Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On Being A Woman (Part 4)

Today I speak on what is most dear to my heart. . . the spiritual life of a woman.  I am so thankful that as a woman, I can know God as deeply as any man.  We all have equal opportunity to "draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (James 4:8) The Spirit of God indwells every true believer in Christ, and this Spirit within us reveals God through His Word without boundaries on gender, race, or social status.  (Gal. 3:28)

Yet, equal opportunity to know God coupled with equal value, does not equate to equal roles within marriage or the church.  The reason is twofold.  

First, the head of man is Christ, and the head of woman is man. (1 Cor. 11:3)  Secondly, God uses the marriage relationship as a metaphor of His relationship with us, His church.  (Eph. 5:-27) The rest of this post delves deeper into these two thoughts.

Throughout the entire Bible it is Adam, not Eve, who receives the blame and responsibility for the sin of the garden. (Rom. 5:12, 14,17)  How can this be, when it is Eve who actually initiated the first bite of the fruit?  Should not Eve, therefore, bear the weight of the crime?

Eve was deceived, but Adam just plain disobeyed.  (Gen. 3:1-6)  Therefore, he is held responsible.  Yet the main reason Adam is attributed to the sin nature in all of us, is not only because he deliberately disobeyed God, but because . . . he is head over his wife.  (1 Tim. 2:12-13)  For those who are husbands, this is a sobering thought.  But as a wife, it gives me a great sigh of relief.  I am glad to be under my husband's authority.   It does not free me of responsibility.  But it does provide a protection over me, so long as I remain within the authority structure God has designed. 

This principle holds some exceptions.  When the authority becomes corrupt and makes demands contrary to God's law, then that authority is disqualified, and we must "obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) For the abused and battered wife, I am not promoting a 'grin and bear it' solution.  Some men have taken advantage of their position for personal gain and lord it over those under them.  This too, is not in agreement with Scripture.  The husband is to "love his wife as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her."  (Eph.5:25)

However, marriage, in its purist form, is a picture of God's relationship with His people, the church.  (Eph. 5:23-27) Christ is the head of His church.  Therefore, a wife responds to her husband as each of us, both men and women, respond to God.  This is why the man is the head of the wife because he represents Christ.  (1 Cor. 11:3)

For the same reason, God has designed men to be in positions of authority in our churches.  But this does not mean women are excluded from leadership or spiritual gifts.  Only that she must exercise these elements under the authority structure of her local church.  Both husbands and wives are to submit to one another, and all of us, men and women, are to submit to those over us. (1 Pet. 2:17)

Yet, being in an authority position does not make a man more attuned to the Scriptures than a woman.  In fact, Jesus was revolutionary in His view of women, especially considering the culture of His day which considered women no more than servants to men.  This degrading of women is still true for most of the world.  We are so blessed to live in a country that grants women value and rights equal to men.   The basis for a woman's value comes directly from the heart of God.

The woman at the well was amazed that Jesus would even speak to her, an outcast of society. (John 4:9)   On another occasion, Jesus pressed forward, crushed against the crowds, to raise a twelve year old girl from the dead.  (Luke 8:42) Yet, in the midst of that commotion, He stopped to attend to one woman.  She was nobody of importance, but held onto a thread of hope in the touch of Jesus' robe.  And perhaps even more than that, she longed to be valued and respected.  Jesus noticed and granted her heart's desire.  (Luke 8:42-45)  So too, Mary went against the protocol of her day that she might pour out her life in worship of Jesus.  He did not brush her off, but instead, defended her for such devotion. (John 12:3-7) And perhaps most powerful of all was that after Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared first to women.  (Matt. 28:1-7).

Furthermore, when Paul speaks of each believer receiving a spiritual gift, women are not excluded.  He says that there are "different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit...different kinds of service, but the same Lord...different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men." (I Cor. 12:4-6)  Yet, so often, the spiritual gifts of women are not utilized in our churches. Surely, not all women are given the gift of hospitality, encouragement, or of service.  Some are given the gift of teaching or exhortation, even the gift of prophecy, which is one who proclaims truth.

As I look at some modern day examples such as Elizabeth Elliot, Pricilla Shirer, or Nancy Leigh DeMoss, what are they doing if not exercising gifts of preaching and teaching?  We've become confused, thinking it is about gender when it is really about authority.   None of the women mentioned above are pastors of churches, nor do they 'run their own show' outside of authority structures, nor actively seek to teach adult men. (Although many a wise man has been blessed by their ministry).   But rather, they serve humbly as God gives them opportunity, without shrinking back from exercising their spiritual gift.  

My greatest joy as a woman, is my relationship with God and being so valued, that I can share what I'm learning with others.  Planning church potlucks is not my forte.  Homemaking is actually a challenge for me.  But studying and teaching the Bible places passion in my soul.  It might be my spiritual gift.

I trust that these four posts covering the image of God, acceptance of femininity, modesty, and spiritual discernment, have all culminated into a balanced perspective on the making of a woman.  And as women who embrace these four areas, we can flourish in all God created us to be . . . as the crowning glory of His creation.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Being A Woman (Part 3)

My daughter and I were waiting in the hallway of a college when a group of young women walked in.  They were oblivious to our presence, verbally drooling over the scantly clad attire of one woman among them.  We could not help but hear their comments.   "I'm so jealous," and, "where did you find that outfit?"   

Shortly after, a group of young men entered the hallway.  The scantly clad woman announced to the boys that she could walk just like a model of Victoria's Secret and promptly proceeded to demonstrate this feat, proving herself right.  Of course she was the center of attention.

Since when did the knowledge that immodesty tempts men and causes women to be jealous ever inspire a college gal to be a good girl?  It is not a deterrent, but rather a motivation!   I am saddened to see the 'way of the world', destroy the vitality of many a good woman, sapping the beauty right out of her.  But I believe we often seek to instruct by presenting the wrong reasons.  

My heart goes out to these women because so many have been deceived.  If only they realized the beauty of modesty, I truly believe they would make every effort to pursue it.  But we have given them a picture of modesty that is tainted with judgement and boring rule books.  They have therefore, turned to the culture which tells them that a loss of all shame is the heartbeat of true beauty, paving the way toward love.

I originally had no intent of writing about the subject of modesty because it is such a broad topic.  But as I thought on being a woman, I've come to realize that modesty, or the lack of it, is very much a part of who we are.  Furthermore, modesty runs deeper than in the clothes we wear.  It also comes through in the attitude of the heart, the way in which we carry ourselves, and in the words that we speak.  

The remains of my legalism would want to spell out specific boundaries for what I think is acceptable and what isn't, and yet those boundaries would be different for every person depending on their upbringing, cultural influence, and personal taste.  Hence, my "I think" would not be the same as your "I think".  Furthermore, the grace and love of God compels me to say that this is not a hill to die on, for there are more important issues in life, such as seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Yet, is modesty a part of that righteousness we are to seek?  I believe that it is and therefore devote this post to that topic. 

Each of us are at different places in our relationship with the Lord.  For this reason, we must display grace and compassion, being careful of assumptions based on outward appearance.  The Bible presents clear direction in the area of modesty, but within these boundaries, we are given great  freedom for personal taste.  I am not, therefore, going to give you a list of "my thinks", nor every Scripture I can find on the subject, (and there are many), but rather a few principles gleaned from one single verse.  From the following verse, I find three truths that can be applied to modesty, each one balancing out the other. 

1 Pet. 2:16
 "Live as free men [women], 
but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil; 
live as servants of God." 

First of all, we are commanded to live free.  This verse follows right on the heels of submitting to authority.  So how does freedom and submission coincide?  If we do not obey those in authority we are anything but free.  By contrast, living in harmony with our authorities brings great freedom . . . and beauty.  Yet, this does not mean there cannot be room for differing convictions.  Rather, it means there is a way to go about declaring our views, and that way is not through rebellion.

However, obeying authority does not mean we have to please every person's idea of modesty.  We cannot live to please people or we would go insane.  Believe me, I've tried this tactic far too many times.  It places burdens on us of which God never intended.  If we are weighed down with the expectations and opinions of others, we become a slave to them and live in bondage.  Their standards then control us.  No, our rules of modesty must come from the conviction of our own hearts in accordance to God's Word, not from legalism.

It cannot be denied, man does look at the outward appearance . . . but God looks at the heart.  (1 Sam.16:7)  We do communicate a message by the way in which we dress.  But if God looks at the heart, then why does the Christian community place such an emphasis on the outward appearance?  Should the heart not also be what truly matters to us?  We can get so hung up on our rules of personal preference that the heart of an individual is often bypassed.   God wants us to live free and the freedom of another must not block our acceptance of them. 

Now that we have established freedom, we are secondly commanded not to use our freedom as a cover up for evil.  In other words, just because I may does not mean that I should.  (1 Cor. 6:12-20)  I might be personally comfortable with specific attire or speech, but it does not mean that it is not causing others to stumble or that we are not secretly enjoying the attention we receive. We are to consider others before ourselves and "among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality," "nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking." (Eph. 5:3-4)

Every woman wants to be loved.  Many would give their bodies as play things in hopes of reaching love, but all that remains is lust.  If a woman wants real love, she will dress and behave in such a way that causes men to see who she is as a person with a name and a heart, not as an object.  Clothing should, therefore, draw the eye to the face, not to body parts.

Lastly, we are commanded to live as servants of God.  What does that look like?  A servant does whatever his master commands.  And in order to obey, I must surrender my own desires and freedoms which may run contrary to the command.  This requires that my selfishness be removed in order for Christ's life to be seen in me.  If the freedom in what I wear causes a brother or sister to stumble, then I need to voluntarily limit some of my freedoms out of love for another.  

The manner in which our clothing can cause our brothers to stumble is by averting their eyes to the wrong places, hence leading to lust or temptation. But we can also cause our sisters to stumble by making them feel inferior or jealous.  Furthermore, immodesty can aid in destroying marriages by coming between a husband and wife, leading the man to feel discontent, and the woman to feel threatened.  Instead, we are to "seek peace and pursue it" and to "live in harmony with one another".  (1 Pet. 3:11,8)

But by contrast, nothing is more refreshing than a modestly dressed woman exhibiting the beauty of Christ in her behavior and mannerisms.  It is restful on the eyes, and soothing to the soul.  That is not to say we must cover ourselves from head to toe or that we must wear tents without form or shape.  But it does mean that modesty matters, not only in our clothing, but in our behavior and speech, because it brings glory to God, "for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light."  (Eph. 5:8)

An excellent summary of modesty comes from the verse directly following 1 Pet. 2:16.  It states, "Show proper respect to everyone.  Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king."  (1 Pet. 2:17)  If we respect others, (as well as ourselves), we will dress in such a way as to honor them.  Furthermore, real love considers the battle that occurs in the mind of men and makes life easier on them.  Real love lays aside self for the sake of another.

I've presented only a few brief thoughts on the subject of modesty.  But hopefully I have given you something to think about as you search the Scriptures for yourself.  Even from only one verse, a case can be made for a woman's appearance and behavior to honor Christ.  I hope you've caught that there are far deeper motivations for modesty than the make up of a man or peace among women.  A modest woman is beautiful and reflects her Maker giving glory to His name, while immodesty eventually produces all things ugly, bringing great shame to our Creator.  Lastly, all of God's commands and principles are for our good.  We will be happiest if we follow in His way, not our own. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On Being A Woman (Part 2)

Pink stinks!  The phrase echoed through the subconscious of my childhood, ever reminding me that it was not cool to be feminine.

Among my older sisters, tomboy was in and girly girl was out.  We were rough and tough and could keep up with our five brothers on most everything.  We did not do nails or makeup.  Dying hair was unheard of and none of us ever stepped foot in a salon.  We ran pell mell over hay fields, through the barn, and into the creek like nobody's business.

Though the 'pink stinks' jibe was only meant in fun, it represented the tomboy attitude which seemed such a noble trait in the family.  Not that I did not have the most enjoyable childhood ever, loving the outdoors and nitty gritty camping, yet deep down the tomboy nature was not really me.  I liked pink and flowing dresses.  I liked high heels and all things pretty.  I played with dolls.  Yet, over the years, I had squelched my true preferences because I felt that everything about me was wrong, that my likes or dislikes were secondary to what was acceptable.   I didn't want to be thought prissy and was redeemed by my athletic tendencies, displaying strength and independence, certainly capable of opening a door for myself.

My mom seemed my only advocate on this point.  I remember her as tough to the core, but at the same time, accepting her womanhood.  When she passed away, this is one area in which I felt the sting.  I had lost the one person in the family who accepted and understood pink and frills.  Though my Dad honors women and admires his daughters more than just about anyone, he is not one I could look to for guidance on girly matters.  (No offense, Dad.  However, your compliment on the pink dress at your wedding made my heart smile.  Thanks.)

My family at my Dad's wedding.
Though she was a superb model for inward beauty, it was hard for my mom to offer much instruction for the outside because of her Mennonite upbringing.  And yes, it might not sound very spiritual, but the outside does, indeed, matter.  When I got married, God provided just what I needed in a mother-in-law.  She took me under her wing and helped me with all things girly, such as color, style, accessories, and makeup.  I worked up the courage to go to a hairdresser, although to this day it is still a somewhat terrifying experience.  But my mother-in-law gave me great confidence as a woman.

Our culture is comfortable and casual.  In some circles, dressing up is often made fun of and considered stuffy.  Don't get me wrong, my normal attire around the house is jeans and a t-shirt.  But somewhere between brash or loose, and dumpy or frumpy, there has to be a balance of true beauty.  Within that balance we must give ourselves permission to be women and not feel inferior.  

I tell you this because I believe our daughters need encouragement in grace and femininity.  Sometimes the culture, while shouting women's equality with men, can push our daughters to be masculine and result in rejecting some aspects of their womanhood. 

Fathers, please be careful of promoting this.  Girls can sense what their fathers admire or what they think is silly, and oh how a daughter longs to be loved by her father.  She will do anything to gain his approval.  But our girls need to know that it is okay, and in fact, good, to be feminine.  A woman is not less than a man, only different, and she portrays God's image in a unique way.  It should be celebrated and encouraged, not looked down upon or made fun of.

However, this does not mean that every girl will like lace and frills, or that we should promote a 'spoiled brat princess' mentality in the name of femininity.  In fact, two out of my three daughters have turned out rather tomboyish in personal taste.  Yet, they do not try to be one of the boys and are comfortable in how they are made as women.  Furthermore, femininity is not all about the outward appearance, but rather an attitude of mind and heart, an acceptance of who we are.   

I have since given myself permission to have an opinion, even it it means I like pink.  However, feminine does not equate to fragile or helpless.  I want my daughters to be strong and capable, but I don't want them to feel they must show up the guys to prove their identity.  As women, we can be content with the way God made us.  I'm grateful to be a woman and trust I can teach my daughters the same.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Being A Woman (Part 1)

I was sitting on the floor in my daughter's room, when my daughter cries out, "No Mom, you are putting the boy clothes on the girl doll!"  The girl doll?  "Yes, you see, this one has longer eyelashes than the other one and so that means she is the girl.  That other one can be the boy." 

I never knew my daughter was so opinionated about her doll's genders and therefore about what they should wear, especially since she rarely plays with dolls anymore.  I was having a nostolgic moment while thinking about what to keep and what to place on the garage sale pile, when I realized how insightful her statement was.

It does matter that boys and girls dress differently because we are not the same.  God created "man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."  (Gen. 1:27)  While God is distinct as 'He', both genders reflect the image of God in their unique way. 

The world seeks to blend the sexes, not only in their attire, but in every other way, and the image of God becomes muddied.  But by contrast, as the genders are kept distinct, God's intricate, yet vast personality, can be seen more clearly.  A woman displays aspects of God's character that could never be seen in a man and vice versa.  Together, man and woman portray a more complete picture of God.

Every woman wants a baby.  Maybe not at 25 when she's traveling the world or even at thirty with a booming career, but there comes a point in her life when that desire comes to the surface because she is made to nurture.  This desire to nurture does not leave the single or infertile woman out in the cold.  Nor does it mean those who choose not to have children are unfulfilled.  There are numerous other ways to nurture.  But this is one aspect of God which we might miss had He not made us male and female.

Likewise, every man desires to protect and provide for his own.  No matter how distracted he is with adventure, battles, play, or work, it all comes down to caring for the ones that are his.  This is one reason why marriage defined as one man with one woman is so very sacred, that God's image might be seen accurately.    

Our God is relational to the greatest degree.  If the world were filled with only men I daresay the relationship aspect would be in a sad state.  Women specialize in relationships.  On the other hand, if the world held only women, who would do our heavy work, invent our machines, or fight our enemies?  And I can guarantee a great bickering and fighting would take place before anything would get accomplished.  Men thrive on accomplishing a goal and taking on a challenge.  So too, God is our ultimate advocate, protector, provider, and creator, but He also nurtures.

To make these observations regarding the genders is not to say that women cannot be tough and part of the battle or that men cannot be tender and nurture.  All of us are made to be valiant, and to accomplish great purpose.  Yet, deep down, the makeup of each includes the bent of our specific gender.  So too, both men and women are equal in value, but do not carry out identical roles.

On this Mother's Day I am thankful for both my mom and mom-in-law.  They are each efficient, resourceful, hardworking, warrior, nurturers in their own way.  What amazing women!  My mom has gone on to be with the Lord, but I can say that I am truly blessed with good examples of what it means to be a woman.   
My husband with his mom
I've been meaning to write "On Being A Woman" for quite some time and decided Mother's Day would be an ideal time to start.  This subject is not just for women, but men as well, especially those fathers with daughters.  It will probably take me several posts to write, but I'm hoping you'll hang with me.   

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Balance Part 2

It is easy to shift the pendulum to the extreme, but the hardest thing of all is to remain balanced.  I do not want to reach the end of my life only to be measured and be found wanting.  Yet, under God's canopy of grace, the righteousness of Christ has me covered.

At the same time, I know God has purpose for me to fulfill and I do not want to waste my life pursuing the wrong things.  A wise friend recently reminded me that I need to "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto me".  (Matt. 6:33) Surrender to God's kingdom is fought first through prayer. 

Yet, prayer is not a one legged flamingo.  We like to make it that way, all graceful and elegant.  We pray earnestly for God to help us, to be power in our weakness, but then do nothing to obey.  I don't have to know everything to move into action, but I do need to begin.  As I go and do, God leads me to the next step.  Once the foot of prayer has been established, I need to step with the other foot in obedience.  They are a pair.  Both are needed to walk effectively. 

We often pray, "Lord if you're willing, would You do such and such?"  Willing?  God is often ready and eager to help us.  We are the ones refusing to move forward.  Furthermore, God will never do for us what He has instructed us to do.  It's like we dangle that foot in the air and are simply afraid to put it down.  There are times when God must think, "Enough already!  Move off of those knees and get with it!"

I have to admit this is where I am with my writing.  God is asking me to simply exert the discipline to get it done, one chapter at a time, without yet knowing its final end.  A step of obedience followed by another and another.

Likewise with my family, this is how I seek to keep my life balanced.  Prayer with action.  This is not to say I have arrived or that I ever will this side of heaven.  But I do know, that as I step forward in faith, God will make a way where there seems to be no way.

After my day out with my children, my house remains undone.  The basement still needs to be organized to make a place for my oldest daughter.  But if it doesn't happen before she arrives, it will not be the end of the world.  My super mom image might be marred, but that's okay because a greater work is being done in my heart and in the lives of those under my care. . . something greater than a perfect house. 

As I lay down my life, God can cause these desert, dry, selfish places to bloom with His life giving Spirit.  Because except a seed be buried and "die" it remains alone, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.  (John 12:24)

The struggle, the dying to myself, is worth it because of the triumph that awaits.

God recently answered a huge prayer for me regarding my oldest daughter.  It was a struggle of trust and surrender to His sovereign control, but also study and effort put forth by my daughter.  He didn't have to grant my request, but He did, and I can say with confidence, The Lord is my helper. (Heb. 13:6)  His mercies are new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness. 

'Every day I trust you Lord, woah, I will.'  The song floats from my girls' room as they settle down for the night.  A contented day has come to a close.  What a contrast from the tears of the night before.  The difference of a mom with her own agenda or a mom who lays down her life, prayer and faith paired with obedience.  This is the way of balance. 

(And yes, these delightful girls will be helping me clean that basement.) 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Balance Part 1

Have you ever felt your life is finally where it needs to be and yet still you fall short?  You've crossed your 't's and dotted your 'i's but its just not enough? 

Last night my inadequacies as a parent were revealed.  But I'm realizing that it is not always a lack of ability but rather my stubborn selfishness that refuses to simply 'wash the feet' of my family.  Sometimes it is so much easier to serve those outside my home than within it.

Laying down my life for my family brings me to a place of humble dependence on God as I realize I'd rather carry out my own agenda for the day.  I had plans to clean the basement, to sort through boxes in storage and get rid of the clutter.  My nesting instincts wanted the house perfect for my daughter's return from college.  Yet, another daughter needed my time.  I must lay aside the urgent to attend to her needs.

How does a mom arrive at super status?  I don't know.  Often when I become disciplined in one area then other areas lack.  I'm aware that self discipline requires priority.  You know the saying, 'I do what I don't want to do so that I can become what I've always wanted to be.'  It is a good motivator for self discipline, yet the discipline itself can be selfish.  

For example, when my older two children were in middle school I used to jog with a few friends.  It was good for my health and for my friendships.  But at what expense?  Those early morning hours were spent on exercise rather than in the Word and prayer, in conversing with friends rather than in seeing my children off to school.   How much better to have spent those quiet hours of the morning with the Lord.  I regret my choice to place fitness at such a high priority.

Since then, I feel my life has reached a good balance.  Though I still need to take care of my body, I now seek communion with God as first priority.  Yet still, I cannot win.  Success in one area finds me desperately failing in other areas.  I cannot be super mom.   I'm brought to the place of prayer once again.

Sometimes I get into a rut with prayer and start to view it as a magic formula.  Surely if I get up at the crack of dawn and fall on my face before God in petition He will bring about my desire.  While this kind of prayer most certainly helps, I must beware of falsely assuming God owes me something because I have given Him my sacrifice of prayer.  God is not one we control.  He does what He wills and prayer is not to twist His arm, to force Him to do something for me.  No, I pray simply because God commands me to do so.  That is all.  Yet, in the practice of prayer I find a communion with Him that is incomparable and highly desirable.  Furthermore, it keeps pride in check as I become more attuned to my need. 

As super mom there are times I'd rather complete tasks around the house than to play with my children.  When there is work to be done, the satisfaction of completing a project bears strong on my will.  And so today, I laid aside my will and took up the realm of child's play.  The agenda composed of a bike ride, a trip to the library, and an afternoon at a place called White Rocks.  There we were pirates on the high seas manning the sails and retrieving a parrot from peril.  What fun to be a kid again. (It helped that there was no school today.)

On this day of national prayer, I did spend time praying for my country and its leaders, but I believe my choice to play was no less spiritual.  How do we maintain balanced lives?  I don't have all the answers, but I do know that living in fellowship with God through prayer each day gives us perspective and direction in the way we choose to live.   Balance falls into place much easier when our priority for God is kept.