Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Humility, guilt and shame

Sometimes you hit a point in your life

where you just can't.

It is important to own your own mistakes, crucial not to blame-shift.

But the self-doubting, self-loathing, self-questioning.

Living in the aftermath of consequences hurts.  You see the damage; it reaches back and taunts you, and you long to make it right, but you have no idea how.  Mistakes.  Sin.  Missing the mark.

No idea how to fix it.  No answers, only questions and fears and accusations.

The staggeringly difficult work of discerning what is right, where do I need to repent, change, grow in humility?  And where is the devil at work accusing me?

I know he is at work accusing me, because I feel as though God doesn't love me.  That is how I feel, but that is a lie.

God loves me.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Even now as I type those precious words from Romans 8, I feel a sickening fear that they do not apply to me.  This sickening fear is not from God.  I know so, in my mind, but my heart quails in shame.

People are altogether untrustworthy.  People let us down all the time.  They misunderstand, prejudge, betray, reject and condemn.  This is the state of humanity.  Compassion, understanding, sympathy, loyalty and altruism are not the natural state of human nature.  People are untrustworthy, and they will let us down, disappoint us, devastate us.  They just do, most of the time without even meaning to.  Most of the time they are simply blinded by their own selfish perspectives, just as I am blinded by mine, and this is why we all need grace so desperately.  Jesus, please help us forgive one another, for You are faithful and good.

Oh, sweet Lord Jesus, please lead me in the truth.  Help me to discern Your steady voice amidst all the turmoil.  Help me to obey You and to be pleasing to You.  Thank you that You are trustworthy, You alone.  When nobody else will forgive, You do.  When nobody else can heal or restore, You can, and You do.

Lord Jesus, I entrust myself to Your gentle, compassionate work in my life.  Even though You are gentle and compassionate, the work of purifying a human soul cannot take place without pain.  Nevertheless, I entrust myself to You, because although there will be pain, You are in control of the pain, and You do not waste pain.  You do not willingly bring affliction or grief to men (Lamentations 3:33).  I trust You because You are faithful and good.  You have good plans and an inexorable purpose which You will accomplish for Your glory and for the benefit of Your people.

You are God.  You are good.  You love me.  This is truth.

You remember that we are dust (Psalm 103:14).  You forgive our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  You never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).  You will not reject us when we come to you (John 6:37). Your mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), and thus You continue to work on us, picking us up, dusting us off, cleansing and binding up our wounds, improving us little by little, even when we stumble and backtrack along the way.

People expect us to be better than we can be.  People hold grudges against us for our failures, and sometimes simply over misunderstandings, refusing to forgive us.  People turn their backs on us and reject us.

Jesus doesn't.  Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother (Romans 5:8-11).

Jesus treasures me so much that He poured out His own blood to secure my forgiveness and salvation.  Jesus walks with me through the valley of the shadow of death and encourages me to fear no evil.  Jesus anoints my head with oil and overflows my cup with blessings. (Psalm 23)

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  
May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.  
Romans 16:20 (NLT)

May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with us all.
We need You, Jesus.
I need You, Jesus.
Thank You, Jesus.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Does God work through our sins?

Last time, I wrote this:

The landscapes of our lives are forever altered by our sins, 
but God can still make meadows blossom across them, 
even in the aftermath of shameful failure.  

This is the miracle of grace.

It is what redemption is all about.

God takes what was broken, sick, deteriorating, even totally wrecked, and He restores it to something of beauty, health and value.

This is incredible.

I remember the day I was reading Romans 8:28 --  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them (NLT) -- and I realized that "everything" even includes our sins, our failures, our trip-and-fall-and-land-smack-on-your-face-in-the-filth-of-degradation behavior.  God uses those things for our good, too. 

How?  How can God use sin to accomplish good purposes?

Well, He used the greatest sin of all time, the cruel crucifixion of the perfect Son of God, conducted under completely unfair circumstance -- this grievous sin, our Lord took and used to accomplish the greatest miracle of all time: the gracious provision of salvation for humankind.

If He could do that, why would I doubt His ability to use my sins to accomplish good purposes in my life?

How does God use my sins to accomplish good?

He uses my sins to humble me and break me.  God used the sin of Peter's denial of Christ on the eve of the crucifixion, used it to to break Peter's pride.  God brought Peter to the point where he could fully appreciate what it means to be forgiven, and from there Peter grew in ways he never was able to grow before, becoming strong, courageous, and truly effective for the Kingdom of God.  God does the same in me.  When sin trips me up, God redeems the situation by growing my humility, so eventually I can become more useful to Him.

Related to this, it becomes clear that God uses my sins to help me understand and appreciate His great forgiveness.  How could we appreciate forgiveness and grace if we never knew the tremendous relief and release that come when we are forgiven from our sin and made free?  If we never sinned, or if we failed to recognize that we have sinned, we could not perceive what a glorious miracle it is to be washed clean and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, as we understand the depth of what we have been forgiven, it helps us turn around and forgive others, passing on the grace.

When we have experienced the weight of sin, it makes us compassionate toward others who are struggling under sin.  God uses our sins to make us compassionate towards others who are caught in sin.  This doesn't mean that we condone or excuse their sin (or our own).  No!  It means that we ourselves know the pain sin has brought into our lives, and therefore we feel deep sympathy and an urge to help others who are suffering from the effects of sin.  We develop hearts that know the beauty of forgiveness, the wonder of escaping sin's clutches.  As we experience God's grace, we long to share it with others.

God displays His glorious redemptive power when He brings me back to Himself after I have sinned.  There must be sin in order for the light of grace to shine in victory over it.  There is no rescue if there was never any danger.  There is no salvation if there was never any threat.  There is no grace if there was never any sin.  The triumph of righteous love over sin is God's pinnacle victory, and we all need His grace applied to our lives.  Nobody can get to heaven without His grace, His victorious triumph over the power of sin.  Our sins allow God's glorious grace to be showcased so we can understand what He has done for us, so we can worship Him in His glory.

When God redeems us from our sins, He shows His power to transform a life from something useless to something supremely useful for all eternity.

The danger, of course, when we understand this, is that we might think it is a good thing to sin, to provide God with raw material for the display of His glory.

Paul addresses this thought in Romans 6:

Romans 6:1-2 says, "Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace?  Of course not!  Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?" (NLT)

Romans 6:15 says, "Well then, since God's grace has set us free from the Law, does that mean we can go on sinning?  Of course not!" (NLT)

There is something particularly evil and insidious about an attitude that says, "Cool!  I can sin as much as I want, and it gives God more and more opportunities to show His grace, power and glory each time He forgives me . . ."  Such a sentiment arises in a supremely selfish heart and demonstrates no respect for the suffering of our Savior on the cross.  Such a sentiment does not love God as we are commanded to love Him, with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

We must guard against being casual about our sin.  Sin is a very big problem, and it is why Jesus had to die.  He died to save us from sin, so we could be free from the bondage of sin and the death wherein it culminates.  We must never go around sinning wantonly, simply presuming upon the grace of God to save us afterwards.

At the same time, when we do stumble into sin, even after we have been saved, we must not despair.  God always extends grace and hope to us.  He stands ready to forgive and cleanse and purify (1 John 1:9).  It can be tempting to think, "Now I've done it.  I messed up again.  This time, I'm sure I've wrecked everything forever and always."  That simply isn't true.  God is constantly working miracles of redemption and restoration.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God (see Romans 8:35-39).

It's a tightrope walk, and it all depends on Jesus.  We need to turn our eyes toward Jesus and trust Him to lead us, care for us, and work all things together for good in our lives, as He promises He will do.

For the wages of sin is death, 
but the free gift of God is eternal life 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

(Romans 6:23 NLT)

(I've been pondering this idea.  Last night in our Bible reading, Shawn read me Romans 6 before I went to sleep, and what do you know?  Out came this post.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Our words

Last time, I wrote about how we underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today, I am going to address how we underestimate the power of our words.

Words are powerful.

Unfortunately, we rarely begin to grasp the power of words until we come face-to-face with regret over careless words spoken.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us:  
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
     but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (ESV)

The NLT rendering of the same verse is completely forthright:
Too much talk leads to sin.
     Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

In Matthew 12, Jesus warned us that our words reflect the condition of our hearts:
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV)

This is serious business.  Our words are not simply sounds, carried on the wind.  Our words have meaning and power.  Our words get into people’s heads and touch their souls.

We must be careful what we say.  We must guard our lips and our tongues, for we will answer for what has passed out of our mouths.

Jesus taught, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person . . . do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11, 17-18 ESV)

Therein lies the key:  What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.  Our words reflect our hearts.

Angry words reflect frustrated hearts.

Grumbling words reflect ungrateful hearts.

Gossipy words reflect insecure hearts.

Judgmental words reflect prideful hearts.

Demanding words reflect greedy hearts.

Bossy words reflect tyrannical hearts.

Whiny words reflect dissatisfied hearts

Accusing words reflect frightened hearts.

Defensive words reflect selfish hearts.

Filthy words reflect lustful hearts.

Manipulative words reflect controlling hearts.

Deceitful words reflect wicked hearts.

Simply put, ugly words come out of ugly hearts.  If your words are unbecoming, your heart needs the Lord to clean it up.

For more on this, read James 3.  This passage points out how the tongue is a mighty little organ, steering a person’s life the way a tiny rudder steers a ship, wreaking havoc as a tiny spark of flame can set off an entire forest fire.

Oh, the regrets these truths stir up in me.  How many times have I uttered spiritually damaging words without thinking, simply because I was frightened, insecure and desperate to control some outcome that was outside of my control?  What a wretched person I am.  How much harm have I done, often stupidly having no idea of the power or significance of my words?

And yet, there are two points of hope.  One is that there is always forgiveness.  The Lord forgives all who will confess their sins to Him and ask for help.  He forgives and He cleanses.  The damage is done, and it will not be undone, just as a murderer can be forgiven for killing someone, but the forgiveness does not bring the victim back to life.  Still, we can be forgiven, and with forgiveness come freedom and hope.  God brings beauty from ashes.  He restores the years the locusts have eaten.  He works all things for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.  The landscapes of our lives are forever altered by our sins, but God can still make meadows blossom across them, even in the aftermath of shameful failure.  God is good, powerful, bountiful, and infinite in His creative genius.

The other point of hope is this: the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts, replacing sinful words with His words of life.  Just as sinful words have sobering power to destroy, Spirit-filled words have awesome power to build up.  We can wield our words for good as we go forward.

Since the words we speak reflect our hearts, we need the Holy Spirit to heal our hearts.  Only then will His good words flow from us.  He will cleanse and heal our hearts if we let Him!  He promises that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  When we abide in Him and cherish the presence of His Spirit within us, these beautiful characteristics will well up in our souls and spill out of our mouths in good words. 

This is true for all believers, but sometimes it takes awhile for us to recognize it.  When progress is frustratingly slow, it helps to know what we are aiming for.  We are aiming for the powerful, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  Luke 11:13 promises that God will give us the Holy Spirit if we ask.

When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, it’s like inviting a designer-construction team into your house.  He isn’t going to simply move a few pictures around on the walls and buy a couple new pillows.  He’s going to knock entire walls down, tear out floorboards, maybe even replace the foundation.  It’s going to be messy and uncomfortable.  It will probably get worse before it gets better.  And—what is possibly the hardest part for some of us—it must follow His design plan rather than our own.  But at some point, the renovation will be appreciable—probably not completely finished (this side of heaven), but appreciable.

We start by pursuing the Holy Spirit’s presence.  We seek Him daily through scripture and prayer.  We dig deeply into God’s word, expecting to find Him, expecting to hear from Him.  We pray as we read, asking for clarification, understanding and help.  “Help me, Jesus,” is a good prayer.  “Help me Jesus, for I trust you because you are faithful and good,” is an even better one.

As God permeates our hearts with His word and His truth, His Spirit and His love, we change.  Our desires change.  Our attitudes change.  Our behavior changes.  Our words change.  This does not happen all at once.  It can be a slow process.  Thus, we should also pray that He will open our eyes so we can see what He is doing in our lives, even though He works quietly and virtually invisibly.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 (ESV)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience,
bearing with one another and,
if one has a complaint against another,
forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, 
so you also must forgive.
And above all these put on love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in one body. 
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,
with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:12-16 (ESV)

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:6 (ESV)

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)

As our words become His words, we begin to brandish the power to heal the world.

May the Holy Spirit in us bless those around us through the word of God.  May we speak blessings and benedictions.  May our words be gentle, kind and humble.  May our admonitions be gracious and effective, and may our encouragements far outnumber our corrections.  May our love be palpable and magnetic, drawing people to Christ.  May God in us reveal the beauty of truth and the glory of forgiveness.   May we prepare our words with care, and serve them for the comfort, joy, hope and edification of those around us.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14 (ESV)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit of God dwells in believers.  I suspect that we don't even begin to grasp a tip of the iceberg of the significance of this.

Think about it: God Himself lives in our bodies.  Our bodies are His temple.  His power is somehow contained in our physical beings (though not limited by them).  This is mind-boggling.

I've been studying the Gospel of John.  I knew that the Bible says we can ask God for anything in His name, and He will give it to us.  We don't major on that particular promise, because it seems misleading.  It seems risky to talk about it, because people get the idea that we can demand things from God--healing from cancer, a good job, success in a college course--and expect that He will come through, like a genie in a bottle, if only we say, "in Jesus' name," at the end of our prayer.  I knew that the Bible says we can ask of God and He will respond, giving us what we ask for, but I didn't realize how many times it says this.

John is the one who says it most, John who was essentially Jesus' best friend on earth.  John says this in his gospel 5-6 times between chapters 14-16 (John 14:13, 14 / John 15:7, 16 / John 16:23, 24), and then he says it again in 1 John 5:14-15.  Matthew and Luke allude to it, but John repeatedly proclaims that we should be asking the Father for things in Jesus' name, expecting to receive what we ask.

John also teaches us a great deal about the Holy Spirit.  I think this is the key.  When we are indwelt by the Spirit, abiding in the Spirit and walking in step with the Spirit, we will ask for things according to the Spirit, and God will grant us what we ask.  This is the power of God in us.

Yet, somehow, we miss out.  We don't grasp what is available to us.  Christ in you, the hope of glory, Colossians 1:27 tells us.  Christ lives in us, says Romans 8:9-10.

We take the Trinity apart too much.  We have this idea that God the Father is a stern fellow up in heaven, frowning at sin and handing down the impossible Law.  We think Jesus is the gracious Son of God who came to save us from His Father's Law by dying in our place--which is correct on a lot of levels, except in that it makes God the Father look like an ungracious villain, which is not accurate at all.  Jesus said over and over and over again that He and the Father are one.

I think of the pain I feel--literal, physical pain--when something is going wrong for or with one of my children.  Even when my children live hundreds of miles away from me, a crisis in one of their lives gives me heart palpitations, inability to eat, headaches and nausea.  When they go through something fearful, I sit at home and have panic attacks.  When they are sick, I can't eat.  If they make harmful choices for their lives, I feel like I'm going to die.  Yet, I and my children are not "one."  We are separate people, separate entities.  Jesus and God the Father are one.  When Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" you better believe the separation was just as excruciating for the Father as it was for the Son.

We have one God.  One.  Not three.  Jesus was God in flesh, fully God and fully man.  His purpose, His motivation, His heart and His words were all exactly the purpose, motivation, heart and words of the Father, because He and the Father are one.

So, when Jesus said, "I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you . . ." He literally meant that He, He Himself, God, would come to us, in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Here is the third member of the Trinity, whom we sometimes imagine as a trusty sidekick in our back pocket, there to blurt out a word of encouragement to cheer us up when we find ourselves floundering.  Oh, dear friends, He is so much more than that.  He is God.  God.  One with the Father and the Son.  God Himself has come to reside in us, pouring His very essence into our spirits.

Holy God could not dwell in us when we were unredeemed and unrighteous.  Holy God could not dwell with us while we were the devil's children, and the devil had claimed us when Adam and Eve first turned away from the Lord.  Because we were in this desperate predicament, our most gracious God clothed Himself in flesh and appeared in the world as a mortal man.  He did this so He could die an atoning death to satisfy His own justice, because He is perfectly righteous and must punish sin.  When Jesus died to atone for our sin, the forgiveness that God had always promised suddenly became palpable--no longer an idea and a promise, symbolically acted out through animal sacrifices on the temple altar, but a fulfilled reality.

By some incomprehensible mystery, our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is credited to us, if only we will accept the gift.  This amazing reality is what makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to dwell in us in this age.  The death of Jesus Christ purifies us so the Holy Spirit of Christ can dwell in us.  The temple curtain that separated the presence of God from sinful man has been torn in two from top to bottom, releasing the Spirit of God into the world.  God Himself died for us, so God Himself can live in us.  One God.  Different manifestations, but one God.

Christ in you, the hope of Glory.

When we abide in Christ, and His Spirit lives in us, guiding us and teaching us, we really can ask God for anything, and know that He hears our prayers and will give us what we ask for.  This fellowship with the Holy Spirit is a down payment, a guarantee, a foretaste of the face-to-face communion we will experience with God in the New Heavens and the New Earth, when He unveils them.

The Holy Spirit illuminates us so that we can see and understand God's truth.  He fills our hearts with God's love, and transforms our hearts to desire and seek the things of God.  He grants each individual believer a spiritual gift to use within the church, in miraculous synergy with other believers' gifts, for when we all come together in humility and grace, serving as we have been equipped, the glory of God shines through the church.

In this way, the Holy Spirit transforms us both individually and corporately for the glory of Christ, who is seated in the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms.  "Now He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else--not only in this world but also in the world to come.  God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church.  And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself" (Ephesians 1:21-23 NLT).  Notice that the Bible says this is Christ's position now.  Now, He is on the throne.  Now, He is the victor over sin and death.  He has already accomplished, fully, His triumphant death and resurrection.  But wait, there's more: "For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6 NLT).  We are united with Jesus through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit.  He is seated in authority at God's right hand, and we--by a mystery of the Holy Spirit--are seated with Him.  Now.  Are seated.  Not will be seated.  We are seated with Christ, united with Him through the Holy Spirit.

This is the Church Age, the age of the Holy Spirit of God unleashed in the world through the lives of the members of the church who are united with Christ because of the incredible wealth of the grace and kindness of God.  We live here as aliens and strangers, our souls already immortalized and our eyes fixed on our eternal heritage.  We live here now to be witnesses of the power of God to save humanity, to bear testimony to the world of the hope extended to all mankind for redemption, healing and restoration.  "Behold," God says, "I am making all things new."  We groan in our broken mortal bodies, but we know that we will be made new.  In this age, believers who die, die with the hope of glory.  Absent from the body, they are present with the Lord and continue to reign with Him until His glorious appearing.  At just the right time, in a twinkling, with a triumphal trumpet blast, He will restore all things and present those of us who believe with our new, changed bodies: the dead raised to theirs, and the living transformed into theirs.  Death will be swallowed up once and for all by victorious life.

I believe that the Millennium is the age of the Holy Spirit, the Church Age.  I believe that we are in it now--reigning with Christ, in fact--and that Jesus' victory is real, accomplished and powerful.  I believe that now is the time for hearts to turn to the Lord.  Now is the time of His patient forbearance as He delays His return, granting time for repentance because He does not wish to destroy people.  He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  Thus, He sends His Spirit into the church, and He sends His church into the world.

Dear Lord Jesus, grant us your Spirit in power and strength, confidence and might.  Work in us and through us.  Help us to love one another, to forgive one another, to encourage one another, to help one another.  Form our hearts according to your will and lead us to bring your Kingdom, in your power and your glory, forever.  Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

How can women minister?

The other day, I heard a woman on the radio, Christian radio, being interviewed about women's ministries.  She was from Moody Bible Institute, so I figured she'd be pretty conservative.

However, she kept saying that the church needed to step up and allow women more and better opportunities to serve in their giftings, which may even include teaching.  She remarked that the church seems stuck in old traditions of not allowing women to serve.

Obviously we shouldn't allow mere tradition to rule us.  However, in terms of women's ministries, it's not only traditions.  There are scriptures that address the issue.

1 Timothy 2:12 says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.  She must be silent."  I was in a Bible study once when this verse uncomfortably surfaced.  The Bible study leader said, "Hmmm. Yes, well, that's one of the most unclear scriptures in the Bible."  I don't think I argued with him (he was a man and I am a woman), but my thought was, "It isn't the least bit unclear.  It is perfectly clear."  The only thing that isn't clear about that passage is how, in today's American culture, you can possibly apply such a scripture without coming off as a bigot and fiend.

People insist, "But it's cultural."  However, if you look at the context of the quote, it goes on to reference Adam and Eve, and original sin (1 Timothy 2:13-15).  This would seem to transcend culture.  I'm just saying.

Continuing on, people challenge, "So then if you want to implement all this stuff, are you going to make women wear head coverings?"  Of course, here they are talking about 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.  It seems to me that the issue of head coverings actually does qualify as cultural, as far as those sorts of things go, since hats are vanishing from American culture, unless you are in a blizzard or at a baseball game.  Our outer costumes are not as important as the condition of our hearts.  Earlier in the same chapter, 1 Corinthians 11:3 gives some heart-challenging, culture-transcending principles that I think we cannot so easily sidestep.  1 Corinthians 11:3 says, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God."  In other words, God is the head of Christ, who is the head of man, who is the head of woman.  This seems to have nothing to do with one culture or another, and everything to do with the authority structure that God has implemented since the beginning.

But then the people say, "Well what about Galatians 3:28, where it says that in Christ there is neither male nor female?"  The actual verse says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  The point is not that men and women, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, are all one and the same and indistinguishable.  The point is that no matter who we are, regardless of race, gender or economic class, we are all equally loved by God and have equal access to salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It's about access to salvation, not access to the pulpit.  In other words, salvation isn't only for rabbis.  1 Corinthians 12:13 underscores the exact same idea (albeit leaving out the "male or female") when it says, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."  In context, this verse underscores that regardless of our gifts or function, we are all different, complimentary members of one body, the body of Christ.

Finally, of course, there is the argument, "But Deborah got to be a leader and a judge!"  However, if you are truly familiar with the book of Judges, and with that story (Judges 4), you realize that this was a time of national deterioration for Israel, when the leadership of the nation was in chaos.  A woman had stepped up to do the job, but--again if you are familiar with the book of Judges--this can hardly be held up as an example or an ideal.  Furthermore, when fearful Barak refused to go into battle unless Deborah went with him, she told him he would be shamed for his cowardice by having the honor of the victory go to a woman (Judges 4:9).  Clearly, the more desirable arrangement would have been for men to step up and be men.  Invoking the example of Deborah to endorse leadership rights for women in the church, this is on the level of invoking Habakkuk 1:5 to assure people that God always has benevolent plans for their near-term future.

Elizabeth Eliott used to say that she didn't write the Book, she was just pointing out what it said.  She even admitted to not always liking everything it said.  I'm with her, and at the end of the day, I think it is always a very bad idea to ignore what the Bible says.  That's all I'm saying.

Seriously, I don't like where it says that a woman should learn in quietness and full submission, that she must be silent (from 1 Timothy 2:11-12).  I especially don't like the part in 1 Corinthians where it says that women should remain silent in the churches, that they are not allowed to speak, and if they want to ask about something, they should wait and ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).  I don't like this, and I've never seen it practiced.  However, knowing that it's there, I sometimes wonder if we're embarking upon a treacherous route when we totally dismiss it.  Not liking a part of the Bible is no excuse for disregarding it.  If we're going to throw this out, what else are we going to throw out?  Shall we pitch everything that conflicts with our current cultural sensibilities?  Indeed, some churches do.  But isn't that what we call "friendship with the world"?   James 4:4 warns us that friendship with the world puts us at enmity with God.  Serious business.

I'm not saying I have the answers.  No.  I have no answers.  Myself, I've always just drawn the line at women teaching or having authority over men.  That's my comfort level.  I don't feel comfortable teaching or having authority over men, or being in a place where other women do.  However, I speak up in church.  I participate in Sunday school and small group discussions.  So I'm inconsistent.  I clearly disobey the parts of the Bible that say women should be silent in church.  I have simply selected my own personal comfort level and drawn the line there.  This probably isn't okay.

On yet another hand, I've been in situations where women are disrespected and marginalized in church settings.  I believe this is also contrary to principles in scripture.  The Bible speaks of wise women being consulted on certain matters (2 Samuel 14:2, 2 Samuel 20:16-22).  The Bible tells the praiseworthy stories of Rahab, Ruth, Abigail and Esther.  God honored Mary by bringing Messiah to earth through her very body.  Jesus was very kind to and accepting of women; He even defended some.  Think of all the gospel stories where Jesus reached out to women, too many to list.  Jesus did not demean women.  Although I believe that male leadership should be protected, nurtured and encouraged in the church, I also know that power corrupts, and males can be prone to lording it over women and oppressing them, just as females can be prone to usurping male authority.  It's such a mess.

What to do?  What are we supposed to do?

I have no answers.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wishing for good stories

I'm in the mood for a story.  I wish I had a happy story to tell.

Today I ate an apple on the sunporch.  Outside the windows, maple blossoms glistened brilliant red against the blue sky under the afternoon sun.  Today a stiff wind roared, chilling the neighborhood, but in the sunporch all was quiet, and almost warm.  Schubert saw me and joined me, hopping up on the other old-fashioned, flea-market chair, a bit surprised at this bastion of sunshine opening to him after it had been closed off all winter.  The apple was mediocre, but it was an apple, prettier than tasty, and then gone.

Some purple crocuses are on the cusp of blooming.  Tomorrow, if it doesn't snow, I think they'll open up their simple faces.

Last night I heard owls outside my bedroom wall.  They hover in the edges of our neighborhood fairly often, and I hope they are keeping the mouse population down.  The low vibrating thrum of their hooting thrills me, such a gentle, sleepy, exotic sound.

Owls, crocuses, apples on sunporches, these are the pieces of my life, sounds and pictures and flavors, all underlined by the yeasty smell of Schubert who is overtaken by fungal infestations and supposed to be bathed twice a week, but usually only gets bathed every 8-10 days.  Currently he is sleeping, curled smack atop a pillow on the futon, and Shawn would have my head for this, because that yeasty smell will be imbedded in the pillow if a guest needs to use it, regardless of how fresh and clean the pillow linens might be.

Normally I keep these pillows up on top of the back of the futon, and there are a couple of "dog" pillows for Schubert, laid out along the seat, dark purple like my impending crocuses.  However, the other night a violent thunderstorm awakened us, and Schubert was traumatized, so I brought him here, into my little study, and pulled the futon down into a bed.  We huddled together while the lightening flashed and the thunder rumbled and the wind crashed in the trees outside.  I did this more for my sake than for his, and in the end we both survived without even descending to the basement.

I don't have a happy story, but I have a sad one.  This morning, after feeding, medicating and walking Schubert, I brought my coffee upstairs to sip in bed.  I set it on a stack of books on my nightstand.  I have two stacks of books on my nightstand, and additional books, notebooks and pens piled on the stair step that came with our elevated bed.  This stair step is not safe to step on, because of all the stuff on it, which has a tendency to slip around.  Thus, I must vault myself over this step and onto the bed, rather than climbing up as would be intended.  Today as I vaulted, the back of my foot caught my full coffee mug as it tottered atop the lower stack of books on my nightstand.  The result was a very sad splash of coffee across many books, including vintage copies of The Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from my childhood.  It also soaked The Problem of Pain, also by C.S. Lewis.

I sopped it all up with hand towels from my bathroom, carefully wiping off all the books and fanning their pages out to dry.  Then I started a load of towels in the washer; this was on my list of chores for the day anyway.  Eventually I got back to bed with my coffee, which is admittedly quite the oxymoron.

This afternoon, while there was still sunlight, I spent some time reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  I wanted to hold it and love it a little, and assure myself that it was dry enough to stack back into a pile.  The volume is crumbling at the seams, the back binding almost non-existent, the pages falling out.  But, oh my, what a writer.  I am more in awe every time I go back to read C.S. Lewis.  His details, his craftsmanship, his technique, his finesse with characterization and voicing, the way he shows you what is happening instead of telling you, the way he designs a plot that works out from so many angles, the way he ends every chapter with a cliffhanger.  I am a simple woman and I love children's literature.  C.S. Lewis and my gluten-free chocolate cake recipe: there's enough pleasure and delight for a lifetime.

When I was a child, these books delighted me, but now that I am an old woman, they astound me.  The symbolism moves me to tears, but so does the familiarity: old friends acting and re-enacting my favorite stories.  To read a chronicle of Narnia is to long to write a book of my own, but also to quail in the consciousness of how good these books are, and how mine could never attain the same excellence or eloquence.   At least I can soak in his artistry.

Do you know?  When I was a young girl, at the Anoka Public Library, picking out a book to read, I automatically looked for books written by men, because they were better than books written by women.  Also, books written by the British are better than books written by Americans.  (These are obviously generalizations, but as generalizations they are quite sound.)  Books by British men are the best.  I am not sure whether I prefer American male writers or British female ones (John Grisham is better than any of the Bronte sisters, while Frances Hodgson Burnett surpasses Nathaniel Hawthorne).  At any rate, books by American women are dead last.  What am I?  An American woman.  Here again is perhaps a clue to why I do not get that novel out.  I'm already pretty sure I wouldn't want to read my own work, given my demographic.