Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Women Deacons

I have mentioned before my concern that complementarians need to guard themselves against blindspots that actually undermine their hermeneutic. I’m going to hit another one today. And then I’m done. I have no more complaints after this. Really!

Today’s issue is women deacons. My basic concern is that we undermine our entire Biblical premise for the office of an elder being male only if we don’t also embrace the role of the deaconess in Scripture.

Here’s my main argument:

1. It’s Biblical.

My pastor has presented this in a formal way, and I have gone through his notes and relied on them heavily for this post. He argues 2 main things.

1. It’s Biblical.
2. It’s consistent with historical church practice.

As someone from an independent Baptist/Bible background, the fact that it is consistent with historical church practice isn’t naturally compelling to me. I wasn’t taught to value church history as an independent Baptist. However, now that I attend a Presbyterian church, I am coming to value that 2nd argument in a new way. So I’m going to include that in what follows.

First, It’s Biblical.

I Timothy 3 (NAS)  8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.

The previous verses of I Timothy 3 cover requirements for elders. Verse 8 begins the requirements for the office of Deacon. Verse 11 literally reads “the women.” Some translations say “their wives.” This is a possible interpretation, but a strained one. First, it requires the addition of the possessive pronoun “their,” which is not in the text. Also, another important question for that interpretation is “Why are Deacons’ wives being scrutinized and not Elders’ wives?” This is a glaring inconsistency.  Finally, if this text means “Deacons’ wives”, what church screens Deacons in this way? I’ve never known a church that considered the character of the wives of deacons that didn’t also consider the wives of elders as well. A more natural and less strained understanding of this text is that these women were Deacons. This is consistent with Romans 16 where Paul refers to Phoebe as a Deacon.

Romans 16:1-2  I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant (diakonos) of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.

It is true that “Deacon/Servant” can be used in a generic way—every believer is called to be a servant. But, it is also often used in an official way (the same word is used in I Timothy 3). Paul here seems to be commending Phoebe as a “Deacon/Servant” in an official way. He is instructing them to receive her and help her in her job. Many conservative commentators understand the text in this way.  Edmund Clowney, Douglas Moo, John Piper, Thomas Schreiner, and Robert Strimple also think that Phoebe held the office of Deacon in the church.

Please note that this is an entirely different argument from those for women pastors. Part of the Biblical argument against female elders is that the Bible never names a female elder and that the qualifications of an elder are written in specifically male terms. There are other arguments, but we undermine the importance of those points if we don’t accept women deacons. The Bible DOES name a female deacon (Phoebe) and it DOES include women in the discussion of the qualifications of a deacon.

Having women Deacons does not undermine the complementarian argument. NOT having women deacons undermines the complementarian argument. The Biblical case for women deacons is made BECAUSE of what Scripture says and not in spite of what Scripture says. There are many conservative commentators today who hold to both male headship and women Deacons (the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood considers the issue of women deacons a nonessential with respect to its core mission of promoting Biblical gender roles).

There are two great dangers in Biblical interpretation. The first danger is to say “Yes” where God has said “No.” This danger is real, and we should be diligent to guard against it. The other great danger, however, is to say “No” where God has said “Yes”. This is as grave a danger as the slippery slope of liberalism. If God has said “Yes” to women Deacons, then so should we.

Second, it was the historic practice of the church.

It is well documented that women served as deacons for the first 1000 years of the church. Though the practice waned around the time of the Great Schism between East and West, John Calvin reinstituted Deaconesses as part of his reforms of medieval church polity. Informed by the example of the Early Church and by Scripture, Calvin was a proponent of the office of Deaconess throughout his life. He saw the office of Deaconess as a public office of the church and had an order of Deaconesses in Geneva primarily composed of older widows.

There is an assumption among some complementarians that having women Deacons is a slippery slope to liberalism. Church history disproves this assumption. Church history demonstrates that the practice of having women Deacons is seen by many of our forefathers to be exceedingly biblical.

I am hopeful that having female Deacons will become the norm among conservative evangelical churches once again. Without it, I personally think we set up women for failure, especially in my culture. Women are important. Their needs are important. The reality is they/we HAVE been excluded and oppressed throughout history, even church history. If we deny women the office of deacons when God hasn’t, we push them toward accepting either feminism or chauvinism. We haven't given them a Biblical norm.  That’s a serious problem.

I’ll end this post with an encouragement. What if this is your conviction, but you are not under church leadership that feels the same? A wise female deacon at my own church told me of her experience advocating strongly for this at another church she attended years ago. At some point, she came to see that her efforts had gone from being positively advocating for a good thing to being negatively divisive. If you love and trust your church leadership, certainly there shouldn’t be a problem discussing this, even advocating for it with the appropriate people. But unity in the church is a precious thing. I encourage you to guard yourself diligently from crossing the line between encouraging toward a more Biblical view of women deacons to undermining leadership and fostering disunity. Be diligent to preserve unity.  Make every effort to preserve unity.  For we are all One Body.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Church for Boneless Chickens

Nothing shocks me in the church anymore. One pastor had an affair with the former pastor’s daughter. Another pastor had teenage sons (in my youth group) who shot someone in a drug deal gone bad. There was the youth pastor who married his girlfriend the day his divorce was finalized. I sat under one pastor who told a husband in front of the church body that if he didn’t shut up his wife, the pastor would. That pastor also said to laughs at a pastor’s conference that he wished a leader in his church would die. Been there, endured all that, and I know others have endured much worse. Thankfully, along the twisting, turning road that has been my Christian walk, God has brought into my life two pastors at two different churches in two different states that understood the grind. They knew what Christians were capable of in terms of hurting each other because they had endured being wounded themselves. Those two church experiences have informed how I interpret the others. And I’d like to share a couple of thoughts.

I could give a list of warnings on how to recognize a problem church with problem leadership. Instead, I would like to emphasize how to find a “healthy” church with “godly” leadership. I put those words in quotes, because I think the key to finding a healthy church is finding one who doesn’t advertise their health—instead they have a sober awareness of their failings and are a humble people who understand their daily need of gospel grace. And godly leadership, if we think someone like the Apostle Paul qualifies, is leadership that recognizes that they are the chief of sinners. Godly leadership is humble leadership that values accountability.

I have been privileged to sit under such leadership at such a church the past few years. I remember the first time we met our pastor face to face. He sat in our living room and told us of a hurtful experience he had after coming to Christ as an adult. He had been naively enthusiastic as a new Christian and then was slammed with classic church dysfunction early in his walk with Christ. He managed to drag himself to another group of believers full of wounded Christians that he said lay around kind of like the chickens at the boneless chicken ranch in the Farside comic. And he invited our family to freely lie like boneless chickens in his congregation as well. I remember my initial guilt over sitting on the back row, fearful of sucking up resources without pouring back in return. I had given much to other churches, but right now, I wasn’t ready to give to his, by no fault of his own. And his response floored me. He was almost angrily adamant – “Don’t worry about that!” He made it clear that it was NOT an issue for us to sit on the back row and soak in sermons on gospel grace as long as we needed. I had heard the word grace thrown around in Christian circles most of my life. But I didn’t understand it until I started walking with this group of believers. Then Scripture started to make sense – I do not earn righteousness by my good works. God endures with me though I’m unworthy. He calls His children to do the same. Love suffers long. If I give expecting something in return, it is not grace. And so forth. I had known the gospel from early childhood, but something clicked. A damp cloth cleaned the smeared lens through which I had viewed it all. Ahhhhh – so THAT’s gospel grace!

Both of the “healthy” churches I attended understood the doctrine of the Church. They knew she is precious to Christ and that He has pursued her from before time began. But they also knew she is like Hosea’s whoring wife. She is a prostitute by nature and will turn to it again and again. And yet God still pursues. As Hosea pursued his wife over multiple instances of infidelity, God does His Bride as well. We are her. We go to church with her. And while one day we will sit with Christ in a fully glorified state, wearing robes of righteousness, we are NOT there yet. So when Pastor A, Sunday School teacher B, or Average Attendee C struggle with real issues, we are not shocked or decimated. We have a gospel lens through which to view their struggle. The problem in churches is not that they struggle. The problem comes when the church expects them not to struggle and has no gospel hope to give them when they do. Then they hide until their sin becomes so ingrained and debilitating that it can’t be hidden anymore. The abscess bursts, and everyone is decimated.

I have posted the link to this sermon from Philippians once before, but here it is again. The pastor reminds us that, despite the wounds most of us have experienced by way of Christian leadership, God’s good undershepherds STILL exist. Furthermore, it is in our spiritual interest to open ourselves to their leadership when God presents them. The worst thing in the world we can do if we’ve experienced unaccountable Christian leadership gone wrong is write off leadership and accountability altogether. The fact is that you and I are sinners capable of wounding others the way we have been wounded, and we have bought Satan’s lie if we think otherwise. We TOO need accountability. We TOO need God’s good undershepherd speaking into our lives. God has not given up on sending us leaders like Paul, Timothy, or Epaphroditus. And we should not give up on the idea either.

There are churches that are healthy and godly. They are not perfect. In fact, their imperfections may be glaringly obvious. The litmus test is how they deal with their imperfections. Imperfections about which Scripture is not dogmatic are not issues in such churches. People just deal with it. Imperfections on which Scripture is dogmatic ARE issues, but issues covered with enduring gospel-centered grace. I can’t tell you specifics of exactly what that looks like, but I can say that when you sit under such a pastor and fellowship with that kind of community, the difference will be obvious. Grace is meaningless without truth, and gospel centered churches deal with the truth of sin head on. But truth will kill you without grace, and gospel centered churches understand and apply gospel grace in liberal amounts at every turn. Don’t settle for less.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jane Fonda or June Cleaver?

Jane Fonda or June Cleaver? Hilary Rodham Clinton or Laura Bush? Rosie O’Donnell or Martha Stewart? Mary or Martha? We all tend to identify with one more than the other. Some of us would secretly love to sit on a tank in fatigues and rivet a nation’s attention with our political message. Some of us know exactly what we would do if we were president. Some of us fantasize of having our houses in such order that a television crew could be a welcome guest. Some of us would sit at the feet of Jesus despite impolite comments from the opposite sex. Some of us right now are encumbered with much serving.

Why do some women tend toward political debate? Why are some interested in competitive cooking or decorating? Why do many camp out at tanning salons or dress shops? Why do some pursue seminary degrees and others fashion merchandising? What does it mean to be a woman? What are our similarities? What are our differences? Where do you and I find our identity as females?

The term “identity” is interesting to study. Most definitions include the terms individuality or uniqueness. There is something in our identity as women that sets us apart and makes us unique from non-women (i. e. men). And yet, much of our culture rejects the idea that there is something specific to womanhood that binds us as a unique group. We fear that defining feminine identity will suppress individual uniqueness. More pointedly, we fear that defining feminine identity will give ammunition to our oppressors. So we reject any definition at all, labeling all such attempts as stereotypes. Nowhere is that rejection more obvious than the “stereotypes” of womanhood presented in Scripture.

If you do not believe in a sovereign creator God, then we are at a roadblock for future discussion. Because in Scripture, the defining characteristics of the first woman—those things that make her utterly unique to her male counterpart—are inextricably tied to the character of her Creator. If you do believe in a creator God, or are at least willing to consider that he might exist, then consider what he created in woman and how her identity is tied to his. Knowing him precedes knowing ourselves. If we want to understand our identity as women, we must first understand his identity as God.

If you wrestle with a fear of oppresion, consider Christ. If you struggle with feeling a doormat, study the names of God. If being created to be a helper sounds condescending to you, search through the verses that teach of God as our Helper. Submission, respect, and help are meaningless terms when separated from a thorough understanding of the character and attributes of God. There is no sufficient answer to the problems women face that isn't wrapped up completely in God's character and all he has done for us through Christ. No other solution works, and any benefit it provides is temporary at best. Knowing God precedes knowing ourselves. And in Christ alone are we equipped to reclaim the identity for which He created us.

Suggested reading: Philippians 2, Colossians 1-3, Hebrews 1, John 1

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why Feminism is Attractive

Last week’s post on the curse of the woman in Genesis 3 definitely struck a nerve. To sum it all up, God created the woman in His image, to reflect in particular His example as a helper. For more on how the woman’s creation to be a helper reflects God, see this post. Furthermore, God charged the woman to be fruitful – all while in perfect communion with Him. The curse on her after the fall reflects a perversion of each of these things. In perfection, she was to be fruitful. But after the fall, childbirth (and childrearing) is fraught with pain and suffering. In perfection, she was created to be a helper to her husband. After the fall, she becomes the needy one, clamoring for something from the man that only God was supposed to provide her. In perfection, Adam was created first, and we know from NT commentary on the order of creation that this reflected his call to leadership – hand in hand guidance and direction. But after the fall, instead of offering loving guidance, the man oppressively rules.

This is why feminism is attractive. Feminism is a learned coping mechanism for dealing with the curse. The formal definition of feminism is simply the movement for social, political, and economic equality between women and men. If you’ve bought into the Bill of Rights at any level, you can probably embrace that general idea. But feminists are perceived by non-feminists as seeking more than equality – they are perceived as seeking domination. I think really what is going on is neither the seeking of dominance or simple equality. What a feminist wants is INDEPENDENCE.

Independence – freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others. (

The strong feminist woman was at some point likely seriously wounded (abandoned, abused, used) by a man she trusted somewhere along the way. Feminism isn’t her living out the curse – feminism is her response to the curse. If you meet a woman who is strongly advocating her personal independence from men, I recommend that you don’t challenge her on her views or engage with her in debate (at least not if you actually care about her). I recommend asking her about her earlier experiences with men. Who hurt her? Who abandoned her? She’ll likely admit that her pursuit of financial, spiritual, and emotional independence is a result of some guy seriously hurting her (or hurting her mother). He hurt her and exposed to her a weakness in her that she hated. Feminism is her coping mechanism.

Why is feminism attractive? Because weakness is a problem. Paul affirms this in 2 Timothy 3:6. Weak women attract abusers. Scripture never calls women to weakness. And a feminist’s hatred of weakness in herself and others is not her problem. The problem is her answer to weakness. Independence from others and sole reliance on ourselves is not the answer to abandonment or oppressive rule by men.

As Christian women, do we have anything better than the coping mechanism of insulating ourselves from a need for men by cultivating self-reliance at every level? In Christ, we certainly do. It’s counter cultural and maybe doesn’t seem insulating at all. You could argue it actually makes you more vulnerable. But there is strength to be had in Christ that allows you to remain in a place of vulnerability—to remain open to those who have the power to hurt you because you have embraced your role in their lives. You stay vulnerable because God has called you to help them. You lay down self-protective manipulation and endure uncomfortable, faith testing situations because, simply put, you are called to be like Christ.

How do we do this? WHY do we do this? I’ll look to Ephesians to answer that (because I just finished studying it in depth and because it is kind of a reader’s digest condensed version of the longer answer woven throughout Scripture). In Ephesians 1-3, Paul peels back the multiple layers of all Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. The gospel is both simple and deep. You can sum it up simply (while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us). But there is also great benefit to unpacking the depth of the gospel –what Paul calls our spiritual blessings in Christ.

Ephesians 1  3 Praise 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. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

Paul goes on to tell of the Spirit in us now who is God’s deposit that assures us God will not default on His promises. We have the same power transforming us that raised Christ from the dead. And though we were dead in our sins and by our very nature deserving of God’s wrath, in Christ we are now God’s adopted children with the full rights of sons and daughters in His household. We are fully reconciled with God and can boldly enter His presence to find help for everything we need.

Paul is clear in Ephesians on the solution to the curse. In Christ, we are finally equipped to deal with the effects of the fall. We are equipped to apply the ultimate weapon against the depravity in others – gospel grace. And we are also equipped against the depravity within ourselves with the same. The Spirit within us works outwardly what He is doing inwardly. We can become holy because He is making us holy. We can work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is working in us to give us the desire and ability to do His will.

Paul then begins Ephesians 5 with the exhortation to be imitators of God. Only in Christ is this now possible, but now not only is it possible, it is expected! When you are IN Christ, you’ll be LIKE Christ. In particular, all of us in Christ are called to love sacrificially like Christ (5:1). And all of us, male and female, are called to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (5:21). After setting up this foundation, then and only then can we hear the classic instructions to husbands and wives.

What does marriage look like between believers who are IN Christ and being conformed to the image of God? Though all of us are called to love, the husband is called to give a particular example of sacrificial love in marriage. And just as all of us are called to submit to one another, the wife is called to give a particular example of submission in her home. He stops either lording his authority over her or disengaging altogether. She stops being so needy OF him that she can’t be a help TO him.

The answer to the curse is not self-reliance. It’s God reliance. It’s not self-protection. It’s tucking ourselves under the wing of the Almighty. And it’s not staying engaged just to be run over. It’s standing strong in our identity in Christ and helping our husband using God’s example as our strong helper as our guide. The answer is to put on the image of God. It is enough that the servant be as her master. “Be like Christ” is the sum and substance to the answer of the curse for women.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

People who hate you for not hating the people they hate

There are a lot of wounded people in the Body of Christ. They need unconditional love, gentle comfort, and gospel grace. But they can also be some of the least safe people to be around. Just as a wounded animal bites at the one coming to attend to it, so do wounded people. Wounds handled correctly are still painful. But once bitterness sets in, the wound becomes septic, and the pain is multiplied ten fold. That’s when people start to bite at and devour the very people who want to minister to them.

I know a lot of wounded Christians hurt by other Christians – people who have had serious sin committed against them by moralistic people who claim to be on God’s path. I know many who have forgiven as Christ forgave them and loved sacrificially those who are unworthy of their love. I know many others who are bitter (by definition, bitterness is resentful, cynical hostility). And as Scripture accurately predicts, many are defiled by their bitterness. They are wounded, but they then become the one who wounds. Here are some ways to recognize this pattern in yourself.

First of all, you want justice. This may be THE best way to diagnose bitterness in yourself. I cannot say in strong enough terms that if you understand the gospel, NONE OF US WANT JUSTICE. We are all by nature children deserving of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2). God is clear in the Scriptures that you and I, even if we were wounded by others, still deserve on our own God’s just hand against evil. Inherent in the cry for justice against others is the belief that I don’t deserve it myself -- that what they did is much worse than anything I’m capable of. And if you stop and think through those last 2 statements and STILL want justice against someone else, I submit to you that you don’t understand the gospel for yourself. You don’t understand what you deserve apart from Christ. You don't undestand what you are capable of apart form Christ.  Certainly this person or group who sinned against you deserves justice, but if they get justice, so do you.  In Christ THAT IS NOT TO BE OUR DESIRE. We don’t want justice. We want repentance. We want gospel transformation. And that really is a clear distinguishing factor on whether someone is or is not handling their wounds as God directs. Do you want your opponent destroyed? Or do you want him transformed? Do you view him/her/them as your enemy? Or do you see them as a prisoner of your enemy?

The second indicator is a subset of the first. In your cry for justice, you start alienating those who don’t feel as passionately as you do about justice against your oppressor. Their passion against the person who wounded you starts to become the litmus test for your friendship. Look around yourself. How many people have you drawn into your conflict? How many people have you alienated because they don’t understand or fully identify with your wounding? Maybe they’ve been around the same person or organization that wounded you but haven’t been personally affected by the types of sin and destruction you faced. How do you respond to them? I have had great experiences at churches and Christian organizations that ruined others’ lives. And I’ve experienced great pain and hurt at places that were quite helpful to others. Is my job to undermine what others see as God’s good in their lives? Is it possible that Christian groups can both wound one and help another? If we understand the flawed nature of the church as God describes her, we have to accept that both can happen. A Christian mother can be a blessing to one child and a burden to another. A pastor can speak truth to one family and deeply wound another with his callousness to their burdens. A Christian organization can point a teenager to Christ who has never heard the gospel before while burdening another with stumblingblocks in the form of legalistic standards that have no place in Scripture. A Christian school can provide a safe environment for a weak Christian to learn to stand on their own in Christ even as it destroys the livelihood of a faculty member over a non-essential of the faith. Bitter people can’t accept this fact. It’s all or nothing for them. But that attitude ignores an essential fact of the church. She is loved by God and pursued by Him. But she is deeply flawed, even to this day. When bitterness sets in, we have little tolerance for this dichotomy.

Finally, probably the best outward indicator of personal bitterness is what you allow yourself to verbalize about the one who sinned against you and to whom you allow yourself to verbalize it. When bitterness takes root in our heart, the first thing to go is our commitment to Christian love as defined in I Corinthians 13. And the second thing to go is any belief that Paul’s exhortation on gospel talk in Ephesians 4 applies to us. "I was sinned against grievously. I want justice. And I am now justified in saying whatever I want with whatever tone I want to whomever I want." We think their sin against us now gives us the freedom to gossip, clamor, and what have you to the point where there is nothing remotely resembling grace in our speech concerning this person or group.

I have great compassion for the wounded. But when bitterness sets in, the wounded becomes the oppressor, and they never see it. They become the person we need to protect ourselves from. What a sad, disheartening cycle sin and bitterness feed with each other. But there is an answer! Whether you are the wounded person who becomes bitter or it’s someone you love, the answer is gospel grace. If it’s a loved one, ask them of God’s grace to them. If they’ll allow you to broach the subject of their specific wounding, ask about whether they believe that they too are capable of the kind of things that were done to them. That really is key. We think we would NEVER do THAT!. But the truth is, we are all capable of some pretty ugly things. That’s the gospel. You deserve hell because you really are that bad. You may not have done the exact things that were done to you, but you are living in a gospel-less fairytale if you don’t believe that apart from Christ you aren’t capable of the same. If they admit that they are capable of the kind of sins that were committed against them, ask what they would have needed from another to move toward repentance and transformation. What would help them to repent? What would set up barriers? Are they ready to let go of their right to vengeance and embrace the mind of Christ toward their oppressor? Are they willing to move from hope of justice to hope for transformation? Do they want destruction or repentance?

Whether it’s you struggling with bitterness or someone you love, the answer is the same. Preach the gospel to yourself. Present the gospel to your loved one. "Here’s what you deserve. Here’s what Christ gave you instead. Here’s what He calls you to repeat to those who are undeserving of your grace."

When your opponent moves from being your enemy to being the one enslaved by your enemy, you know you have made precious gospel-based steps away from bitterness. When you long for their transformation, not their destruction, you know you have made even more precious steps toward a gospel response to sin. When you restrain your tongue because you want to draw your offender to repentance instead of creating greater stumblingblocks to keep them from seeing their sin, you know you are growing in Christ and gospel understanding.

If you were deeply wounded by another, especially another Christian, I am so sorry for the pain you’ve endured. I strongly encourage you to preach the gospel to yourself first – to meditate on all you were (and all you were capable of) apart from Christ and then all Christ has accomplished for you on the cross. Then prayerfully consider whether you want the gospel to work for your opponent. If you don’t want the gospel to benefit your opponent, stop and don’t do another thing until you do.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Her Desire Will Be for Her Husband

I think this post may be controversial.  But I’m always concerned when those of us who most strongly advocate a straightforward reading of Scripture and obedience to it then don’t take Scripture at face value ourselves.  We have to guard our hermeneutic, folks.  So here goes my attempt to do just that. 

After the fall of man, God is very clear in Genesis 3 about the consequences for women.

16To the woman He said,
         "I will greatly multiply
         Your pain in childbirth,
         In pain you will bring forth children;
         Yet your desire will be for your husband,
         And he will rule over you."

Conservative, complementarian evangelicals (of which I am one) regularly interpret the next to last line to mean that her desire will be to rule over her husband.  But that simply is not what Scripture says.  And before you label me liberal (and it’s amazing these days what can get you labeled that way), hear me out.  If we can think about this topic anew, I think those who minister to women will be better equipped to apply the gospel to the core places in women’s hearts affected by depravity.  So let’s consider the particular consequence of the fall of man that a woman’s desire will be for her husband.  

Similar phrases are used in Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10.

Gen. 4:7  "… And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door ; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

Song of Solomon 7:10  "I am my beloved's, And his desire is for me.

Gen. 4:7 more closely mirrors the Hebrew wording in Genesis 3:16 than SoS 7:10.   So the argument used by some for interpreting Gen. 3:16 to mean foremost a desire to dominate the husband is that Gen. 4:7 could be read that sin’s desire is against us, to dominate over us.  But first, Genesis 4:7 doesn't say that sin wants to dominate Cain any more than Genesis 3:16 says it about women.  Domination and control are neither explicitly stated or subtly implied in either text.  Sin just wants Cain, according to this verse, in a big way.  And Cain needs to master it.  Furthermore, Genesis 4:7 is a personification of something that doesn't actually have desires.  Sin is not a person or an entity with feelings or emotions.  So it's a big jump to project onto the woman in Genesis 3:16 analysis of the very different literary device used in Genesis 4:7.   

Some argue that the word “for” in Genesis 3:16 could be translated “against.” However, no Bible translation anywhere (that I could find) says her desire is “against” her husband.  They all say her desire is “for” her husband.  Apparently, no translation team thought “against” was the best meaning of that term.  It doesn’t make sense to say “desire against.”  The problem with our desires is always that they are either FOR the wrong thing or FOR the right thing but out of proportion to what is appropriate.     

The most straightforward reading of Genesis 3:16 makes the most sense (as it often does in Scripture).  The woman's desire will be for her husband.  Plain and simple.  No contortions needed to accurately discern what God is saying here

The word for “desire” in Genesis 3:16 can mean craving or longing.  The issue is best understood if we make the simple substitution of God for her husband.  Her desire SHOULD BE for her God.  Instead, her desire/craving/longing is misplaced.  The curse is not that women want to dominate the men in their lives.  Women’s problem is that they worship the men in their lives and look to them for affirmation and provision emotionally and spiritually for things that God alone is supposed to provide.  Their problem is IDOLATRY. 

If you think that the foundational result of the fall of man in the average woman’s life is a desire to dominate, your ministry is going to miss … well … the vast majority of problems in a woman’s life.  Certainly, I know my fair share of dominating, manipulative, control freakish women (of which I am often chief), but our problem goes much deeper than the symptomatic issue of control.  We are idolaters!  We looked to men to meet a need they couldn’t meet—emotionally, spiritually, physically.  And instead of recognizing our sovereign, compassionate, and wise Father in heaven as the place to which we should have looked, we started looking within ourselves once the men in our lives disappointed us.  Control tactics aren’t the manifestation of an innate desire to dominate the men in our lives.  Instead, we resort to manipulation and control because we longed too hard to rest in the men in our lives.  We grasp and clamor, “Lead me spiritually.  Provide for me physically.  Affirm me emotionally.”  And when they can’t or don’t, then we attempt to lead ourselves spiritually, provide for ourselves physically, and seek outside affirmation for ourselves emotionally.  Instead, we don’t need to change our desire or craving.  We simply need to change the object of it. 

God, I need you to meet the spiritual void in my life!  “Certainly, child.  I will not leave you as an orphan.  I have sent my Spirit to bring to your remembrance all I have taught you, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”  John 15

God, provide for me physically!  “You can trust me, child.  Do not worry for your physical needs.  As I provide for the birds and flowers, I will provide for you.”  Matthew 5-7

God, I need help emotionally!  “Yes, child.  Meditate on all I have declared over you through Christ.  You have received the full rights of a child of the King (Gal. 4:5).   I will receive you one day into my arms with the affirmation, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’  Find joy and rest in Me.”

We are not going to really understand how the gospel equips us reclaim God’s image in us as His daughters until we understand clearly what our problem is.  I can’t emphasize strongly enough that the problem in women created by the fall is deeper than control and domination.  It may play out that way in some women, but it doesn’t play out that way in all women.  There certainly is a battle between the sexes as a result of the fall, but it is often one-sided.  For every controlling, manipulative, take-charge woman (who tends to be out there in front of us all), there are 5 pathetic doormats (hidden in the shadowy corners of life) waiting desperately for crumbs from porno guy’s table.  They’ll do whatever it takes—perform demeaning sexual acts, sacrifice the hearts of their children to an abuser, and other unimaginable acts of desperation—like a prisoner chained in a cell lapping water that spills out the toilet because he’s dying of thirst.  This insatiable craving is an issue of worship and idolatry.  Apart from Christ, our tendency after the fall is to set up men as being able to meet needs in us that only God can meet, and there is no limit to how desperate we can become. 

Women often perceive weakness or strength among each other by how they react when men fail them.  The perceived strong feminist woman is the one who doesn’t need men.  She can do it on her own.  The perceived weak woman is the one who continues to follow loser men around like a whipped puppy.  In contrast, in Christ, we have a new and different way altogether.  The woman bought by Christ who is set up as God’s honored daughter with full access to the King of kings has her needs met in Him.  God pours into her.  God equips her.  God satisfies her emotional, spiritual, and physical needs.  Then and only then can she let go of her perceived rights and be the helper to her male counterpart that God created her to be. 

In Sacred Influence which I reviewed here, Gary Thomas begins his encouragement to wives by thoroughly fleshing out all we have in Christ as His daughters.  Thomas makes a point that it isn’t until we get our identity in Him that we can deal with what God requires of us in marriage.  The good news of the gospel is that Christ has paved the way for us to boldly come to our Father’s throne room in heaven to find spiritual empowerment, physical help, and emotional affirmation.  God’s help and affirmation are real and effective.  He will meet the void in your heart that years of looking to men have never filled.  Come boldly to Him in confidence and find grace and mercy at the points of your deepest longings today, for apart from Him, you can do nothing. 

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Mean Man at Fred Meyer

Fred Meyer is our local grocery store chain.  And the mean man is actually a woman (though my 5 year old thinks it's a man).  Fred Meyer earned all of my grocery business two years ago when I discovered their Playland, a glassed in area at the front of the store where a nice staff person (they always are REALLY nice, gentle people) will watch my boys for free for an hour while I do my shopping.  Seriously, who wouldn't do that?!

My Fred Meyer experience had been quite pleasant until about two weeks ago.  Another boy was in Playland as well, and he and my son went into a playhouse.  The other boy came out with a bloody lip, and no grown up saw what happened.  The Playland attendant called me and the other parent to come back.  By the time I got there, my 5 year old was sobbing hysterically in the corner as the towering grandmother (whom he thought was a man) repeatedly called him a liar.  She wouldn't stop.  She wouldn't shut up.  And I had a strong response to her, basically telling her that she was about to cross a line and not to say another word.  Finally, my son calmed down enough to admit he was responsible for the boy's lip (he apparently threw something without respect for the consequences).  I made a large arc around the grandmother to get to the mother (who was in much better control), and my son apologized to the boy and offered help as much as he could in a grocery store in that charged situation. 

Once I calmed down and stopped yelling at the grandmother in the mirror in the car as we drove on to preschool, I marveled at her response.  My boys have been hurt by other kids at preschool or nursery before.  My boys have also inadvertantly hurt others in front of their parents.  And Luke has deliberately hurt Ethan in front of me at home (and vice versa).  There is a stark contrast in available responses.  One response relies on shame, humiliation, and fear and then labels the offender as a "bad boy."   The other response recognizes the sin and seeks to repair it.  But the sin doesn't define you.  And any humiliation you feel is the result of your own understanding of what you did wrong, not what others project onto you.  The second reaction is my natural one now, though as I look back at my life, I'm not sure it always would have been. 

Of course, apart from Christ, this is all moot.  It is only in Christ that I can boldly tell my son, "You lied, but you are not a liar."  He needs to own up to his lie.  He needs to correct his mistake.  He needs to learn a different way for dealing with situations that tempt him to lie.  And yet, in Christ, he is not defined by his lie.  There's no need to explain it to the evil grandmother (yes, I said evil --  I'm still mad at her and am working on that).  She definitely doesn't understand grace and her continued utterances of "bad boy" and "liar" to my 5 year old even as he apologizes to her grandson whose mother thanks me for bringing him over reflect just that.  Good grief, lady -- you're 60 years old and outweigh him by 150 pounds.  Can you not tone it down a BIT?  Her lack of grace was just a symptom of something bigger that has likely ruined every relationship she has.

It's haunting to hear someone accuse your child the way that woman did.  I am so thankful for the gospel lens I have in Christ that enables me to see this through God's perspective.  Christ has paid the penalty for our sins.  Our sins hung upon Him on the cross.  And now we wear Christ's robe of righteousness.  He paid for our sins, and His righteousness was then credited to our account.  Now God disciplines us (not punishes us) to train us in what people who wear Christ's righteousness are supposed to look like.  In heaven, I am clothed in righteousness.  Sanctification is God changing our clothes on earth to reflect the ones we are already wearing in heaven.  John Stott calls it "A New Set of Clothes" when he addresses sanctification in his commentary on Ephesians.  Those old clothes don't fit you any more.  Those old acts don't define you anymore.  You are a new and different person.  You acted like that.  Now act like this.

I have had some very angry moments thinking of my 5 year old's accuser.  But as I step back, I remember we all have an Accuser.  And truth be told, just as my 5 year old deserved aspects of that accusation, so do I.  But God steps in and stands between us and our Accuser.  I love the glimpse into the heavenly realm given us in Zechariah 3.

1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?" 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments." 5 And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. 

As Satan accuses God's child, God stops the Accuser in his tracks and not only does not hear Satan's accusation but further rebukes Satan by clothing Joshua in pure garments!   Oh, praise God for His glorious grace!

I did a little of that myself.  My son did wrong.  He needed to own up to his mistake and correct it as best he could.  But his accuser was out of line, and I made it clear that she was not to say another word (this is all very much not my nature, mind you).  Now I see this experience, referenced in our house as "the mean man at Fred Meyer" (I've given up trying to convince the boys it was a woman), as a tool to talk about what does and does not define us in Christ.  It makes me ponder ways to deal with my boys' sin the way Christ has dealt with mine.  Accusation, shaming, and humiliation are tools we must put away for good.  We are working to teach restoration and repentance, to teach who we are in Christ and what wearing His righteousness looks like on earth.  I am not an expert on this, and I fail to make the connections regularly.  But I'm moving toward thankfulness (almost) for the mean man at Fred Meyer for spotlighting to me the difference between Satanic accusation and gospel centered discipline and moving me to appreciate God's defense of me against the Accuser.  To the praise of His glorious grace.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Sacred Influence by Gary Thomas

I have a great marriage, but I do not have a perfect marriage.  In an older post, I discussed the struggles I have faced in marriage, and those ideas at the time seemed to resonate with many of you.  As the day approached for releasing the Ephesians Bible study, stress came on strong in my marriage.  Note to self -- don't write on Paul's instructions from Ephesians to husbands and wives or on standing firm under Satan's attacks unless you are prepared for Satanic attack in your marriage.  It's funny how firm my conviction can be when I write something on paper and yet how easily I still can stumble when tested on it in person.  I was frustrated, to say it lightly.  Why oh why do I still struggle with such things?!  Why isn't marriage easier?  I cried out to God in frustration.  It just didn't seem right for me to struggle so with this right in the midst of my attempts to publish something I was hoping would be helpful to women on this very issue.

Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their HusbandsFor my birthday, a dear friend gave me
Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands by Gary Thomas.  When I got home and opened it, I felt like God had placed it in my hands Himself.  I've had a few other moments like that -- where God spoke to me so plainly on a very specific need that I could not mistake His voice.  Usually He does it straight from Scripture.  This is the first time He has done it with a book.  But to be fair, this book is filled with Scripture.  I felt that God had sent Gary Thomas to counsel me much as He had sent Nathan to David or Cornelius to Peter.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm not assigning divine inspiration to this book by any means.  I'm just saying that God used this man's wisdom and compilation of Scripture to speak to me in a very specific way.

As I often do, I am writing this article before I've actually finished this book.  I am slowly digesting the ideas, and if I wait to share it until I'm fully done, it may be a very long while.  I may write a follow up article when I'm completely done.  In the mean time, I feel like this older, wise man years ahead of me in both marriage and the Christian faith has put his arm around me in a counseling situation and offered me very good, sound Biblical advice.  Like For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhan, I am reminded that men think differently than women and that the things we face in marriage are not unique to us -- they are normal issues that the vast majority of Christian marriages face.  One of Satan's lies is that your husband or your marriage is particularly bad or problematic.  That lie works because it builds resentment (Why me?!) and discouragement (What's the point in trying?  No one knows what I'm going through?).  But the truth is that there is nothing new under the sun.  While your marriage may be hard, it is not unique.  And God's sufficient Word meets you and I in that hard place.  God isn't suprised by the struggles we face, and He has addressed it.

If you read this book, it may not mean as much to you as it has to me.  But for me, it has been God's instrument for speaking truth to me, refuting Satan's lies, and bringing me back to a healthy perspective on marriage's daily struggles.  I hope it is encouraging to you to be faithful and hopeful as well.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

What is it about the Resurrection?

What is it about the resurrection?!  I've seen blog posts this week about how the resurrection changes everything.  Adrian Warnock has a new book subtitled "How the Resurrection Changes Everything" (which I have in my stack to read though I'm significantly behind).  And it is my conviction -- the resurrection of Christ did indeed change EVERYTHING.  But how?

I have been disappointed enough by life to come to expect it.  Not much suprises me anymore.  I won't get into the theological details of the already but not yet nature of the kingdom of God.  The clearest Scripture on the subject is in Hebrews, which explains it simply but effectively.   

Hebrews 2:7-8 (NIV)
7 You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor 8 and put everything under his feet.  In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.

That's the bottom line, right? In theory, Jesus is King.  God is sovereign.  Satan is defeated.  But I have people I really love who deny the gospel.  Family and friends die of cancer.  My brother in law left my God honoring sister for another woman.  Another friend's father took his own life.  I have diabetes.  Another friend with young children has cancer.  Christian friends fight.  Church leaders fail.  It's the big YET of Scripture.  "Yet, at present we do not see everything subject to him." 

How does the resurrection change everything?  Why does meditating on it year after year change everything?  Why does Paul tell us in Ephesians 1 that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is the one at work in us?  Why does that even matter? 

I think of that scraggly band of believers still hovering around the foot of the cross that horrible night and then visiting Jesus' tomb afterward to prepare His body.  Of anyone in the world whose hopes had been dashed, they were them.  They had left father and mother and culture and religious upbringing  to follow Him.  And He died!  He hangs lifeless on the tree.  I can't imagine that moment for them.  And that's how it stays ... for days. 

Can you imagine how the resurrection changed everything for them?  I think of Peter's transformation from one who denied Christ to one who is martyred for his faith.  Everything they had staked their life on had been completely crushed.  And then Christ walks in, shows them His wounds, convinces them He is real, and returns to heaven on His own terms.  EVERYTHING is under His feet. 

The resurrection is the fuel of our faith.  It is the thing that allows us to believe in the hope that will not disappoint. 

Romans 10:11 (NASB)  For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."

For every loved one who struggles with cancer, family member sinned against by their spouse, friend betrayed by another, job lost, miscarriage endured, engagement broken -- for every disappointment we face, for every circumstance that does not reflect God's good instructions for His children or His glory on earth, the resurrection is the assurance that EVERYTHING is under His feet, and we who believe in Him will NOT be disappointed when we sit with Him face to face.  He has done exactly what He said He would do.  Praise God, dear sister, for the resurrection does indeed change everything.