Saturday, June 29, 2013

Equality



This week on the way to vacation Bible school, my son would read the Bible text for the day's lesson to me in the car.  Our theme was "Jesus is the only way to the Father" so all the Biblical texts were from the gospels.  In simply listening to him read I was struck again with the fact that Christ Himself was ministered to by women.

Women were a vital part of His ministry.  

Women are amazing.  I know I'm of that gender, but I am fascinated by the creativity and gifts of women.  Women are so nurturing and empathetic, complex and multi-gifted.  Women wear so many different hats and can master many talents.  I have never seen a woman I didn't think was beautiful externally.  God created each of us an ambulatory work of art. Look how many artists painted beautiful paintings of women of different varieties in many different settings!

Women are nurturers by nature.  God created us, "male and female, in His image" giving women an intuition, or sixth sense of sorts, to know how to meet people's emotional and physical needs.  We are image-bearers of the Living God, Himself, portraying His nurturing side.  A man and woman cohesively bear the image of God within the covenant of marriage.  God created a male and a female to work together, with our differing roles, in His garden to accomplish His purposes.  And, thusly, while Christ never had a romantic relationship with a woman, many women came alongside and helped Christ in His ministry.

While Christ was teaching, healing, and meeting the needs of multitudes of needy people and walking with His disciples, the women in Christ's company of believers ministered to His physical needs for food, shelter, clothing, and respite.  They offered hospitality and nurture to Christ and His weary followers so they could minister to many more.  Many of the women who walked with Christ were women of means from families of standing and had the ability to help in many ways.  They used their gifts and resources wisely.

But even before Christ enters the world clothed in human skin, God shows his love and respect for women throughout the Old Testament by caring for several individuals.  The first one that comes to my mind is the Egyptian servant, Hagar in Genesis 16, mother of Abraham's first son, Ishmael.  Sarah throws her out in jealousy after Sarah gave her to Abraham as another wife for the purpose of bearing him a son.  Hagar runs into the wilderness where she is intercepted by an angel at a spring of water.  The angel kindly tells her not to be afraid and tells her to return to Sarah and Abraham and that she will bear a son and he will be a great nation.  She gratefully says, "Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me."  God takes care of a female servant outcast!


It's interesting because I have always had a little bit of disdain for Hagar, being Abraham's infidelity wife when he and Sarah didn't trust God enough for the promised son, but God was so kind and nurturing to Hagar, even promising her offspring would be great.  She fled a second time when Sarah got angry at her for making fun of Isaac and God met her a second time - saving Ishmael from death and giving Hagar a secure place to live.  What a gracious God to nurture a used, abandoned, forlorn woman, who had no status and no place in the future Israel. But He had a plan for her.

In fact, some of the other women elevated to scriptural fame coming to mind were not blood descendents of Israel either:  Ruth, the Moabite widow of Naomi's son.  God provided her Boaz, an Israelite kinsman redeemer, who was a gracious man of means.  He took pity on her after her husband died, meeting her immediate needs, and eventually marrying her.  King David was their great grandson.  Rahab, the harlot from Jericho, who protected Joshua and Caleb from the Jericho authorities when they snuck in to the city as spies.  She helped them escape and God mercifully rescued her and her whole family when Israel attacked the city.  Rahab is one of Jesus' ancestors.  Deborah the Judge was a famed ruler of Israel, humble Queen Esther saved the entire Jewish race, and Mary, mother of Jesus, the Bible calls, "most blessed among women." 

So many more names come to mind: Anna, the elderly widow in the temple; Mary Magdelene, and the sisters, Mary and Martha, all of whom served Christ; Mary was the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection; the fact that God ordained women to be the first to see the empty tomb!  Rhoda, the little servant girl who received Peter into the house after his jail eviction; and Lydia, the clothing entrepreneur.  Other honorably mentioned NT saintesses:  Phoebe, Julia, Junia, Priscilla, Aquila, Olympus, Lois, and Eunice.  There are many other Old Testament women God singles out in His narrative whom He used to accomplish His purposes too.

We women have come a long way!  We have equal rights with men in America.  Interestingly, women of the Old Testament, and probably the NT societies, had no status.  They were property.  But this is not according to God's design.  Moses makes a point in his account of creation that a woman was made for a special place beside a man, helping him in his calling to tend the garden (wherever God has given them dominion): nurturing little worshipers of God, nurturing him so he can do what God has called him to, and using her gifts and talents as is beneficial.


Of course not all women (or men) are called to marry.  What then?  Are they fulfilling their purpose?  OF COURSE!!!!! Isn't God sovereign in all His plans?  Does He not govern every aspect of our lives?  Psalm 139 says that every day of our lives was written in His book before the foundation of the earth!  His plans for each of us are stamped with His grace and mercy and purpose, causing us to persevere to the end.

Earthly covenant marriage does not complete a man or a woman, Christ does!  Christ is the bridegroom, the church is the bride.  Even Paul addresses this mystery after he speaks of how husbands and wives are to relate to one another in Eph. 5:32, "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."    Our collective marriage to Christ is the ultimate covenant relationship.  It is interesting to me that women in the church spear head the mercy ministries of the church:  meals, charity, children, outreach.  The women's ministries in the church compliment the vision of each church.  Women play a vital role in being the hands and the feet of the local body (among other gifts, of course).


So, while we have different roles and gifts than men, we have equality with men in eyes of God.  We are just as special and valuable.  Where we get confused is in buying into the myth that we are identical to men and therefore should have the same calling and purpose as men.  God did not create Adam and Eve at the same time and divide up the work 50/50 between them.  He created Adam, then when "no suitable helper was found," Gen. 2:20, God made Eve from Adam's body, to serve as a help beside Adam - equal in value, different in nature and nurture and purpose.




God is a complementarian.  Not an egalitarian.  He creates communities of individuals, unity within diversity, harmony from dissonance, calm in the eye of the storm.  All of creation, including marriage and the church body, is indicative of His complementarian nature.  The trinity itself functions in this manner, each member having equal value and glory and yet, different economic roles.  So our covenant relationships function the same way.

Perhaps how I was struck this week was in how honoring Christ was to the women He chose to serve with Him and on which He bestowed the love of the Father.  He elevated us to our rightful standing as ontological (the essence of being) equals with men.  While societies have stifled women's value and purpose, God rightly restored us and our identity through Christ's treatment of women in the gospels.










And we certainly can't forget to reflect on the Proverbs 31 woman.  She worked at home, in the marketplace, researching and retrieving the best resources, brought her husband honor, was charitable to the needy; purposeful and joyful in all her tasks and how is she honored?








Prov. 31:28-31

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her: 
 “Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.” 
 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. 
 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.


Soli Deo Gloria.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mysterious Grace




I sat with a friend over tea this week - both of us reflecting on God's sovereignty in our journeys.  We discussed the grace of many joys in the journey and the crooks in the path.  But the mystery that drew our hearts together was the grace of pain in our lives.




We are apt to say a resolute, "God is good!" when our prayers are answered according to how we have prayed.  We are apt to give thanks when all is going swimmingly.  But what about when "tragedy" falls from heaven into our hands?  What about an answer to prayers that brings our human hearts grief and pain?  What about the removal of a gift, talent, resource, person, or something good in our lives?  Are we actually grateful FOR the tragedy itself?  Is God praiseworthy then?


I don't see too many of us announcing, "My dad died today, God is good!"  Maybe that seems harsh and uncompassionate.  For the pain associated with grief doesn't move us to respond with immediate joy.  Nor should it.  I guess that's why the Bible says, "Joy comes in the morning," meaning, there is a time period called "night."  And some nights are longer and darker than others.

However, my question remains, if God is good (all the time), if He is governing all the world He created with mere breath of words and thoughts, if He is ordaining everything in our lives, then, is all He does, for our joy and initial pain, a Grace?

I look back at many, many sad circumstances in my past and see the graces that have flowed out of them.



I see the beautiful fruit and flowers that have bloomed 
out of the dung pile. 


I see the new growth out of the ashes, the joy of babies born after arduous labor, the green after the rain - nature itself is filled with word pictures of life because of death, 
beauty from disaster.  

 

These are recognizable and awesome to us.  They point to the utter sovereignty of a good God reigning over a fallen and diseased world of sin.  God is so redemptive, therefore, Gracious.


So perhaps what we wrestle with, then, is not that God isn't redemptive and good, but the juxtaposition of His goodness with our pain when sojourning on His crooked path.  When He sends disease, discomfort, death, destruction, discipline - with what lens do we perceive the circumstance?  Do we say, "well, God ALLOWED it to happen"?  But, doesn't that imply that He could stop it but didn't?  Or perhaps, He isn't caring enough to stop it?  Or, He isn't sovereign enough to stop it?  Or, maybe I haven't been obedient enough so He is punishing me by not stopping it, or by not giving me my request?

If I believe God is sovereignly hand-picking my circumstances, then, the buck stops with Him.  Because He chose to grace me with this trial, will I keep Him at arms length because He's scary? Or will I count it all joy, knowing that the testing of my faith produces endurance?  Will I embrace the fact that He is Creator God, Lover of my soul, Weaver of me in my mother's womb, Author of each day of my life before there was one of them?

This leads me to ponder the mystery of Grace:  God ordains all circumstances AND He is good.  And Grace is painful.  Grace points to my sin and Grace points me to the Cross.  And all of this points back to original sin:  Satan wanting to be God and wanting to be worshiped and glorified as the Highest Being.  This is the sin of fallen earth; the sin that darkens every cell of my being: self-worship and wanting to govern my life according to my plan.


So, it is a GRACE that God deeply wounds us, binds our wounds, sets us on a new path, puts our feet in a large place and saves us from self-worship and utter spiritual destruction.

Grace.  All is Grace:  gain AND loss; joy AND mourning; health AND disease; life AND death.

When we open our hands and receive His graces willingly, perhaps that's when we can post the "God is good" sign, right away, in the midst of the initial shock and pain, regardless of what He brings. Soli Deo Gloria.


God Works in a Mysterious Way
    God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform;
    He plants His footsteps in the sea
    And rides upon the storm. 


    Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill
    He treasures up His bright designs
    And works His sov’reign will.


    Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy and shall break
    In blessings on your head.


    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust Him for His grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.



    His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding every hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow’r.

     Blind unbelief is sure to err
    And scan His work in vain;
    God is His own interpreter,
    And He will make it plain.


    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    The Bitter-Sweet Taste of Grace

    At the end of the day -

    After I've read the kids to bed -

    After I've tickled backs -

    After I've pleaded with the Father on their behalf to cause them to worship Him with all their hearts, minds, and strength; and to have sweet dreams -

    A dark companion knocks on the door to recap the day the with me.  He reminds me of all the selfish ways I pushed the children aside to fulfill my needs; of all the times I was impatient and offended by their wiles and complaints; of all the things not checked off the list and buttoned up.  The accuser is quite persuasive and I so want to wallow in his words.

    My shortcomings are countless.  Truly.  I failed.  I fail.  I am a failure, everyday.  As a Christian, as a person.  And, as a Christian with a few decades' walk with the Lord now, I know to go Him with all matters and cling to Him.  I also know that the accuser, as is his proper title, can only accuse.  He can come to court with substantial evidence against me, BUT CHRIST.....The Judge looks at my Defense Attorney and says, what do You plead?  And He says, "Guilty. But she's Mine.  You gave her to Me and I died for her."  Grace.

    Grace.  It's bitter-sweet.  When I am alone with my thoughts and the accuser is loud in my ears, I am regretful.  I want to do better tomorrow.  I go back into the boys' room, I stroke hair, I kiss cheeks, I say I love yous.  I pray for my sanctification.  But accepting grace....ah, now there's the challenge.

    See, when I call up my friends for help, or email my 911's, my dear sisters admonish me: Grace, Grace, Grace, they say.  And I know they've been there.  And I know they're speaking of man's total depravity and Christ's propitiation.  I know they are not throwing out empty words to appease my feelings of failure.  They are speaking Truth.  They are pointing to the Cross.


    You 
    cannot have Grace 
    apart 
    from 
    the 
    Cross.




    Here's the deal.  I would much rather be a better person by my own efforts.  I would frankly like to be my own defense attorney, bringing in my list to The Judge of all the things in which I am successful.  Why?  Because accepting Grace means accepting the truth about who I am - a failure.  An imperfect person who is not a great mom and not a great friend or wife or daughter or daughter-in-law or sister or auntie or citizen.  Accepting Grace means I have to acknowledge my need for Christ's cleansing blood.  And in doing so, I enter into the reality that because of humanity's sinful state, Christ was fatally wounded.  Grace is not free.  Grace is not pain-free.  Grace is not a blissful word spoken wistfully to make you feel better about yourself so you can wake up tomorrow and start living in your own strength because you are good enough to attempt perfection.  Grace cost Christ His glorified state on His throne to condescend to humanity and to be used and abused more than you or I could ever dream, to be wounded in the flesh, and forsaken by God the Father.  Forsaken. 


    Grace.


    Just as we take the wine - merely a type of His blood - it's bitterness stinging our palettes, and then suddenly becoming sweetness and warmth on the back of our tongues and throats and inner parts as it descends into our bodies, so Grace becomes sweet the moment it touches my open hands.  It drips through my fingers and down my arms and drenches me with deep satisfaction.  I am His and He is mine.  I belong to Christ!  Grace.  Sweet, sweet Grace.

    How can grace apart from the Cross be sweetly nourishing?  It is sacharine, perhaps, but not flavorful, filling and satisfying.  Grace apart from Christ's work is not really grace at all.  It is a false peace, manufactured inside my head so that I can pull myself up by my boot straps and keep trudging through the mire in my own strength.

    I am ravenous for Grace!  Even if I have to briefly taste it's bitterness.  I will wade through the bitterness - the reminder of who I am in this fallen world and my Lord's sacrifice - to immerse into the thirst quenching Grace of my sweet Savior in the now and the not yet of eternal glory.  Soli Deo Gloria! 


    Grace, grace, God's grace, 
     grace that will pardon and cleanse within; 
     Grace, grace, God's grace, 
     grace that is greater than all our sin!  
    Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, 
     grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! 
     Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured, 
     there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt. 
    
    Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold, 
     threaten the soul with infinite loss; 
     Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold, 
     points to the refuge, the mighty cross. 
     
    Dark is the stain that we cannot hide. 
     What can avail to wash it away? 
     Look! There is flowing a crimson tide, 
     brighter than snow you may be today. 
    
    Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, 
     freely bestowed on all who believe! 
     You that are longing to see his face, 
     will you this moment his grace receive? 
      
    
    
    
    

    Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    As Long as It is Called Today

    I don't always recognize it, but there it is....the back-talking, "But mom, I did it because...," "Mom, don't ever say that to me again!"  And then the dreaded {sigh} -  you know, with the eyes making their way across the ceiling....that's when I realized, wow, I haven't been nipping this disrespectful behavior in the bud.

    Hm.  When the "sigh" happened last night, I was sincerely trying to help my son; to listen and give him sage advice on how to remedy his vexing situation.  I became sad because I realized I needed to deal with the disrespect, in spite of his frustrations toward me.  To my discredit, it was well past bedtime, dinner was late that night, the routine: out the window the entire weekend, and well, tears began to flow (his too).

    "Son, that earns you a reminder.....do you know why?"

    (Through the tears) "But mom, you don't understand what I'm saying."

    "Son, how did you just dishonor mommy?"

    "Mom!"

    "Son, when you went {insert sigh with rolling eyes demoed by mom} that was disrespectful and (I heard myself say) I can't let that seed take root in you."

    It was in that moment the Spirit brought to mind Hebrews 4:7, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."  Now, I know the writer of Hebrews is talking about the salvation of Israel, and their need for Christ's righteousness, but I realized that any sin (disobedience) we let "slide" hardens like a growing a cyst in our hearts.  It starts with a grain-of-sand-sized rebellion then each time the act is repeated it becomes a little bigger until is it pebble-sized, baseball-sized, grapefruit-sized....and worse, it feels normal!  We end up defending it as an entitlement and it becomes a treasured possession we daren't part with!  

    I love Calvin's saying, 
    "The human heart is a factory of idols."  



    Jeremiah 17:9:
    "The heart is deceitful above all things,
        and desperately sick;
        who can understand it?"

    It was in hearing my own words, prompted by the Spirit reminding me of His word, that I was flooded with the realization that I have been seeing my own children as a "to-do" list for, well, perhaps their entire short little lives.  It is so much easier for me to just think that I can train them behaviorally as if they are a computer program that just needs the right code and then they will consistently act the way they are programmed.  Instead of having to repeat the same instructions each day, in many different ways, to admonish them and guide them down the path of life.  My narcissistic heart has just wanted to check off my list and move onto the next task, instead of looking at each of them as a created being, full of potential, full of personality, fearfully and wonderfully made, chosen from the the foundation of the world, yet, full of sin and full of the Spirit, Himself; needing patience, guidance, and love and little shove of confidence to boot!




    I love these little guys!!!!  I can't let any seed of sin to take root, so help me, God!  And yet, I can't believe how hardened I've let my heart become toward all the wonder God has given me in raising lovers of Christ. And so, I look at my son, full in the face, full of love, full of heavy-heart, and prayerful, and am reminded of Proverbs 20:30,

    "Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts."  

     

    Then, the Father wraps His arms around me and reminds me of the mystery of sanctification.  Firstly, mine.....ah, yes.....grace, grace, grace, grace, grace; then of my children's....and who am I?.....merely the instrument through which God's amazing grace flows into the minds and hearts of these little image-bearers entrusted to me. 

    Yes, the blows of life wound, but they cleanse the innermost parts.  They keep those cysts from fatally wounding us spiritually!  Glory be to God!  He uses blows that wound us, to soften our hearts, to cleanse us, so that Today when we hear His voice, we may not harden our hearts!  We may persevere to the end!  We may enter into His promised rest. 

    2 Corinthians 4:17
    For this light momentary affliction 
    is preparing for us an 
    eternal weight of glory 
    beyond all comparison.
    sdg