Thursday, August 27, 2009

Learning to Love the Interruptions

I like schedules. Anyone who has ever lived with me knows that I do everything according to a schedule and structure. I wake up at almost the same time every day. I do the same thing in the morning—every day. I have lists of tasks that keep me focused. Structure keeps me sane. It helps me get through the day. It allows me to feel like I am accomplishing something. And the worst part about it all—I hate it when my schedule is interrupted. Usually it is interrupted by people. People I like. But sadly in my heart a battle is raging. “I really want to talk to this person right now, but I have like ten things I wanted to get done and now I will only get eight done because of this twenty minute conversation and then my day will be all thrown off and tomorrow will start bad…” You can see where this is going.

My problem, and to be honest, my sin problem, is that I only want to talk to people on my terms. I actually want everything on my terms. If I could schedule everything I would be much happier, but would I? It’s not really that my friends and family are interrupting my important life; it’s that I think my life is so important that it can’t be interrupted. Jesus didn’t think that. Can you imagine if he did? Of all people he really didn’t need the interruptions, but he came down to earth to save sinful fallen people like myself. He was always willing to be interrupted. Even when the disciples thought that he shouldn’t be interacting with certain people because they had things to do, he did it anyway. People were important. Their souls were of great value to him.

Jesus saves me from my sin. This is amazing. He saves me from my schedule and my need to always be in control. He saves me from the wicked assumption that my world is the only thing that matters. All of his righteousness swallows up my wicked pride and self-preoccupation.

You see, I can hide under the guise of order and structure and make people think that my life is really important because I am always busy. But that would not be showing people the greatness of Jesus. It would be showing them the greatness of me—which really isn’t that great anyway. Jesus loved people, even in the interruptions because he wanted them to see God. He wanted them to see the awesome beauty of his glory and power—and he wanted them to be saved. What I need, in much greater measure, is a strong desire to see people saved, not my list to be accomplished. I need more love for people, not my list. I need to get out of my structure bubble and care about what is going on in the lives of those around me. And I need more of Jesus, and less of me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Women Want

“You know what women really want? They just want the man to make the decision. They don’t want to have to decide where to eat when they are hungry,” said a friend of mine a few weeks ago. She is a self-proclaimed feminist who doesn’t really feel like she needs a man or the Gospel—but I think she is on to something. Now, before you think this is a post about the necessity for men to make decisions, think again. The fact that a Generation Y feminist would make such a pronounced statement about her own relational desires says something profound about how women think and who God made them to be.

We have an innate desire to be led and provided for—even the self-proclaimed feminists. As Christian women we have a unique and wonderful opportunity to be an encouragement to the men in our lives to be the kind of men God made us to desire, and the kind of men that he made them to be. As I thought more about her statement two particular applications came to mind.

1. We can encourage the men in our lives that do this.
2. We can be patient with the ones that don’t always do this.

So, how do you encourage the men in your life? If you are single, it can mean thanking a Christian brother for planning group activities or leading a church Bible study. It can also mean thanking your dad or brother when he pursues a friendship with you. And if you are in a relationship with a Christian brother, you can encourage him as he works at leading you. I have heard that encouragement can be the fuel to continue leading well. Married women have the opportunity to encourage regularly as they live with their husbands. When your husband leads family worship, thank him for his heart to serve. And it doesn’t hurt to periodically let him know how thankful to God you are for him.

One of the biggest things to understand is that the men in our lives will fail us, sometimes terribly. Whether it is a father, a brother, a friend, a pastor, or a husband, at some point we will be very disappointed, and even heartbroken by their lack of Christ-likeness. But the reality is they will have that same disappointment towards us at some point as well. We are all works in progress. We will never do it right all of the time. This is why we need Christ. We need a daily, strong dose of the Gospel to enable us to live how God has called us to. Patience is not my specialty. Often my lack of patience is stemming from unmet, unrealistic expectations. If a brother in Christ isn’t leading well in asking a girl out, perhaps patience would be the remedy for his lack of action. If a husband doesn’t understand that we want him to make a decision in that exact moment, perhaps communicating what we want in a humble and kind manner would help him.

In all of these things it is important to never condone unrepentant, continual sin. But it is important to extend grace to our brothers, as we would like them to extend grace to us. My pastor said last week that all we get from Jesus is grace. He doesn’t give us the silent treatment. He doesn’t see us as lost causes when we sin. He doesn’t lash out in a hateful tone when we don’t do what he commands. He convicts us of sin and provides a way for us to sin no more.

Male/female relationships are hard. If they were easy, we wouldn’t need to daily cry out to the Lord. My friend was right, women want a decision. We were made to follow a man. But more importantly, we were made to follow the God Man—Jesus. He is our ultimate head and leader. And he is our hope when all else fails us. Instead of banking all our hope on a fallen man, let us put all our hope in Christ. It will change our attitudes towards the sinners we are in relationships with, and it will conform us more into his image.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Strong and The Weak Brother

Daniel and I have been reading through Romans together this summer. It has been a helpful and edifying experience to read through a passage of scripture and talk about it with him. The Lord has used it to bring sin to light and to make me love the Savior more.

When we got to Romans 14, I was reminded in greater measure about how radical the weaker/stronger brother idea is. Often I have heard it explained in the context of a stronger brother feeling that his or her liberty is challenged when a weaker brother sees the stronger one’s liberty as sin. Maybe the liberty is challenged, maybe not. But what struck me the most is how much this passage is “others” focused. The discussion about the weaker and stronger brother is not about a right to do something—it is about self-giving service to a brother or sister who serves the same Christ as us. The stronger brother has an obligation to protect the weaker from temptation to sin—even if the matter is a not a sin issue. The weaker brother has an obligation to not judge the stronger brother for doing things that he or she might view as “sinful.”
There have been many occasions when I have looked down on someone for choosing to do a particular thing that is not condemned in Scripture, but would be against my own conscience if I did it. I need to repent of that. There have been many other occasions when I have looked down on someone for not choosing to do a particular thing because I felt the freedom to do it. I felt threatened by their abstinence. I need to repent of that.

All of Romans 14, and the rest of Romans, is pouring out of the rich truths of the Gospel that come before it in Romans 1-11. We do all of these things “in view of God’s mercy” (Romans 12:1). God has saved us, not because of our own merit, but on the merit of another. As a result our lives should be a reflection of that. It should be a radical, life-giving service to our brothers and sisters so that people will see Jesus—not us.

Living in light of Romans 14 should cause people outside of Christ to stand in wonder. Not because we are really good at abstaining from the “no-no’s” of the Christian life, and not because we are really hip and free to do whatever we please. Rather, let them be amazed that we give up our freedoms regularly, so that Jesus Christ is made much of in our churches, homes, and communities.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Children's Ministry: The Training Ground for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

This summer I began directing the children’s church time at my local church here in Louisville. Part of my job was to decide on what to teach the children during this time. One of the things I really want to instill in the children of our church is a passion for God and for his glory in our design as men and women. I want these little ones to see that God had a plan when he made them as little boys and little girls—and that plan is greater than anything we could ever imagine.

In the past few years I have heard various stories about children’s books geared towards an egalitarian model. Imagine three and four year olds sitting in a Sunday school class hearing a book read to them on the so-called “feminine” names for God. Imagine the little girls standing in a play pulpit pretending to be the pastor all because they heard about it in their children’s story—or saw it in their own church. Imagine a nursery where the only rebuke to a little boy who pushes a little girl is “that’s not nice to little girls” instead of “we protect girls, we never hit them.”

Does it sound like a big deal? Should we even care?

I think our egalitarian friends, while mistaken, are on to something profound. Children remember what they hear. In fact, what children hear and learn when they are younger shapes their view of the world as they get older. They are tremendously moldable. If a little girl hears from infancy to adulthood that leadership is based on gifting, then she could be very confused when she learns that her Bible speaks of men as the leaders in the church and the home. And if the only model for womanhood she sees is based on giftedness, not gender, then the Bible’s model for womanhood in the home and church will seem very foreign to her as she gets older.

Our little girls will not wake up when they are eighteen suddenly aware of their calling as a woman, nor will our little boys. And even if they are raised in complementarian homes, they will not by default grow up embracing complementarity. We are all opposed to God’s word—even the precious baby in cradle in the nursery will not naturally embrace God’s design for her life. And apart from God’s grace, as she gets older she will gravitate towards the culture’s understanding of manhood and womanhood. We are living in an age that is increasingly celebratory of androgyny. The Bible gives us clear commands to teach the next generation about the truths of God, so that they will learn to hope in him (Psalm 78:1-8). If they do not understand what it means to live as a created being, in his created world, then they will not rightly understand how to worship him.

When we walk down the halls of our church we need to know that the authority of the Bible is at stake in our Sunday school classrooms. What we teach the next generation about God should include what he says about who he made them to be. When you are teaching the creation story to children, I encourage you not to gloss over the fact that there is a man and a woman being created by God with different roles to play. When you are closing your time with your class, you can teach the little ones to thank God that he made them as little boys and little girls—and that these genders are not interchangeable. If you are a parent, you can be working even now to train your little boys to protect little girls, not react against them. And you can teach your little girls that it is good that they want to play with dolls and help in the house—and someday they will help in their own house and take care of real babies, even if they are single.

The little ones in our classrooms, while precious and fun, are all in their hearts opposed to God’s design for them. Therefore, manhood and womanhood is not simply a topic to be discussed at the seminary level, or even the adult Sunday school class level. It must start earlier. We have the great privilege of teaching the next generation the truths of God. And it starts in your nursery.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Not Your Average Rainbow: God's Mercy in Noah's Ark

Our children’s church teachers are using the Jesus Story Book Bible to teach the kids in our church this year. As I was preparing for the lesson on Noah’s ark I was struck by how the author (Sally Lloyd-Jones) told the story. The story is about God. God brings the animals, God gives Noah the plans for the ark, and God makes the floods come. God also brings the promise of hope. She describes it this way:

“It wasn’t long before everything went wrong again but God wasn’t surprised, he knew this would happen. That’s why, before the beginning of time, he had another plan—a better plan. A plan not to destroy the world, but to rescue it—a plan to one day send his own Son, the Rescuer.

God’s strong anger against hate and sadness and death would come down once more—but not on his people, or his world. No, God’s war bow was not pointing down at his people. It was pointing up, into the heart of Heaven.”

So often we hear the story of Noah’s ark only in children’s Bible stories, and often it is closely followed by a craft where we play with the animals and build the ark. The story of Noah becomes a story about animals getting on a big boat, a flood, and a rainbow. All of these things are essential pieces to this story, but I think they are incomplete. They don’t tell the entire story—the most important part of the story. Jesus.

When we reduce the story of Noah to building an ark and pairs of animals we miss the wonder of the story. It’s hard for us to imagine animals walking on to a boat and not killing each other because we don’t fully grasp what God was doing. He was preserving a people for himself. He was making a new creation. And he was extending amazing mercy that points us to the greatest mercy of all—the Cross. It is in the refuge of Christ that we find protection from the wrath of God. Genesis 6-9 is about sin and a Savior just as much as Romans is.

Little kids need to know that our only hope from the flood of eternal destruction is in Christ. Like Noah, we must seek refuge in the “ark” that God provides for us. When we look at Noah’s story in this way, trying to figure out how many animals got on the boat seems far more insignificant than it used to.

Noah’s ark was most definitely about the animals, and the flood, and the rainbow but most importantly it was about the God that made them. And when we see a rainbow in the sky, we can be thankful that the promise to never flood the earth again was fulfilled in the Promised One—our great Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

True Woman 2010

Registration opened this past weekend for the True Woman 2010 conferences. I say "conferences" because there will be more than one this time. True Woman is going to be in three different cities this time, and the wonderful people who put this conference on promise that it will be the same God-centered, womanhood affiirming conference that blessed so many women last October. I hope to be at one of them, and I hope you will consider attending too! What a great opportunity to hear from wonderful speakers and fellowship with women who desire to serve our Christ in the way that he designed us to be.

Visit their website and register today!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thanking God for 29 Years of Marriage

Today is my parents 29th wedding anniversary. Even though last year I honored them on this happy day, I think it deserves another mention this year. In today's culture it is no small thing that two people make it to 29 years (and beyond). I think they would tell you that the fact that they made it this long is by the wonderful grace of God. Christ sustained marriages are a sweet testimony to the power and richness of the Gospel. So thank you Lord, for sustaining my parents these 29 years. And thank you for giving them to us as a model of faithful, covenant keeping love. May they be blessed with many more years. Happy Anniversary!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Learning to Say "Thank You"

“We should see constructive criticism as a gift to us, and respond to the one criticizing with thank you.”

Whoa. Really?

Immediately I feel a sharp pain. Can this be true? What if the criticism isn’t accurate? What if I can think of 50 other reasons why I did what I did? I think if I stopped and really let this idea sink in I would realize that the reason why I chafe against it initially is because I don’t like criticism. Usually my response is a big, fat, “no thank you” to the one bringing the correction.

Is this in the Bible? Not exactly. My husband was taught this (and many other things) at a management training class this week. But I think we can see biblical truth even in this secular model.

Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” This friend can be in the form of a spouse, sibling, parent, pastor, or best friend. These wounds are faithful because friendship implies a deep knowing. This person knows us better than anyone, and also loves us dearly. He or she does not want us to continue on in our sin, or even ignorance. Faithful wounds point us towards the Savior and chisel away at the garbage that keeps us from intimacy with the Father.

But what do we do when the person is not a friend, and they aren’t criticizing in love. I do not pretend to have arrived in this area. In fact, I respond poorly even when it is a friend bringing the correction. But as I have heard others (much wiser than me) say before, people who are criticizing us aren’t criticizing us enough. We are far more foolish and sinful than we can even imagine. Our criticizers aren’t even getting to the half of it.

I think we can still respond graciously and kindly to any person bringing correction. Perhaps the flawed correction will be used by God to bring other sin to light that we can’t even see yet. And even if they are wrong on many levels, God will be the final judge. We can trust in his justice. The Psalms are a great source of hope in those times. All throughout the psalmist often cries out to the Lord for vindication from his enemies. These enemies were real, and they were painful at times. But even in his innocence from fault, he trusts that God will deal with those who are against him.

We can be thankful for the criticism, not because it is always right, but because God uses all things for our good. These “wounds”, whether from a friend or enemy, make us examine our hearts and run to the Savior. I think what God cares about for us in these times is how we respond to the people criticizing us. He will deal with the rest. So I am praying for myself today. That I will learn how to say “thank you” instead of “no thank you.”

Alfred Poirier has an excellent article on criticism. It has really helped me (and I know has helped many others). You can read a copy of it here.