Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who first feminized the church?

I read a recent blog article on the current trend in conservative evangelical churches against the “feminization of the church.” That phrasing has always left me uncomfortable. I’ve downplayed my concerns for years, but I think that was wrong on my part. Why? Really, it’s the same reason that I don’t accept cries against a masculine view of God. God speaks of Himself in masculine terms (the occasional feminine one, but overwhelmingly in masculine, husbandly, fatherly terms). But at the same time, the very first person to speak of the church in feminine terms was God Himself through His inspired Word. Throughout the Old Testament, Scripture uses feminine imagery for God’s people (such as the entire book of Hosea). In the New Testament, it is starkly clear and unavoidable in Ephesians 5. Like it or not, you and I, male and female, are part of the corporate BRIDE of Christ. And there is a reason God speaks of it that way. God wants us to understand something of our relationship with Him through this terminology.

The truth from Scripture is that God first feminized the church! And we conservative evangelicals need to just deal with it. As a woman, I have little sympathy for men who squirm with discomfort at the idea that they are part of the Bride of Christ. Do you know how many HARD, UNCOMFORTABLE things Scripture says to women? I daily have to wrestle with God to submit to His vision for me when it conflicts with my own for myself. Respect? Submit? You can try to paint them in glorious tones but the truth is that these are hard, hard concepts for women to embrace. Yet embrace them we must for our good and God’s glory. There’s a part of me that feels like telling men to just “man up” when it comes to dealing with the imagery from Ephesians 5. “Buck it up. Deal with it. We women have to do it ALL the time with Scripture. You can too.” You can hear the grace oozing out of that response, right?! (That was sarcasm.) I, of course, don’t tell men that. Actually, I don’t attempt to tell men much of anything. But I am mentioning it to myself on this blog. I know some men read along, and I hope that you can hear this and just be caused to think.

When conservative, complementarian evangelicals (of which I am one) use the phrase “feminization of the church” in a negative sense, they are usually talking about types of songs or preaching, maybe the style of dress or decorations in the sanctuary. But I’m afraid part of the by-product is downplaying the significance of how God Himself in His inspired Word talks of us in relationship with Him. Maybe there is something about the inherent nature of our relationship with God that is easier understood by a woman than a man. I feel for men who struggle with being the Bride of Christ. I am thankful that analogy brings me comfort and peace. It has, in fact, brought me MUCH comfort and peace over the years. I understand what Paul is teaching through that analogy in Ephesians, and I am blessed by it. I am sorry that for a lot of men that analogy is uncomfortable and even threatening. But I still think it’s unhealthy to downplay it.

If conservative evangelicals want to refocus ministry efforts toward men who have often been overlooked, we need another rallying cry than one against the “feminization of the church.” Scripture feminizes the church! You can’t hold tightly to the Word of God in one hand and decry the way Scripture talks of the Body from the other. I’ve heard the idea that if you get the man into church, you get his wife and family as well. That is true. But if you get the man into church while downplaying and even mocking how Scripture speaks of his corporate identity in the Bride of Christ, what happens to his wife and family in the church as a result is not necessarily a good thing.

*This is a charged issue. If you want to comment, please be respectful – no piling on!! And if you want to push back, that’s fine too. I can take it. But no attacks against specific people or ministries, please.*

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sick and Godly

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 25 years old. I am 40 now, and while diabetes is not exactly my friend, it is certainly no longer my enemy. Otherwise, I’ve enjoyed relatively good health—it all depends to whom you are comparing yourself, right? But in the last year, I’ve had a series of annoying, debilitating issues—sinus infections, plantar fasciitis, and a recurring infection in my back. In the middle of it all, I found a lump in my breast and had to have a biopsy on it (it was benign).

I am blessed to have good insurance and an informed arsenal of helpful doctors. I get better, and I remember what it is like to feel good. Then I digress. The heel pain from the plantar fasciitis is the worst. Everything I do requires my feet (except typing this blog post). With a 3 and 5 year old, I have to get up and walk. And it hurts ALL the time.

My standard of housekeeping is lower. I stay in the house more. The boys watch more TV than some might say is a good idea. And I give myself grace on that. But there is a place that concerns me – it’s very easy to justify reactions that are not like Christ because I feel bad. It may take a while for me to get back the consistent energy level I used to have. I’m ok if my house is a little messier for a while – I’m not a neat freak so that doesn’t stress me. But I still have a Biblical obligation to love as God defines the term, to be patient with my children, and to be hopeful for my future (after all I KNOW that God will not disappoint me – Isaiah 49:23).

So how do you be sick and godly? I can be well and sort of godly, but when I’m sick, I’m discouraged, frazzled, and short tempered. When my feet ache and my boys need yet another something right after I’ve sat down, I get angry. It’s not fair to me. It’s not fair to them. It’s not fair to my husband. I want to help him in the ways God designed me to help. He’s working hard to provide for our family as God has called him to do. It just doesn’t seem right.

How do you be sick and godly? How do you watch multiple conflicting needs go unmet because you are physically unable to meet them and not get angry or bitter? I reached a limit this week. I sat in my chair crying as my boys asked me to get them a drink. They were THIRSTY. They are little and can’t reach the cups on their own. That is a legitimate need! But I had just sat down and my feet hurt so bad.

You know what I did? I humbly emailed a group of sisters in Christ. And they came through for me! Their ministry of grace to me reset my system. Two different friends took my boys to the park. Another took them to her house even though it was my turn to host the playdate. Another took them to church for me Sunday so that I could go home and rest. I want to be the friend who takes the meals to the new mom, who cares for the kids of the sick parent. I want to be the strong wife who supports her husband. Instead, I am the needy one. Instead of me sacrificing to meet all their needs, they are stopping to meet mine. And that is HUMBLING. But it also is beautiful. God doesn’t let me live in delusions of independence even though my human nature longs to go there. I want to be independent, self sufficient, and reliable. God forces on me dependence – dependence on Him and dependence on His Body.

How do you be sick and godly? I still don't know exactly, but I do know God has called me in this moment to HUMILITY. I have to lay it down. I can’t do it. I can’t be the capable wife and mom with it all together. I can’t even keep up a façade, let alone the real thing. I need Christ’s Body. Tonight, I am praising God in particular for older single friends with a love for kids who took mine, ran them ragged, and handed them back to me WORN OUT. But they didn’t even know to offer until I sobbed out at the end of my rope, “I need help.” That’s humbling. Yet, I have hope for tomorrow that I did not have two days ago because God humbled me and used my sisters in Christ to minister grace to me that equips me now to face tomorrow without despair. I’m reminded tonight that it is more than OK to be humbled.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Women's Ministry as a Means of Grace

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a “means of grace” since rooming with a thoughtful Presbyterian my freshman year of college. It is distinctly different from human works that earn God’s grace or favor (which are nonexistent). But though I don’t work for it or earn it, God still talks of particular activities as special conduits of His grace to His children. Prayer, Bible study, the preaching of the Word, and communion are specific ways that God promises to minister grace to us. If you are struggling with sin, struggle, or temptation, avail yourself of the means of grace. Pray, read your Bible, sit under good preaching, and God promises peculiar help for overcoming in your trial. It’s not a cure-all for what ails you, but it definitely helps.

When contemplating the means of God’s grace, it is most humbling and awe-inspiring to know that I can be a means of His grace.

Eph. 4:29 (KJV) Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

Our words to each other have the potential to minister God’s grace to those in our hearing! To me, that is an incredible goal – that my words would minister grace to those who hear me. That those in my hearing would be pointed to Christ and feel equipped to apply the gospel to their issues through my words. It’s just an awe-inspiring goal.

Several women have asked me my perspective on building a gospel-centered women’s ministry. I think this idea of a means of grace is a good foundation. Our women’s ministries need to be places that minister God’s grace to those in our hearing. But how do we do that? I don’t know exactly, but I plan to ponder this over the next few weeks and offer my thoughts as I process them.

My first thought stems from what is becoming the foundational truth of this blog – grace is meaningless without truth, but truth will KILL you without grace. If our women’s ministries are going to minister authentic gospel grace to those who participate, we have to first be places where people can honestly deal with the truth of their condition. It has to be a foundational goal of our functions – women’s bible studies, ladies’ teas, retreats, moms’ groups, and so forth. Is it a safe place for women to honestly face their sins and struggles?

Our church is in the infant stages of women’s ministry. We had our first retreat last fall, which I attended but did not lead in any way. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was exactly what a women’s ministry kickoff should be. They didn’t teach from a particular book of the Bible. It wasn’t focused on how to be a better woman. It didn’t actually have a particular theme. Instead, various leaders in the church simply gave testimony of God’s working in their lives, particularly through brutal circumstances. Some of it was just painful. Some of it though was quite humbling and potentially embarrassing. The first instruction though was that we were to be a safe place for these ladies to be honest. And when your leaders are honest about their pain and shame, it paves the way for those in your ministry to do the same. And you CANNOT apply gospel grace in healing ways until people are honest.

It may be honesty about our own sins. It may be honesty about how others have sinned against us. It may be frank discussion of our personal trials. It may be brutal honesty over our temptations. But each of these must first be brought into the light before they can be soaked in the gospel.

What would happen in your women’s small group bible study if a lady admitted her struggle with sexual immorality JUST THAT WEEK? Would you recoil in horror? Would everyone just clam up? Would you feel that you have to make a point that everyone knows how wrong that is? I remember opening up about something painful in my very first community group. It wasn’t a sexual issue, in fact I can’t now remember what the issue was. But I can definitely remember everyone’s response. They all just shockingly clammed up. I opened up, and it ended the conversation. And I never opened up in that group again. In fact, I was humiliated. I THOUGHT this was supposed to be the place to find support and equipment for dealing with this struggle. And instead, I felt, not exactly condemnation, but embarrassing, awkward silence.

I have heard from SO many women over the years that have finally had a moment of clarity about their sin or other’s sins against them just to be met with condemnation or silence when they brought it into the light. So they learn that church is not a safe place to be honest about sin. And if church isn’t a safe place to bring sin to light, then we are all doomed!

Many of us have spent significant portions of our lives paralyzed by fear of exposure. We respond in groups by either clamming up or deflecting conversation because we DON’T WANT ANYONE TO KNOW THE DEPTH OF OUR ISSUES. And if we ever do give voice to our struggles, we sanitize it. We don’t really want others to know how much we’re hurting right now. And we don’t want anyone to know how much our sin has hurt others.

We must be humble women who are honest about our sin. Instead, so often we are a mix of shame and pride. We’re ashamed of ourselves because of what others have done to us and what we, in turn, have done to others. And we’re too proud to admit it to anyone. We must become women who value CONFESSION. I don’t know where the saying originated that “confession is good for the soul,” but I believe it’s a concept that is taught first in Scripture.

James 5:16 (NAS) Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Do you notice the link between healing (which we all want) and confession? We all want to be healed from the ugliness in our lives. But are we first willing to confess—to admit, to acknowledge as true—the ugliness in our lives? Women’s ministry leader, are you honest about your sin—not glorifying the ugliness but also not pretending that you finally have it all together?

If you want to foster an environment with this foundation, it may be wise to start with an event where you have some ladies share the truth of both the ugliness of their lives and how the gospel is transforming it. Couple this with instruction on how to hear of someone’s struggles and appropriately respond. The end of Ephesians 4 is a good text to teach from. It sets up well the contrast between words and responses that undermine our transformation, actually snatching grace away in a moment, verses words and responses that minister grace and equip with the gospel.

May our women’s ministries first and foremost be places where women in our churches can come to receive grace from God that equips them to deal with the issues in their lives.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hope for the Angry Spiritual Leader

I originally titled this post, “So easily inconsistent.” And I am soooo easily inconsistent.

My last blog post on the problem with angry spiritual authority figures struck a nerve. Maybe not the most hits ever on this blog, but pretty close. What was most interesting to me was the commenter who had both struggled with his own anger and had angry authority figures direct their anger at him. He understood it from both perspectives and pointed out to me that while I was claiming a lack of gospel grace as the problem with the angry man, I wasn’t aiming that same gospel grace back toward the angry man as his hope for real change.

He was right, and I was convicted. It’s a major tenet of this blog – grace is meaningless without truth, but truth will KILL you without grace. I spoke the truth – pastors and elders with anger problems don’t meet the qualifications of I Timothy 3, and their accountability structures need to remove them from office. Their capability for spiritual abuse is phenomenal and will destroy the work of Christ. But if you have an anger problem and read that indictment apart from the parallel application of gospel grace to yourself, it will destroy you.

So is there hope for the angry spiritual leader? This guy has left many in the wake of his angry destruction. If you’ve run into him or, even worse, been the object of his wrath, you likely just want him out of office. You just want his abuse to STOP. And graceless pressure may do just that. But I think Christ calls us to want more than that, more than JUST the end of his abuse. Christ calls us to believe in transformation. As Paul teaches in Ephesians 4, the gospel doesn’t equip us just to put off the sin but also to put on the opposite righteous action. You don’t just stop lying. You start telling the truth. You don’t just stop stealing. You start to give what is yours to the needy. The angry man who goes through gospel transformation doesn’t just stop abusing. He transforms through humble repentance (not worldly sorrow that only feels discomfort for getting caught in his sin) and becomes a new man who now does the complete opposite of verbal and/or physical violence, perhaps actually advocating for victims of abuse.

If your goal is just stopping bad behavior, we are on different pages. I have a greater hope than that, and it is radical transformation into a new creature. If that is your hope too, then what do you do with the spiritual authority figure that violates the qualifications in I Timothy 3? It’s fairly simple. You take it to your authority structure (in my case, a plurality of elders). Scripture has constraints on this. It needs to be an established, documented issue. If you didn’t witness it, you can’t bring it forward. And it needs to be established by multiple witnesses all of whom are first person witnesses. Hearsay and gossip are absolutely not OK.

What if your authority structure is OK with pastoral anger? What if they don’t feel it violates the qualifications of an elder/pastor/leader? Then you are at a crossroads. I Tim. 3:3 includes both drunkenness and anger as disqualifications of an elder. It may be valuable to think through how you would react if a pastor had an alcohol problem. What if he was drunk (maybe just twice a year, but drunk nonetheless)? I don’t know what to tell you except that at some point, ignoring the qualifications set up in I Timothy 3 undermines the value of the office altogether. You can’t ask people to submit to church leadership if we don’t submit to the Scriptural constraints that set them up as leaders in the first place.

There are many godly, humble, gospel centered shepherds out there all across the world. Many, many, many! God has not left us as orphans. And God calls us to value the truth they speak into our lives. God Himself set up the office of pastor/elder. And He did it because He loves us. But He also did it with restraints. And it is to our great benefit to deeply respect His own limitations on this office in the church.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Beware the anger of man that attempts to produce the righteousness of God.

Angry, abusive men flourish in some conservative Christian circles, particularly in Christian fundamentalism. For some reason, conservative Christianity provides a fairly safe place for them to sin. I’ve been thinking about why that happens. And I have a few thoughts.

Conservative Christians hate sin and value authority structures. And I concur with those sentiments. Sin is THE problem with the world, and I hate it. God set up authority structures in the Christian community as a means of His GRACE and GOODNESS in our lives (this sermon is particularly good on this subject). I value God’s authority structure deeply. But we can hate sin and value authority to the point that we sin in our hatred and sin in our authority. Sin in defense of both of these ideas happens with sickening regularity in conservative Christianity, and it is as wrong and destructive to the kingdom of God as anything we’re trying to react against.

Thankfully, Scripture clearly addresses these issues.

James 1:19-20 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

This is a profound warning. Man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that an angry rant against sin is any less sinful than the original sin itself. That is unbiblical thinking.

The authority figure that wants to justify his sinful anger will often cite Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the temple as justification. But this act was particularly about revealing Himself as the Son of God with the authority to do exactly what He was doing (read the reactions of His disciples and the Pharisees in every one of the gospels – they all marvel at His AUTHORITY). Claiming this particular act of His as justification for angry rants of righteous indignation is COMPLETELY without merit. It’s like claiming you can forgive sins because Jesus does in Mark 2. Or that you can heal a blind man because He does in John 9. Each of those acts are particular things that Jesus did that established His identity as God and His authority as His Son. And He does NOT call us to do the same. There is no command anywhere in Scripture that even remotely comes close to justifying a turning-tables-in-the-temple response by you or I.

Yet, we are called to be like Christ. But we must let Scripture define what that looks like as well.

Phil. 2:3-8 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Be very wary of the teacher or spiritual authority figure that doesn’t get this distinction!

The Scripture at times allows for anger, but it commands that if you are angry, don’t sin with it. The context of that instruction in Ephesians 4 is our language. So if you are angry, deal with it before it exits your lips. Angry speech never ministers grace to the hearer. It doesn’t “produce” anything righteous. Instead it sucks grace out of the room. Ephesians 4 is clear on this. Nowhere does Scripture EVER say that anger accomplishes any good for God’s Kingdom. Nowhere!! And Scripture does actually say the exact opposite – that man’s anger definitely does NOT accomplish God’s righteousness.

You can get angry and not sin. In other words, you can maintain the status quo if you control your anger and keep your mouth shut. But you cannot get angry and positively move yourself or others in righteousness. Anger submitted to God can morph into something God can use. But it must transform – perhaps into resolution, resolve, or conviction but always submitted to the constraints of Biblical language – before it can have any use in God’s kingdom.

So our first problem is that we conservative Christians hate sin and have bought into the lie (that is directly contradicted in Scripture) that “righteous anger” actually accomplishes anything righteous. The second problem is that we, rightfully, value God’s authority structures. I won’t write out the Biblical restraints that Scripture enforces on it’s own God ordained authority structures because I just did in a recent blog post. But we need to understand that God not only sets up authority structures, He also sets them up with restraints. On this particular issue, God specifically says that a man is disqualified from holding the office of an elder if he has an anger problem. The Amplified Bible is insightful on the qualifications of elders.

1 Timothy 3:3 (Amplified Bible) … not combative but gentle and considerate, not quarrelsome but forbearing and peaceable, and not a lover of money [insatiable for wealth and ready to obtain it by questionable means].

Angry men shouldn’t be elders. God knows that authority can be abused, and His restraint on the office of elder/pastor is that men known for their verbal anger or physical violence are not to be trusted with such authority.

If you hate sin and realize that “righteous anger” isn’t the answer, what is it that equips you to change?

Titus 2:11-13 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,

It is the preaching of gospel grace that disciples us in righteousness! Gospel grace trains us to renounce sin and to replace it with godly living. Beware the spiritual authority figure who doesn’t understand that GRACE is God’s chosen method for dealing with sin and turning man toward righteousness. He doesn’t believe in the power of the gospel, grace seems wimpy, and he takes it into his own hands to bring about righteous change. He has an anger problem. But more importantly, he has a gospel problem.

“Righteous anger” is reserved by God for the day of judgment, and it is His and His alone to use. Beware the spiritual authority figure who uses such faulty reasoning from Scripture to justify his anger problem. He is not qualified to hold spiritual office, and it is not becoming to Biblical Christianity to allow him to. If we want to be more than just conservative Christians and actually be Biblical Christians, we need to honestly assess ourselves and obey Scripture on this issue.

**A commenter pointed out the lack of grace and hope extended in this post to men who struggle with anger. I must correct that. For the angry man too is not defined by his anger but by his identity as a son of God. I have seen angry men humbled and tearful when they come to their senses after a rant of angry destruction. Many hate their sin. And there is great hope in the gospel that through the renewing of the Spirit, they (or you) can put off their anger and put on new ways of dealing with sin that reflect the humility and grace of Christ.**

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Lecture to Myself on Patience

If ever there was a blog post that is simply a lecture to myself, this is definitely it. I have been aware of a growing impatience within me, convicted by it, and praying that God would equip me to choose a different response, especially with my kids. Well, God met me in a clear way in His Word via our Sunday service. It was one of those moments for me in which I could only respond, “Yes, there is a God, He just spoke to me, and I need to obey.” The encounter through His Word and His preacher was clear, and I feel constrained to document it for myself because this is obviously a sermon on which I need to meditate long and hard. I have basically transcribed a major portion of our Sunday sermon by Rev. Andy Pelander. You can also listen to it here.

James 5:7-11 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

You don’t have to teach impatience. We are born professionals at impatience. It’s 2nd nature; we don’t even realize we are doing it. We recognize impatience in children but not so well in ourselves. However impatience is not something we outgrow. It actually intensifies with age. But James has something in mind far more deadly than mere childhood impatience or even our grown up versions of getting annoyed at long lines at Starbucks or slow drivers blocking the lane in front of us. James is talking about impatience with God. My impatience with others actually has a direct correlation with my impatience with God, and it is this root impatience on which we should examine ourselves.

Impatience is the subtle drive behind a lot of other overt behavior—irritability, resentment, cynicism. Our impatience with mundane things is really about impatience with God. We live in a world where cynicism, denial, anger, and loss of hope are very understandable responses because the world is not as it should be. But impatience, cynicism, and denial will kill us. You can’t enjoy what you DO have simply because of what you DON’T have. You can’t thank God for what He has done for you because you are so aware of what He has not yet done. We fault God because He promises unimaginable things on His timetable instead of providing predictable things on our timetable. So we wait impatiently for God to provide less than what He intends to. We wait for improvement when what He wants to give us is newness.

Patience is not just another moral suggestion. It’s not a simple call to Christian niceness. It’s part of cultivating growth. Patience can be practiced and valued eternally, but impatience is unsustainable. Patience is good, and it doesn’t deplete resources. Impatience destroys us, steels joy, and depletes relationships. Impatience only wins against your own long-term spiritual and emotional health. It doesn’t fix any problem and instead depletes you of joy and peace.

Impatience comes from knowing the world is not as it SHOULD be. But patience flows from knowing it is also not as it WILL be. Patience is cultivated by living in light of a long view of things regardless of what you can see in the moment. Without the long view dominating how we interpret our circumstances, we just bob along the surface controlled by superficial circumstances instead of being anchored to a deeper story that gives context to the every day life.

Romans 8:24-28 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Patience is minding the gap between life as God promises and life as we experience it; between what is seen verses what is unseen; between what we believe verses what we feel. Patience is waiting for the harvest. It's steadfastness. It's keeping calm and carrying on. Impatience is restlessness or irritability. It’s being easily flustered.

God’s call to patience is an invitation to dependency on Him. With each temporary frustration, we are tempted to choose self-pity instead of leaning into God’s grace. Patience is an invitation to grace; an invitation to avail ourselves of His grace and mercy to equip us to endure for the long haul until He makes everything right. And leaning into Him is key to experiencing it. It is after all a fruit of the Spirit. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, especially patiently wait for Him to reconcile all things to Himself.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Gospel Centered Woman -- Beginning and Ending in Faith

I have written a series of articles on a problem I perceive in women’s ministries that I am working to figure out for myself. Most of the articles are listed under the side bar of “Posts That Struck a Nerve.” And they did strike a nerve. I consistently get the most comments of any post when I deal with the disconnect between grace-based, Sola Scriptura, theologically sound groups and what plays out in the women’s ministries associated with them (and the books they write).

I’m currently rereading one of the favorite books on women’s roles in the church and home in conservative, reformed circles. I think I have figured out the foundational problem. I just wanted to read this famous author’s words one more time to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And sure enough, it was clear as day. It’s basic. It’s elementary. And it’s the massive, gaping hole in every women’s book I’ve read. It’s the gospel.

(Disclaimer – I haven’t read EVERY women’s book. And I don’t pretend to be the only woman to whom this has occurred. So if you know a women’s book that DOES center on the gospel, feel free to share it in the comments.)

The book I’m rereading now was the women’s “manual” at a mega church I attended. And it is oppressive to read. The author gives a number of good suggestions and helpful principles. But the problem is that I. Can’t. Do. Them. And she gives me no instruction except, “Do them.” She doesn’t equip me to bridge the gulf between what I am by nature (deserving of God’s wrath – Ephesians 2:1-10) and the ideal she sets up. Perhaps you might say, “But she’s writing to believers. You’re equipped now to obey.” But I ask you, HOW am I equipped to obey? Do you really think that all it takes is telling a Christian, “Do this,” and they therefore can and will do it? That is naïve! That ignores how Scripture says we change. Scripture is clear – we do not change by being told rules or trying to conform to rules (Galatians 3). Nobody changes that way. But HOW do we change? HOW do we obey?

In the midst of pondering all this, I realized that my journaling Bible has no notes in the book of Romans. Apparently, I haven’t read through Romans in a very long time. So I read Romans 1 yesterday and today. And it was clear.

Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith (or beginning and ending in faith), as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The ESV has an interesting note on the last phrase. It could also be translated, “The one who by faith is righteous shall live.” I like meditating on both the traditional and alternate wording of it. Any hope we have of understanding God’s righteousness begins and ends in faith. And faith is the key to living in righteousness.

I have often thought of the phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith,” in the context of trial or suffering. I am only just learning to think of it in term of daily struggle with sin. But Romans 1:17 says it’s how we LIVE. It’s every moment of every day. It’s the good times, it’s the struggles. It’s when we sin, and it’s when we are sinned against. We live it by faith -- our confident expectation of all this gospel promises to us. It is the POWER by which we LIVE.

And it’s the power by which I live as a woman. In light of the curse that clearly outlines suffering and abuse of women in our depraved world. With all the seemingly oppressive things Scripture says to women. When I’m trying to help, submit to, or respect a fallen man. When I’m trying to submit to fallen church leadership. When I’m faced with raising fallen children in a fallen world. Because I’m a fallen single, widow, wife, mom, divorcee, cancer survivor, abuse victim, unemployed sole provider, or what have you. Every day begins and ends in faith. Don’t embrace rules and lists. Preach the gospel to yourself! By faith and faith alone, you will be righteous. By faith and faith alone, I can embrace and obey God’s instructions particular to women. It’s the only way for the righteous to LIVE.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Reflections on 12 Years of Marriage: Faith, Hope, and Love … But the Greatest of These is Love

My pastor joked in a recent sermon that he had been married for 14 years, which his wife referred to as the best 10 years of her life. I can identify. We’ve had 12 years of marriage, maybe 8 of which have been the best years of my life and 4 of which were the toughest (and not necessarily consecutively). I have certainly learned that marriage is not the end all of the Christian woman’s life. It’s not the place to rest, to find fulfillment, and so forth. Instead, marriage is the tool God uses to move me toward the end all for the Christian woman’s life – rooting out my sin and conforming me to Christ. It’s painful and hard when sin is exposed through marriage. I HATE those times. But it is beautiful and glorious when sin is addressed and reconciliation occurs. I LOVE those moments – those miracles of God’s grace that bring balance and equilibrium back to the marriage relationship. Marriage is a constant tension between the two. Though I hate having sin exposed, I love the results of being conformed to the image of Christ. Along that journey, here are few very crucial Bible truths that have made all the difference.

First, I can never meditate too long or too hard on the Biblical characteristics of love in I Corinthians 13. The term love in our culture is such a wimpy, needy word. But Biblical love is strong. Love suffers long, love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, love isn’t resentful, love is ever ready to believe the best and give the benefit of the doubt. That last characteristic has become one of the most important ones to me. I have often assumed the worst of my husband and watched the light leave his eyes under my accusation. It’s never a good idea to assume anything in marriage. Ask straightforward questions if you need an answer. Don’t “read into” his answers (or lack thereof). Ask him what he means. In the early moments of a potentially serious conflict, I have come to respect the tremendous practical value of being ever ready to believe the best of this one to whom you are called to love as God himself commands. It can diffuse a conflict that may explode otherwise.

Second, grace beats the heck out of manipulation or guilt in terms of facilitating real reconciliation and change. Men are different from women, and it’s taken me years to fully understand how profound those differences are. Conflicts, some real and some just misunderstandings, are inevitable. Maturity is not that you stop having conflicts. Maturity is realizing how Biblically to handle conflicts. People think of grace as a wimpy laying down of your rights that makes you a doormat. But the truth is that while grace is definitely laying down your rights and not repaying in kind, if you do it from a position of strength in Christ, you are anything but a doormat. And grace is POWERFUL – it is miraculously life changing.

Paul’s closing words of I Corinthians 13 are particularly poignant as I look back on all Christ has taught me through marriage thus far. There is faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. Faith is key – when conflict or trial arises, I have to call on all I know of the character of God. He exists, and He rewards those who diligently seek Him. He is in control, He loves His children, and He knows what He’s doing. Confidence in that is faith, and it is vital to my marriage. Next is hope. So many days the sustaining thought that causes me to persevere is that when I sit with Jesus in heaven I will NOT be disappointed. Whatever the disappointments in my marriage in this moment, my hope is God’s promise that long term, I will not be disappointed. But of faith, hope, and love, only love endures for eternity. Once I’m with Jesus face to face, I will have no need for faith or hope. But for eternity I will love. Each day as I practice the choices that reflect I Corinthians 13 kind of love with my husband, I am practicing for eternity.
God has been very kind to me in the gift of my husband. My husband sacrificially loves me as Christ does His church. I thank God for him daily. But marriage still disappoints me regularly, and there are an infinite number of things over which to conflict and sin against each other. So I praise God today for His gifting from His Word with precious tools for enduring when marriage isn’t fun or fulfilling and the miraculous way Biblical love and grace transform situations that seem utterly unredeemable. Viewing my marriage through the lens of the gospel has been life changing. The gospel does indeed change everything, even marriage.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Facebook Bible Study Experiment

I will be hosting a 10 week discussion of By His Wounds You Are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman's Identity beginning Monday June 28. Here's how it will work if you are interested in participating.

1) Like the facebook page using the link to the left of this post.

2) Order a copy at Use coupon code ULW3GH3L to receive a 40% discount. You can also order at Amazon, which may be cheaper depending on shipping.

2) Read the Introduction and Chapters 1-3. On Monday June 28, I will start a topic on the discussion board on the facebook page for anyone to participate. Just show up and be a part of the discussion.

This is an experiment, and I imagine we will have a few kinks to work out. But if you need the accountability of a group Bible study this summer (as I do), I hope this will be an accessible option for you.