Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In trouble with the law since the day (her kids) were born

I got my first driver’s permit the day after I turned 15 (I cried on the DAY I turned 15 because we couldn’t find my birth certificate so I could go the moment the DMV opened – I was that desperate for my license).  I got one ticket in 1993 after 8 years of driving.  I got another one the day Princess Diana died in 1997.  But since then, nothing.  For a DECADE!  I was proud of that. 

Then I had kids.  And since 2008, I have gotten FIVE tickets.  One was a travesty of justice – don’t get me started.  One was for late registration of my vehicle (the first time in 18 years of car ownership that ever happened).  One was from a camera on a traffic signal.  But two were for speeding with my boys in the car.  And one actually had both my boys and the babysitter in the car.  Talk about humbling!

If they don’t come take my license away and I have a chance to redeem myself in the eyes of the law, I know exactly what my problem is.  It’s what my husband calls Agenda Wendy--when I stop being reasonable Wendy and turn into a woman consumed by a cause.  And boy does Agenda Wendy turn ugly troll  when the kids are uncooperative getting in the car, and we are late accomplishing my agenda.  Get out of my way!  My SUV has 6 cylinders, and I am ready to use them all because we are LATE FOR PRESCHOOL.  Then I come to my senses and wonder what the heck just came over me in those moments that I lost all common sense for the sake of my agenda.

An agenda is simply a list of things that need to be done.  And they do need to be done!  I do need to get the kids to preschool, and it’s helpful to everyone if we’re on time.   But preschool schedule doesn’t eclipse the laws of my nation or general safety when driving my children.  It’s happened enough now that I’m seriously examining how I get to that place.  Here is what I’ve seen so far.

Agenda Wendy becomes the Troll often because she didn’t plan ahead.  The days are long gone where she can do what she wants until the last minute and then pull herself together in 20 minutes and hop in the car and pull out the driveway in 15 seconds.  She has a 3 and 5 year old!  And it’s not their fault that they are slow putting on their shoes or uncoordinated with their seatbelts.  THEY are the agenda – loving and training them IS the To Do list for today. 

Agenda Wendy also becomes the Troll because being late anywhere ruins her day.  She gets some sense of accomplishment by making a plan and sticking to it on schedule.  Her desire to be on time, while polite, must take a back seat to safety and loving patience with her children.  She needs to face up to the fact that she hates being late more than she hates speeding because being late makes her look bad to herself and to others.  And her perception of her identity in Christ doesn’t hold up to the feared bad looks she might receive from others.  It’s an identity issue. 

Agenda Wendy gets her guts in a knot when her agenda gets off track and she fears others may look at her badly.  And just getting to the place where others look at her neutrally isn’t enough either.  She wants to look GOOD to others.  She wants to feel good about herself.  When the kids get in her way, watch out. 

I know the truth of my identity in Christ.  I know of God’s gospel grace and how it informs this situation.  On paper.  And yet, once again, I’m reminded that the rest of my life on earth will be figuring out how the gospel changes every nook and cranny of my sin and depravity as God exposes it piece by piece.  Today, it’s how Christ affects my agenda affects my identity affects my kids affects my driving.  Tomorrow, who knows?!   The gospel does indeed change everything, but for a lifetime I will be discovering new things to add to the list of “everything.” That’s sanctification.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Numbers v. Fruit

I am daily tempted to judge my and others’ ministries by an unbiblical notion of spiritual fruit. I feel a ministry is more fruitful if large numbers attend a retreat, check out its blog, buy their book, or attend their services. But the truth from Scripture is that numbers are distinctly different from spiritual fruit. I’m not going to say it’s wrong to be excited over numbers – it’s just wrong to call it FRUIT. Biblical fruit is significantly different.

I get sucked into an earthly mentality of success as easily as anyone. The thing that corrects my thinking time and time again is Jesus’ example. By our fallen notion of fruit and numbers, His ministry was sadly ineffective. He seems content at times to alienate the crowd instead of courting them. He even advocates in Matthew 18 leaving the 99 to pursue the 1! He mainly invests in 12, but most of all in just 3. And when He’s hanging on the cross in His darkest hour, only 1 of the twelve sticks it out with Him. Yet Jesus defines a truly fruitful ministry for us by His example. Paul further clarifies it for us in Galatians 5. Fruitfulness is not numbers; it’s love. It’s not facebook fans; it’s peace. It’s not blog hits; it’s joy. It’s not Sunday attendance or offering totals; it’s patience. The Bible sets the idea of spiritual fruit on a totally different axis than our natural one.

Ministries that get this backwards are like top-heavy trees with minimal root systems. They pursue growth in numbers at the expense of the minority that should become the mature leaders rooted deeply and supporting others.  That kind of tree looks good on the outside but blows over in the storm every time. Such churches/ministries/individuals become willing to sacrifice the 1 for what they perceive will benefit the 99. If one person becomes too much work, they justify cutting them off. They are just dead weight, right? They are holding up progress. But the truth is once you are willing to sacrifice the call to bear long in love with one, you’ll do it with many other ones. And the ones add up. Effective ministry like Christ is successive ministries to ONES. Ministries that cut off the one for the sake of the 99 often miss the fact that over time, the ONES that they cut off start to add up – to something like 99. In the pursuit of ministry to others, they missed the one right in front of them to whom they were first called to minister.   A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, or something like that. 

As a very personal application, a correct view of Biblical fruit frees me to value what goes on day in and day out with my three in my home over the affirmation I get from this blog and my books. I at times feel seduced toward a focus on my outside ministries at the expense of my ministry at home. I get a LOT more affirmation and words of encouragement through the blog than I do from my 3 and 5 year old. Ministry to the ONES in my life is hard and requires forbearing, long-term patience and love. I’m in it for the long haul, and when I’m invested, I have hope of seeing real fruit – the way God defines it – in myself and/or my family.

I must value deep investing in one over minimal investment in 100. I MUST! That’s not to say the other isn’t valuable, but numbers are NOT the fruit of the Spirit. They are not the evidence of God’s work, and you have to deny Scripture to make them so. I often must figuratively leave the 99 to pursue the 1 as God did for me—in faith that God’s vision of fruit is more effective long term than mine.
For a great series on what spiritual fruit really is and how it is accomplished, I recommend the sermon series, New Lives: Fruit of the Spirit.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rule Versus Lead

I’m just thinking out loud here. But the more I ponder this Biblically, the more strongly I feel. I stumbled across a blog article that started as a positive shout out to something John Piper said and descended into a complementarian v. egalitarian debate. And the sides weren’t clear. It got all mixed up. One particular comment on the husband’s rule as outlined in the curse of Genesis 3:16 stuck out to me and made me think. Is the husband supposed to RULE the wife?

Huh? Why is that even a question? Why would anyone even ATTEMPT to use that language positively? It’s the CURSE. Didn’t Christ come to redeem us from the curse?! Isn’t oppressive rule by a man a sign of the curse and not redemption? I thought, even as a complementarian, that was obvious.

But that thought when voiced on that particular comment thread was quickly followed with a diminishing of any role in the church and home for men/women and husbands/wives. So can you believe the man is not supposed to RULE his wife (and how can you NOT Biblically?!) and still be a complementarian? I think so. In fact, I have great confidence the more I look at the precise way Scripture talks about husbands and wives IN CHRIST in the New Covenant that we can and must hold to both.

Obviously, in the New Covenant, there remain issues of role and authority. There are limitations on women, if you want to think of them that way. If you can indeed call the limitations placed on Christ or Paul in ministry limitations, then I guess you can call those on women limitations as well. But really, it’s just a call to be like Christ in a specific manifestation of His humility. All are called to love, but the husband is called to give a particular example of love. All are called to submit, but the wife is called to give a particular example of submission. Furthermore, the husband is clearly called the head of the wife as Christ is of the church. So there is definitely still in the New Covenant issues of role and authority. But it must be viewed distinctly different than the curse. In fact, I think it is DEAD WRONG to positively use the terminology of husbands “ruling over” their wives today.

I found it very helpful to simply look up the definition of rule and lead in English dictionaries. Scripture doesn’t use the term LEAD, but when you put together the individual instructions to husbands in the New Covenant, I think this term best sums it up for today’s English speakers.

Rule: to control or direct; exercise dominating power, authority, or influence over; to decide or declare judicially or authoritatively; decree:

Folks, that is clearly in Scripture the CURSE.

Lead: to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort:

And THAT is the picture Paul paints of marriage in the image of God, particularly in Ephesians 5.

Some may call this semantics, but even so, if semantics was ever important, it is on this point. God calls us through headship and submission in marriage to reflect beautiful, important things about He and His Church. Things about the New Covenantal, redemptive relationship between Christ and His Body. And it is DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT than the curse. May we always note that clearly in our writing. And may we, as complementarians, correct this among ourselves whenever we hear it emphasized incorrectly.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Today's Lecture to Myself -- On Love

Today I'm meditating on Biblical love. It will take a lifetime of meditation to fully process and comprehend all that the Bible teaches on God’s love for me and my love for others. Here are some summary Scripture statements on love.

John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

I Cor. 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Love isn’t some nebulous, dreamy notion in Scripture. It is a response with concrete, specific actions. And, at least for me, thinking on these practical responses is really foundational to both understanding love and recognizing it in my own life. In particular, the vast majority of the Bible's descriptions of love are in the context of conflict. This is quite obvious in I Cor. 13’s classic definition of Biblical love.

It is patient. It has a long fuse and is not easily angered. Which implies something has happened in my relationship with the one I am called to love that tempts me to not be patient and to get angry. Something is wrong, uncomfortable, or aggravating. There is an irritant in the relationship.

It does not envy. There is a situation in which someone got something I want. Or got something they don’t deserve. And I am tempted to despise them for it instead of rejoice with them.

Love is not rude and does not rejoice in evil. I am tempted to cut down with sarcasm. I am tempted to be smugly satisfied when one gets what they have coming to them. They really do deserve some bad to come their way, and I am tempted to be glad when they get it.

Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. I am tempted to hold onto every slight and bring them back up days, weeks, or months later at least to myself if not to the person themselves. When I love, I let go of my right to bitterness over a legitimate sin or slight against me. I choose to not write it down in my mental “You did me wrong” list.

But even more important than meditating on what Biblical love looks like for me is meditating on God’s love. After all, love is a FRUIT of the SPIRIT. In other words, love in my life is the overflow of my connectedness to God. So the place to start is with God’s love demonstrated in Scripture. Then I meditate on my union with Him. He’s the head, I am His Body. He’s the vine, I am the branch. The Spirit lives within me, and He produces such fruit within me.

We have just finished up a series on the fruit of the Spirit at church. The pastors regularly focused on how these fruit--love, joy, peace, goodness, and so forth--are first found perfectly in God Himself, and He is the source of them then in our lives. I LOVED especially the sermons on goodness and love. I also found the two on growth especially helpful.

So today, I meditate first on God’s love for me, which is definitely most obvious when contrasted to what I deserved instead. And from understanding His love, I am equipped to really love those in my life – not fake, poser love that is a happy smile when all is going well but fades into hopelessness or condemnation when things go south. But God’s love is by definition for when things go south – when conflict comes, when all is not well, when I am provoked, when life is not easy, when annoying long term problems continue week after week, month after month. Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Confessions of a (Former) Romance Novel Addict

In my humble opinion, there is no industry that understands and exploits the curse of Genesis 3:16 quite like the romance novel industry.  I am a veteran.  I stumbled across Harlequin romance novels as a young teen and got sucked in immediately.  Seasons came and went.  At times I was distracted from my addiction for months or even years.  But it would come back with a vengeance again and again.  I remember missing a very important appointment once because I got sucked into a romance novel after breakfast and read right through an afternoon obligation.  Another time, I lay in bed all day after finishing a Christian romance novel to the point that my roommate expressed genuine concern for me.  Believe me, I wasn’t meditating on the Christian message but obsessing over the forbidden romance.  

The romance novel industry is a case study in both the curse of Genesis 3:16 and our coping mechanisms for dealing with the curse.  The vast majority of romance novels written before the 1990’s have the classic love/hate relationship between the hero and heroine.  He usually starts as a villain (“he will rule over you”, Gen. 3:16).  Maybe he’s a pirate who takes over her ship.  Or he kidnaps her for some reason.  Or he’s English nobility and she the servant’s daughter.  But the “best” romance novels have a hero who rules over the heroine and often outright oppresses her.  Older romance novelists didn’t even attempt to mask it.  Instead they exploited it.  Women flock to stories of the bad guy who oppresses the girl but who finally rescues her and professes his love for her because she won him over with her beauty and charm.  It. Is. The. Curse.   It doesn’t matter that he oppresses her.  It doesn’t matter that she has to bear the pain and shame if he gets her pregnant.  She still wants him (and we still want him enough to read along and envision it for ourselves).  And when you are caught up in it, it feels too natural for you to see it for the ugly and pathetic thing it is.  It seems natural, not a curse.  But the curse is natural.  It is our nature apart from Christ. 

Then came the feminists.  Women still wanted their romance novels but they were embarrassed and offended by the misogyny the older ones propagated.  So after the mid 90’s, romance novels cleaned up their act.  Now if it’s a pirate, he’s pretty nice to the girl from the get go.  At least there is no outright pillage and rape.  The women seem stronger, the men a little more accommodating.  But the industry lost their sycophantic following after this change.  Women still love the older romance novels, and there remains quite a market for the older stories without the feminist clean up.  From the sidelines (because thankfully I am no longer caught up in it personally), I marvel at the blatant demonstration of the curse in the older ones and the coping mechanisms modern women have adopted demonstrated in the newer ones.  

The vampire genre of romance novels has long been a staple in the industry.  Stephanie Meyer’s has brought it to the forefront, but it has LONG existed (and flourished) in romance novel land.  The handsome vampire is the ultimate powerful bad guy.  Yet apart from Christ my tendency is to naively believe the heroine can change him, can appeal to his decent side, and that he will value the heroine so that he will stamp down his inherent urge to suck her blood to death.  Why do we buy that story line?  Because in the head of the woman stuck in the curse, it seems plausible.  It only takes a few degrees of separation for us to come to our senses and recognize that the only thing the vampire will do is kill the girl and convert her into the damned.  Because that’s the nature of vampires!  But, NO, we women want to believe she can reform him to meet her needs.  It’s the curse.  And apart from Christ, it’s our nature. 

I spent a long time as a mature, well educated, happily married woman still trapped in the world of romance novels that fed something in my flesh I didn’t even recognize.  It wasn’t until I studied Genesis 3:16 this last year that I finally understood the dynamics that characterized that addiction. 

I tried to end my relationship with romance novels many, many times over the years.  In a sense, I never did personally end it.  I can’t find the quote now, but either John Piper or Calvin Miller said something along the lines of seeing Jesus so clearly and getting a taste for His goodness that puts us out of taste for sin.  Something like that happened for me.  Gradually, I came to understand the character of God better.  I meditated on the gospel, and as it became clearer to me, it became more interesting to me than romance novels.  I didn’t have to discipline romance novels out of my life.  I just lost interest in them because something about God and the gospel started interesting me more.  It sounds … odd.  But God distracted me from romance novels with Himself and His gospel.  And one day, years later, I walked by my closet and saw that old bag of books and thought, I have NO desire to ever read those again, and I threw out the bag.

Romance novels aren’t really the issue.  But they can reveal the issue.  The issue is the curse. We by nature have a craving/longing/desire for something from a man that everyone else around us knows they can’t give.  And apart from Christ, the stories we write for ourselves are filled with our pathetic, deceived visions for what we want from men and how they are going to come through for us.  The answer isn’t to burn our bag of romance novels.  It’s to get a vision for Christ and all He has accomplished for us through the cross.  If you are encumbered with the soft porn of romance novels, I hope you’ll stand back for a moment and recognize what it reveals about your misplaced desires.  Then preach the gospel to yourself.  Again, and again, and again.  Preach it from different angles – God’s grace, God’s love, God’s glory.  But preach it.  Love it.  Adore it.  And over time you’ll be so distracted by His beauty you’ll forget what this post is even about. 

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Counsel from the Cross

Oh. My. Word. The short version is BUY THIS BOOK.

Here's the longer version. I have written much about my concern over pink, fluffy bunny Bible studies. I have often called for a gospel-centered approach to women's ministry. And stupidly, I thought I was mostly alone (at least in terms of a gospel centered hermeneutic aimed particularly at women). Several commenters have recommended after such posts that I read Elyse Fitzpatrick's books. Since she's a Crossway author and I'm a Crossway author, I asked for her books and received Because He Loves Me,  Comforts from the Cross, and Counsel from the Cross.  I have started Because He Loves Me but am focusing my attention mostly on Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ

Wow.  Just wow.  I'm only in the early chapters, but Elyse and co-author Dennis Johnson drew me in immediately with the premise and their thought provoking introduction.  The illustration in Chapter 1 of how to apply the gospel to the hurting mom is alone worth the price of the book (which to be clear, I got for free).  "Madeline" is a homeschooling mom who sacrificed everything to train her children to love God only to have her teenage daughter get pregnant after going behind her back to be with her boyfriend.  The mom is crushed and terribly angry with her daughter.  She sacrificed her life to train her daughter  -- for this?!!  Elyse and Dennis walk us through how the gospel informs our view of God, our view of ourselves, and our view of others.  They show specifically in Madeline's scenario how the gospel corrects Madeline's views of God (He's not tallying up merit based on her or her kid's performance.  He loves His children unconditionally), how the gospel corrects her view of herself (she too is a sinner in need of Christ's sacrifice;  she too is God's beloved daughter free from attempting to earn her Father's favor by her good works or her children's status in her community), and how the gospel corrects her view of her daughter (her daughter is a sinner but too a precious daughter of God.  Her life is affected by this pregnanacy, but her status before God and in His Body is not).  In some ways everything has changed for Madeline.  But in a much more expansive, supernatural sense, nothing has changed.  And at some point, as Madeline comes to terms with exactly who she is in Christ, she will be free to examine, though only through gospel grace, if some of her parenting techniques provoked secrecy and dishonesty in her daughter.  By the end of this illustration, I had MUCH on which to think, ponder, meditate, and self examine just in CHAPTER ONE!! 

I confess I'm only on Chapter 2.  But if I really like a book, I can never hold back talking about it here until I'm done.  I will probably post a follow up review when I'm finished reading it all.  But for now, this looks like the kind of book I will read, highlight every other sentence, and go back to reread as soon as I'm done.  In other words, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Women's Ministry as a Means of Grace Part 2

Last week’s post on Women’s Ministry as a Means of Grace prompted thoughtful conversation. Women commented on the post, messaged me privately, and even called me at home. The common question was simply, “How do you do this?!!” How do you be transparent when you perceive that your environment is not safe for such honesty? Well, you need to cultivate an environment that IS safe. If you are a women’s leader, then you frankly need to LEAD. And here are some thoughts on how to practically point people in this direction.

Years ago while leading women’s ministry at a large church, other women in leadership positions came to me with the idea of a workshop on redeeming female sexuality. In our culture, women have definitely reached sexual equality with the men. But while men were coming forward in droves in the church dealing with promiscuity and pornography, women were still being quiet about it in shame. It took these leaders courageously coming forward with their own stories to shed light on it as a church. One friend had had a serious addiction to pornography that mastered her for a decade beginning as a middle schooler. Another had left the faith for a season and pursued bisexual relationships. Yet another actively pursued multiple partners in bars, proud to be the one who left in the morning before they could ask her name instead of the other way around. There stories were hard to share … and hard to hear. But each one KNEW that there were many, many others still in their situation that sat in Sunday services each week in shame. They knew how to confess gossip or bitterness. But they were so ashamed of their sexual history, they had no idea where to begin when it came to confessing that.

So these ladies modeled it for them. They came up before the women at this workshop and gave an honest (though not gratuitous) account of their sexual history. They brought their shame into the light. They told how God had met them at their lowest point and brought them to freedom in Christ (sometimes slowly over time, sometimes just starkly freeing them in a moment). But then here’s the kicker. After each had given her testimony, leaders in the church came up and publicly responded to them. One had her husband, an elder who supervised her church ministry, and another female leader respond. Each spoke of who she was in Christ and how this no longer defined her. They acknowledged the truth of her sin, but the last word over her was gospel grace. “Christ now defines you, sister. You wear His beautiful robe of righteousness. We do not see you clothed in this sin. In fact, in Christ you are washed clean, SPOTLESS. We see you now as Christ sees you.” In that workshop, we walked away with simple but profound truths. First, we need to confess! We must bring our sin into the light. And second, THIS is how you respond to someone when they bring their sin into the light. Not with condemnation! Not with silence! But with gospel grace!!! “God has spoken great grace and love over you, and His word is the last word that defines who you are and how we are going to view you as your brothers and sisters in Christ.” Though the topic was sexuality, the same idea applies to moving toward honest, grace filled women’s ministry on any topic.

If you are burdened to lead women in this direction, I first suggest you run your ideas clearly by your church leadership structure. Such an event has the high probability of rubbing someone the wrong way, even if you are VERY careful with how you structure it. If you don’t have the support from your church leadership, you are right off the bat creating an unsafe environment for such an event.

Second, teaching women how to respond to such honesty is foundational. You have to deal head on with the unsolicited advice giver (referred to as UAGs from this point on), that lady who speaks from the hip on all the things she knows, not from hard won experience from all the things she’s suffered. You know the difference, and UAGs come out of the woodwork the second anyone is honest. They suck grace out of a room. They speak out of pride, though they may cloak it in Scripture and, possibly, experience. And they need to be rebuked before they ever begin.

Third, it’s the leaders who must lead. You have to be the first to bring your ugliness into the light. Maybe it’s been marriage struggles. Maybe you struggled to like your own kids. One that really kicked me in the gut was when an elder’s wife gave tearful confession of her long struggle with gluttony – sneaking dinner from the McDonald’s drive thru before second dinner at home with her husband. Boy did women come out of the woodwork after that. I struggled with that and STILL struggle with it. But her confession ministered great grace to me to face my own struggle head on.

This is not the last word on women’s ministries that minister gospel grace. I hope this post will generate further discussion that leads to further posts. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and each comment you make is helpful to us all defining what this looks like in reality.

**In the short term, I highly recommend reading any of Elyse Fitzpatrick's books, but in particular Counsel from the Cross. She has great insight on what gospel grace looks like applied to every issue women face. I hope to review some of her books on this blog soon.**