe we are in danger of selling women in the church a lie -- that the stuff specific to them in Scripture is made up of a piecemeal compilation of small sections of Scripture from a few select places in the Old and New Testament. Ephesians 5:22 isn't the only Scripture particularly applicable to women in Ephesians. The WHOLE BOOK of Ephesians is written to women. Men too. But don't make the last part of Ephesians the only part we speak particularly to women.

Second, I am burdened to see studies that go straight through Scripture that also relate Scripture back to the real issues facing women.  Right now, the majority of books that go straight through Scripture are either heavy commentaries written by men or middle weight commentaries also written by men.  There are a few examples of what I would like to see more of.

Hoping For Something Better by Nancy Guthrie (on Hebrews)
The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James
The Promises of Grace by Bryan Chapell (on Romans 8)

The first study I ever read like that was How to Overcome Evil by Jay Adams, a study of Romans 12.  For some reason, studying Romans 12 in that format was really helpful to me.  Adams gave a concise explanation that was right at the level I could handle.  It wasn't fluff by any means, but it also wasn't overwhelming in its detail.  And he wrote it in a way that was pointedly relevant to my daily experience. 

All that to say, I have written a study of this nature on Ephesians.  In my discussions with experienced authors and publishers in an effort to get this published, I have realized that mainstream Christian publishers do not have a nook for this type of book.  I think these types of studies have not done very well in the past.  Commentaries written by men with degrees do well.  A study of the same Scripture written by a woman with a lot of personal application, not so much.  And yet, I believe that there IS an audience who will never read Martin Lloyd Jones' 6 volume commentary on Ephesians who still would benefit greatly from studying through Ephesians. 

I have been turned down by 3 mainstream publishers.  And in terms of self-identity and my need for affirmation, that was initially crushing.  Is this God saying no to me on future publishing?  Is my writing not of the quality that a mainstream publisher needs?  I really want to write Christian studies for women.  It's my burden.  I grow so much when I do it.  Is God completely shutting the door?  Then I stumbled across self publishing.  It has over time become an attractive option to me.  But I struggle to get past the impression of self promotion.  I could never be a used car salesman (no offence to those who are).  It doesn't sit well with my psyche to promote myself.   I won't publish anything until my husband and pastor approve it, but I still miss the feeling of an entire corporation putting its stamp of approval on the cover with their own publicity person that promotes me to others.  However, my options now are to file it all away or attempt self publishing.  And I think I am going to try it. 

Unless God shuts the door, my goal is to release By His Wounds You Are Healed:  how the message of Ephesians transforms a woman's identity in March.  Here is the tentative cover. 

Back Cover Blurb:
Who are you? How do you describe yourself to others? For what do you want to be known? And in the stillness when no one else is around, how do you view yourself? If you (like most of us) struggle with your identity or security, this study of Ephesians will point you to answers that will sustain you for a lifetime.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul defines our identity and security in Christ. He tells us in detail of the real benefits we have as daughters of God. He shows how these benefits equip us to reclaim our identity in Christ. And he draws a straight line from all these truths to the heart of our insecurities today.

This study of Ephesians walks straight through the Scriptures and shows how each truth presented is particularly applicable to the struggles we face as women at every stage of life.

This post isn't a lecture to myself.  It's simply self disclosure to my audience of my burden and struggle.   If you have a comment on the value of such a study or the issue of self publishing, your feedback is appreciated here.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Prosperity Gospel of Conservative Evangelicals

If I know one, I know 50 godly, beautiful Christian women whose lives do NOT exceed their youthful expectations. These are the girls that were raised in youth group and went to Bible college to find a godly pastor to marry. They worked at various Christian ministries whenever the opportunities opened up. They studied careers that would facilitate their service to Christ. Some of them started this process in youth group. Others jumped on the "good choices" bandwagon later in life. These ladies rebelled in their youth, but at some point in their twenties, they came to Christ. They found a good church hoping to meet the right guy. Maybe they did marry the guy that on paper looked like the right choice. They tried to have a biblical view of marriage and family. But at some point, their reality reveals to them that they attached expectations to these good choices that are not being met.  "Um, life isn't particularly easy compared to my friends who screwed everything up."  Isn't the whole point of obeying in youth group and marrying a good guy you met at Bible college that you want to save yourself from the heartache of life? That's what I was taught.

I had a conversation about this very thing with one such friend. She told me we often confuse wisdom with gospel promises. Making wise choices that are obedient to Scriptural guidelines is exactly what we should do.  Thank God for youth groups and Bible colleges that teach Scriptural wisdom. But our downfall in evangelical circles is that we feel we have to attach an expectation of good earthly outcome to these instructions if we want anyone to obey them.

Who would choose wisdom if they aren't assured a good outcome? There are two issues. First, there certainly is Biblical assurance of good outcomes to obedience. But God defines good differently than we do. And God's good in this life is tied very much to our sanctification and transformation to be like Christ. The process of rooting out our sin and replacing it with Christlikeness is never easy. It's always hard. But it is very good.

Second, we discount how much of God's good is rooted in eternity. I was struck by this when I worked through the book of Ephesians in depth last year. Paul emphasizes again and again what's going on "in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:20, 2:6, 3:10, 6:12). For much of my life, I valued obedience because of what I thought it would do for me in this life. Now I'm coming to understand that obedience is much more about giving testimony of God's worth in the heavenly realm. When I obey in endurance through the pain even though I don't perceive earthy benefit to it--when I obey simply because God Himself is worth obedience--THAT'S the moment that Satan is silenced and I am transformed.

Of course, much of this can only really be learned through the marathon of life's personal experience. But I am burdened that those teaching youth and young adults do a disservice if we aren't honest about what you can and cannot expect as results for wise choices. Certainly, we save ourselves some measure of heartache if we don't marry porno guy preying on us at the bar. But that choice doesn't spare us of the heartache of spending another Christmas by ourselves without a family of our own while porno guy takes the next girl he found to Vegas for the holidays. Don't confuse wisdom with gospel promises. The reason we choose wisdom and endure the results even when they result in prolonged heartache is that we have secure gospel promises for what is happening in the heavenly places, outside our line of sight, promising joy for eternity.  God is working for your good.  And His definition of good is much better than yours.  But He does define it differently.  Much of our growth in Christ is simply when we start to define good the way God does in light of eternity.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Impulse Control

I am a type 1 or juvenile diabetic and have had many bouts with hypoglycemic rage. We all get grumpy around meal time. But for diabetics, this phenomenom can be particularly severe. When someone's blood sugar gets low, it can affect them multiple ways. Sometimes it's extreme fatigue. Sometimes it's depression. And sometimes, it's irrational anger that doesn't fit a person's normal temperament. I haven't had near the struggle with hypoglycemic anger since getting an insulin pump, but in my first few years as a diabetic, I had a number of incidences that caused me alot of embarrassment after the fact. My blood sugar would get low around meal time, and all restraints simultaneously dropped away from my mouth. Nothing had changed in my circumstances, but suddenly I was just ANGRY about anything and everything. If you were close by, watch out!

Before we had kids, my husband and I worked and ate lunches together most days. MANY days we would have our worst arguments on the way to whatever drive thru we were heading. I was not nice. And diabetes was my excuse afterwards. "My blood sugar was low." After one of many episodes, my husband finally confronted me. "I understand your blood sugar is low, but you don't HAVE to act on those urges." That shut me up and made me start thinking. I know I wanted to scream at him for not ordering ketchup at the drive thru, but did I HAVE TO follow through on that urge? Was I a victim of my low blood sugar destined to sin against my husband at every meal? Did he need to just accept my sin? Was he out of line in light of my medical condition to call me on it?

This was one of the practical experiences in my life that taught me why theology matters. At this crossroads brought to light by my husband's confrontation, theology (the study of God and His revelation of Himself through Scripture) made all the difference. When I looked at Scripture--in particular at what it taught about all Christ has accomplished for me on the cross--sure enough, I realized that I DON'T have to sin. I may have a tremendous urge to sin, but that's not the same as being forced to sin. My struggle against anger may be much harder than the average person, but in Christ, I am no longer a slave to diabetic rage.

Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Once I got it in my head that I didn't have to sin, I began to notice that there really is a line between the intense urge to anger that I felt and actually acting out on my anger. Prior to my husband's confrontation, they had just been one big blur -- I feel anger, I act out angrily -- with no differentiation between the two. It was a radically freeing thing for me to realize I was not doomed to offend and sin against others for the rest of my life even though diabetes and low blood sugar will be a life-long struggle for me. I have talked with friends struggling through other physical issues that affect mental function (such as bi-polar disorder). Physical issues--hormones, chemicals, blood sugar--certainly affect us mentally. I praise God for His common grace that led to inventions like the insulin pump that radically reduced my bouts with low blood sugar and the subsequent urge to rage. Similarly, I am thankful for medicines that regulate hormones and chemicals in the brain and would never counsel someone diagnosed with a condition against taking prescribed medicine.

HOWEVER, I would always strongly counsel someone from seeing the medicine as the solution to their sin. My condition didn't excuse my sin. It still cost me relationships and wounded loved ones. And praise God that I didn't buy long term into Satan's lie that I had no options but medicine. I am not a slave to diabetes. It doesn't dictate that I wound my loved ones. In Christ, I am supernaturally equipped to obey even in the midst of the struggle. For me, Christ's simple gift to me is the power to shut my mouth until I can get something to eat. Sometimes, it means leaving the room or just removing myself from a situation. He also is gifting me to see the downward mental spiral as it approaches. With both depression and anger, if I look at my life circumstances and realize that nothing happened in the last 10 minutes to cause me to have this big of a shift in my mental outlook, then I know to eat something.

If you battle medical conditions that affect you mentally, I encourage you that God's revelation of Himself to you through Scripture is still relevant to you. You are not out of His line of vision, and His revelation on sin and sanctification matters greatly to how you view your options when you are in the intense battle for your mind. Others who haven't struggled with such conditions won't understand. And that's OK. What matters is that God does understand how our bodies and minds function both when healthy and when ill. And in Christ, He has made a way for us to deal with that intense temptation to sin that accompanies hormonal peaks and valleys. I recommend studying Romans 6-8 and Ephesians 1-2 to get a baseline for all Christ has accomplished for you on the cross and how that equips us to do battle with sin. Then cast yourself on Him as you see the urges coming. He WILL meet you in your need and conform you to Himself despite your diagnosis.