Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Husband, the Provider: Part 2

Yesterday I asked the question, Is the husband supposed to be the provider for his family? You can read Husband, the Provider: Part 1, which included my personal background and an explanation as to why I'm addressing this topic. 


What the Bible Says

I know that just because something doesn't sit well with me doesn't mean it is unbiblical or unwise. I am a sinner, and because of that my judgment is not inherently Godly nor selfless. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't sit right with me because I am bent toward looking out for myself instead of others. This is one reason God gave us His Scriptures: We need correction.

But when I turn to Scripture, I don't find any support for the notion that the husband should be the provider for a family. I do find support for the idea that all people should be hard workers so that they are good witnesses to the watching world, and so that they should not be a drain on their community (1 Thess 4:9-12). I find support for women who are entrepreneurs (Prov 31:10-31) and business women (Acts 16:14). And I find that distinct gender roles are a result of The Fall, not a result of God's design (my post on Gen 1-3). 

There are two scriptures that I have seen as references for prescriptive gender roles of male employment and female homemaking. They are Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 5:8

'The househusband' photo (c) 2011, José Orsini - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/First, I would like to quickly clarify that Titus 2:3-5 has nothing to do with income or the duties of men. It is about women being responsible instead of being lazy, unkind, or selfish. It does not say that men should not do those things listed. I have no problem working for the good of my home, but that verse neither prohibits me from working outside the home nor does it exclude my husband from the responsibilities of housework. Those conclusions are, at best, a result of weak exegesis. Moreover, this verse begs for us to have a real discussion about the false separation between income-producing activities and tending to our home. 

But Titus 2:5 also reveals one of my biggest pet peeves with Bible interpretation as it applies to gender: Just because the Bible says men or women should do something, that doesn't mean it prohibits the other sex from also doing that same thing. 

Now to 1 Timothy 5:8. As is the case with many verses, the Bible translators here have used male pronouns, but this Scripture simply is not talking about men, it is talking about all people. There is no gender indication in this verse at all. All articles and nouns could be masculine, feminine, or neuter. (However, even if the articles and nouns were masculine, that would still not indicate "men to the exclusion of women." When a masculine gender is used in Greek, it simply means "all people" unless the context specifies.) This verse is about us, all of us, taking care of our families, perhaps specifically in regard to widows and the aging. In fact, you could even make an argument that this verse, based on the context, is addressing widows themselves.

Our discussion of Scripture as it applies to gender could continue, but from what I can tell, the teaching that men are supposed to be the provider for a family is not based on the Bible. 


Conclusions

Of course, I understand why these traditional roles exist. Some women suffer morning sickness or "baby brain" during pregnancy. Most women need to physically recover after birth. Some women breastfeed. Because of these things, men have been physically freer to leave the home for work. I get it. It is often sensible, in many couples, for the man to be the breadwinner. 

But that doesn't mean all couples should function that way.

The decision that men are to be the breadwinners might be wisest for many couples, but for other couples, things might look differently. In many couples, the man might want to stay home with the kids and the woman might thrive being the breadwinner. Or they both might want to work part-time. Or, heaven forbid, non-parental childcare might be a good option too! Not all couples find themselves fulfilling traditional roles, and if it works, that should be as encouraged as any other system.

However, when non-traditional couples are given as examples to some traditionalists, I have often heard either 1) "Yeah, but is it good for that man to stay at home? Isn't there something wrong with him if he doesn't feel the responsibility to provide?" or 2) "How could any woman be okay with leaving her children all day long?"

'Till mit Tragetuch' photo (c) 2006, Till Westermayer - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/#2 should probably be addressed in a separate post, a post on the decision mothers make to stay at home or work. It's a topic that needs some honest discussion. But briefly, I don't see why we should expect fathers to be okay with leaving their children all day long. Any parent should have a hard time parting with their new babies, even dads. Of course it's hard for mothers to go to work after having a new child, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't.

As to #1: I understand that many men feel the need to provide, and I understand that this drive is often a good, even Godly, sentiment. Men are absolutely called by God to care for other people, not to be derelict in caring for their families and friends. But how that responsibility is executed is not the same for all men. Some men want to earn money, others want to change diapers and be a homeschooling dad. The important thing is that couples come together as partners and figure out what works best for them.

However, I think the male drive to provide can be a culturally-acceptable idol, and that is a serious problem. If you feel the need to do anything, that thing is probably an idol for you. As Tim Keller says, idols are "good things that become ultimate things." If you are a man and you feel as if you are a failure because your wife makes more money than you, you're most likely dealing with an idol. Men are not defined by what they do; men are defined by GodAny attempt to prove your identity or worth is idolatry. 

Often, our areas of giftedness from God are where we are most likely to develop idols. Women (including myself) who are tempted to feel incomplete without children are battling idolatry. It is a culturally-encouraged idol, but it's an idol nonetheless. The same is true for men who feel that their manhood depends upon their ability to provide.

The male drive to provide can also be an idol because sometimes men are placing burdens on their own shoulders that are ultimately God's burdens. Yes, we are to be God-like, but that does not mean that we are to put ourselves in the place of God. God, not the husband or wife, is the ultimate provider for all families. He is Jehovah-Jireh. Our duty is to seek first His Kingdom, trusting that "all these things" will be provided for us (Matt 6:24-34). Throughout Scripture, things might get tough, but God provides (and he often provides through other humans). 

While husbands and wives should be partners, responsibly making decisions about income and childcare, they are not ultimately responsible for providing for their family; God is. Even husbands who have taken on the sole breadwinning responsibility in their home are not the ones who are providing; God is.

Now, to clarify, let me carefully explain what I am not saying:

I am not saying that families with a stay-at-home mom and an employed dad are unbiblical or sexist. I am saying that every couple should figure out what works best for their situation; the Bible is not prescriptive in this regard. 

I am not saying that men should be lazy, irresponsible, or negligent toward their families. Rather, I am saying that all people within the Christian community are expected to be diligent workers as much as they are able. 

I am not saying that husbands should place the burden of providing onto their wives. That is a reversal of tradition, but it overcorrects and is also an error. The ultimate burden to provide for Christians is placed on God's shoulders, and our duty is to work hard and seek first God's kingdom, not our own. 

I am not saying that the drive to provide is inherently bad. But I am saying that the drive to provide can be idolatrous and show a lack of trust in God.



So, what do you think? Are there any Scriptures I left out? A whole book could be written about this topic, and I'm sure many of you have thoughts on the subject. I would especially love to hear from men.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Husband, the Provider: Part 1

'Don Draper style' photo (c) 2011, _caas - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Is the husband supposed to be the provider for his family?

This is a question I've been meaning to address for some time now. It's a big issue that is very personal for a lot of people, so I want to be cautious and thorough in my words. I have broken up this post into two parts, and I have organized it for easy skimming. Let me begin by explaining my personal background.



Personal History

I grew up in a very traditional home. When my parents were newlyweds, they both worked. In fact, according to family legend, for that first year of their marriage my mother brought in more income than my father. Soon, however, my mother was pregnant, so my dad searched for a job that would provide him the opportunity to climb the income ladder a bit. When he found it, he and my mom moved across the country so that he could pursue his career and provide for his new family. Since that move and my sister's birth, my mother has never worked full-time. 


My mother was a brilliant stay-at-home mother who volunteered at local ministries, was involved with the PTA, helped us with our homework, and drove us from sporting event to music recital. She was in no way lazy or spoiled. My father provided nearly all of the income for our family and he taught us to be very responsible with our resources. He worked hard at work, but he was also very involved in our schooling, took care of our family's house and property, and taught me how to turn a double-play and fire a gun. I was truly happy most of the time, and I think the division of labor system that my parents used worked well. 


My husband and I are childless, and for the past four years we have both worked, each bringing in about the same amount of money. In the future, however, he will probably make substantially more than me, and I am fine with that. I am not threatened by his earning potential because I believe that marriage must include the coming together of all aspects of life, including finances. Our income has always been ours, never his nor mine. 



Impetus for Addressing this Issue Now

I read two things recently that convinced me that we must continue dialoguing about this issue. First, a reader left this comment on a popular blog post, Gender Stereotypes, and it left me completely flabbergasted. If you don't think this topic needs to be addressed, the sentence that simultaneously saddened and angered me was:

"We actually got kicked out of a church because they believed so strongly that men need to be the "financial providers of the family"."
Second, Owen Strachan recently wrote this post over at Her.meneutics. His initial post frustrated me, but his second post dealt much more with the issue of the husband needing to provide for his family. Here are some quotes from his second piece:
"I try to help out [with housework] where I can, but I am called of God to break my back to provide for my family so that my wife can care for my children and also my home in order that they and it might flourish." 
"Women, not men, are to work at home."
The notion that men, and not women, are the ones who have a God-given requirement to provide for their families is not a new one. But it is one that needs exploration.

In addition, when I read For Women Only while Josh and I were dating, I was also exposed to the notion that men have a God-given drive to be the breadwinners, and that this is a good thing. There's a whole chapter in For Women Only about the male drive to provide (with the subtitle "How his need to provide weighs your man down, and why he likes it that way"), but here's a little quote:

"As one young man told me, "My job is to worry about providing so that my wife doesn't have to. That's one way I show her I love her"" (80). 
That chapter never sat well with me, and I am beginning to understand why.



What the Bible Says

I know that just because something doesn't sit well with me doesn't mean it is unbiblical or unwise. I am a sinner, and because of that my judgment is not inherently Godly nor selfless. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't sit right with me because I am bent toward looking out for myself instead of others. This is one reason God gave us his Scriptures: We need correction.



To be continued tomorrow in Husband, the Provider: Part 2.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hello 40 Weeks

'I'm with you' photo (c) 2010, rosmary - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Today's the day, the due date that was. 

I'm actually feeling fine at the moment. I think it helps that I don't really believe in due dates. (If birth is considered safe from 37-42 weeks, that means there is really over a MONTH in which you are due. I think pinpointing one actual day just creates drama.) We actually told our families I was due in early December because we know most first-time mamas go for about 41 weeks. 

That's my logical explanation as to why I feel fine today; I simply didn't have many hopes focused on today in particular.

But sometimes the grief isn't front and center, and that's okay. When the grief comes, I am allowing myself to enter into it, realizing that if I don't now it will lie in wait for me. But when the grief doesn't show up, I can't force it. 

So today I'm going about my business, albeit a bit slowly after we downshifted for a lovely birthday/Thanksgiving weekend. Gearing up for the final push of the semester isn't easy. 

Ha. Final push. Perhaps (not) birthing is on my mind after all. But, to be honest, I don't feel as if I'm not birthing. I actually feel as if I'm birthing quite a lot of things, just not a baby. I am not fruitless, just fruitful in very different ways than I envisioned. 

Wow, so many mixed metaphors in this blog. Oh well, I'm not editing them away. 

Also, for those who are wondering how we decided to honor our baby, I hope to write a post about that during December. We haven't forgotten. We have a plan, but it hasn't been completed yet. We've decided not to be rigid about scheduling it. And so, perhaps appropriately, we wait.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Is Marriage Before Children Just Extended Dating?

A few weeks ago I watched this video promoting The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. I love the Kellers, and I have learned a tremendous amount from them. I don't agree with all of their views about gender and marriage, but that has never been a problem for me. I have been able to recognize that they simply have different convictions based on what I know has been a very careful reading of Scripture on their part. Usually, when they say things that rub me the wrong way, I am able to accept the difference and mentally move on.

But a little after 1 hour and 12 minutes into this video, they say something that has been bothering me for the past few weeks. Try as I might, I haven't been able to shake it.


Tim: Kathy always says that you're really not married until you do have children. Before that, it's sort of a long date.

Kathy: It's absolutely true. You're on a really long date until the kids show up.

Now, I don't know how to process this claim. The claim is purely anecdotal which makes it hard to engage with. But I'm going to try.

To be honest, my first response is to feel deeply hurt by it, but I know that just because something is hurtful doesn't mean it is untrue or unkind. Sometimes the truest, kindest words bring pain, and I am okay with living in that reality. But I'm not sure this claim is true, so the pain isn't easy to accept.

I feel pain from this claim because, try as we might, we're still not parents. And does that mean that Josh and I aren't "really married"? If so, boy does that add a heap of pain and pressure to our struggle to have children. As if a miscarriage and fruitless trying to conceive weren't enough, now we have to question the legitimacy of our marriage?

I understand that our marriage will change drastically when our kids show up, but does a change in any marriage indicate that the previous season wasn't the real thing? A number of things bring change to a marriage: illness, loss, a career change, spiritual growth, etc. Marriages go through many seasons. This fluid characteristic of marriage is something that should be expected and accepted, not something that should be used to make some marriages seem more legitimate than others. 

Isn't this similar to the reasoning some people use to explain divorce?: "Oh, we're not the same people we were when we got married." Change isn't a reason for divorce; change is inevitable. Marriage is not built on a foundation of changelessness; marriage is built on commitment, a commitment that must exist because change exists. Once you've said those vows, the marriage is, in my mind, real. It might not be challenging at that point, but it's real.

Or are the Kellers right?

Are couples who have been married 3 months and have never faced a single hardship really married?

Are couples who marry at 50 and have children from previous marriages really married?

Where Abraham and Sarah really married before Isaac came along? Jacob and Rachel?

Are couples like Carl and Ellie in Up really married? (Also, thank you Pixar for telling a love story that involved a miscarriage and childlessness. We need more of those in our collective memory!)




How does this work? I don't think it does, but I could be wrong.

I think this is the type of thinking that heaps pain atop pain for couples who are childless either by choice or by hardship. And I think it unnecessarily pressures couples into feeling like they must have kids in order to legitimize their marriage.

I'm pretty sure I understand what the Kellers meant to communicate when answering the question in the video. But I am disappointed because they are usually thoughtful and careful about what they say, and I don't think these words were fully thought out.

But enough about what I think. What do you think? Parents, I'd especially love to hear from you. I'd also love to hear from couples who have been through the empty-nesting years. That is a major marital transition that might be similar to the early years of parenting. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

27 Tips on my 27th Birthday

'27' photo (c) 2011, Anne Hornyak - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/It's my 27th birthday, so I'm indulging by writing a blog post full of some of the totally random opinions I have. Very often, I want to share a thought with the world, but I know it doesn't exactly warrant a blog post. Some days, I tweet them. Today, however, I am sharing 27 tidbits of completely random Laura Ziesel advice, one for every year I've been alive.

1) Always buy a mattress on the too-firm side. You can always make it softer, but you can't ever add support.

2) Don't be that doofus at the check-out counter of the grocery store who is too good to bag his own groceries.

3) Make yourself eat or freeze the food in your house that is about to go bad before it actually goes bad. Just suck it up and do it.

4) If you are hungry, drink a glass of water before eating.

5) If you are unhappy with a purchase, always email customer support.

6) Always travel with a snack in your purse/car/backpack. This prevents bad dietary/budget decisions away from home.

7) Save your receipts. You never know when you might need one.

8) Make friends with people who are different than you.

9) Don't marry a loser.

10) When you decide to marry, keep your engagement short.

11) If you wouldn't wear an outfit to a church event, it's probably not appropriate to wear anywhere else.

12) Add a splash of water to any dish you are about to microwave. Just a splash.

13) If you live close to work, commute on your bike. It's free and burns calories.

14) If you don't feel well, drink a glass of water.

15) Don't pay for cable. Think about it: You are paying so that you can be advertised to. What the heck is that?

16) To save money on your electric bill, unplug appliances (microwaves, fans, charging stations) when they are not in use. I cut our electric bill about 30% one month by doing this.

17) Don't spend money you don't have.

18) Stay locally for the first two nights of your honeymoon. Weddings are exhausting. Who wants to wake up (and get dressed) the next morning for a flight?

19) If you are cranky, drink a glass of water.

20) Listen to NPR.

21) To keep your brain young, brush your teeth and eat your cereal with your non-dominant hand every once in awhile.

22) Please, for the love of all that is good, don't tailgate. At any given point, the car in front of you could blow a tire. Do you have enough room to stop if that happens? Doubt it.

23) Be nice to us introverts. If you can, give us at least a week's notice before social events so that we can psych ourselves up for the event.

24) Live in the smallest size house your family needs. More house = more liability, more furniture, and more cleaning.

25) If your budget is tight, switch to only drinking (free) water. (Can you tell that I think water solves lots of problems?)

26) Always keep saltines and Jello in the pantry. You never know when a stomach bug will hit.

27) Be nice to your neighbors, mailman, and others you see often. If you can, learn their names.


And that, my friends, is my list of 27 things you never asked me about. Thank you for indulging me! And thanks to my mom for birthing me. She really did all of the work that day.

Me as an itty-bitty in 1984. Can you tell that I've
never really had a problem expressing what I want? :-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

After Miscarriage: Grieving without a Rainbow Baby

'Rainbow' photo (c) 2006, Dave Herholz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I'm one week away from my due date. To say that the past month has been hard would be putting it too simply. This past month has been stressful, busy, joyous, rewarding, and sorrowful all at once. I am not just a grieving person; I am a person who happens to be grieving. Life as I know it has continued with a vengeance, and most days I have had very little time to process my grief. 

Tonight, however, I am giving myself the space and opportunity to process. Josh is in bed and I can't sleep. 

As part of my grieving process, I have had to acknowledge that my miscarriage was not the pinnacle of my grief, chronologically nor psychologically. The miscarriage was only Act I, the genesis of grief. Since then, there have been very hard days/weeks/months. This past month has arguably been the hardest for me. It has without doubt been the hardest for my husband.

The past 33 weeks have been harder for me than I expected because of what they didn't contain; I expected them to be cut short by news of a second baby. A lot of the miscarriage stories women shared with me did not show me the length this grief would exhibit, in large part because most stories I heard ended with a rainbow baby being conceived soon after the miscarriage. Many women even told me that I would surely conceive before my due date rolled around, and in so doing I would have "the right baby," and I would always know why it had to happen the way it happened. In fact, the folklore around rainbow babies makes it seem as if they are the final act in the story of miscarriage grief. 

But I think that's all bologna. I don't think this loss will ever be covered up by another baby. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know. I have not had the good fortune of testing the hypothesis out. But I have a sneaking suspicion that when you have lost a baby, that's that. There is no replacing it.

So tonight, I'm here to break the myth. Not all miscarriages are followed by another quick pregnancy.

I sit here with a flat tummy and empty womb when I could've been round and full of life, and I'm grieving. 

But God is good. I do not want to reserve that statement for use only during joyful times. If anything, I think we need to tell ourselves the truth more liberally when we grieve. So, I say it and I mean it: God is good. In the midst of this mixed bag of sorrow and want, he is still good. 

As hard as it is, I know the truth:

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Our Savior Come: An Advent Companion

'Montezuma’s Dark Chocolate Advent Calendar' photo (c) 2011, Lee McCoy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I grew up squarely in American Evangelicalism, though I shifted denominations periodically. During my upbringing, despite my heavy involvement in church activities, I never knew what the word Advent meant. All I knew about Advent was that it permitted my family to have a little calendar with chocolates behind the doors. 

Now I have come to appreciate the liturgical calendar. As one period within the liturgical calendar, Advent is meant to cultivate a spirit of anticipation for the upcoming celebration of our Lord's incarnation.

This year, I will be observing Advent by reading Our Savior Come: An Advent Companion, a brand-spanking-new book that I am privileged to preview for you. Our Savior Come contains 20 short essays, five for each week of Advent. I have indulged in quite a few of these essays already, and they are speaking truth to my heart that is at once quieting and arousing. What a beautiful and needed combination!

In addition to the essays, Our Savior Come features Advent activities, orders of worship for Lessons and Carols services, and a discussion guide for small groups. These inclusions solidify Our Savior Come as a great resource for any pastor, parent, or leader looking for inspiration during this season.

If you have never observed Advent, may I suggest that this year is a great year to start doing so? If you are a stay-at-home mom, a sleep-deprived medical resident, a bus driver, or an algebra teacher, Advent can be a time of great spiritual growth and transformation. If you so desire, I invite you to read Our Savior Come along with me. You can but it on Amazon (in print or as an ebook). If you want to do a bit more reading about the authors, you can do so here.

How are you observing Advent this year? If anyone else has suggestions for ways to observe Advent, please share them! Advent begins Sunday November 27th.


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I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. Doing so did not obligate me to write about it. I only promote products or services when I believe in their value. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adult Play

I'm working on a number of weighty posts. I'm not sure when they'll emerge from the recesses of my overly-perfectionistic-new-seminarian mind, but one day, they will. They're on serious topics like child sacrifice, the creation account, and even gay Christians. Yep. Weighty posts indeed.

In an attempt to stay sane, I've begun watching stand-up comics during my lunch break. Sometimes, I alternate and decide to watch a TED talk. It's been a truly odd combination of material. 

But today, thanks to my friend Elisabeth, I stumbled across this brilliant TED talk by Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd. It is the perfect combination of what I have been attempting to live out: The more genuine smiles that are in my day, the better. When you want a snack or lunch break, watch this video. It will make you smile. And I hope it encourages all of us to play, just because we can.



I had the privilege of living in NYC during the early years of Improv Everywhere, and I can say that they truly brought a smile to my face on more than a few occasions.

And, for the record, my favorite version of adult play happens through this game, which has been known as Fish Bowl, Celebrity Bowl, or Myers' Family Fun Game. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Redemptive Pursuit: The Fear of the Lord


The Fear of the Lord
by Laura Ziesel
November 14, 2011

Scripture:

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." -Prov. 9:10 


Reflection:

I grew up in strong churches, receiving great Bible teaching from many men and women. When I was confused about theology or a Bible verse, there was someone for me to turn to with my questions. But there was one question I was always afraid to ask, "Why does God want me to fear Him?" The command to fear God is found frequently throughout Scripture. Whenever I encountered this in Scripture, it always rubbed me the wrong way. As a child, the phrase conjured images from movies of a parent shouting, "I'll put the fear of God in you!" To me, this seemed to make children afraid of their parent, not afraid of God. I knew God was my Heavenly Father, so I imagined that God literally wanted me to quake in my boots all of the time. With this understanding of "fearing God," I didn't like the idea that God was using scare tactics.

'Winsor McCay, 1930' photo (c) 2009, Alan Light - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/After pushing this discomfort with fearing God to the side for many years, the topic came up in conversation with a friend. This friend is a former Navy SEAL, so during our conversation I asked, "So, do you have a healthy fear of the sea?" Without hesitation he replied, "Not at all. To fear anything but God is sin." In that moment, my mind and my heart were stopped dead in their tracks. That settled it: After years of ignoring my questions about fearing God, I decided to tackle them head-on. I did an in-depth study of the word "fear" in the Bible. I read every verse with the word "fear" in it; I read their contexts, I looked up Greek and Hebrew words, and I prayed a lot. 

Not too long into the Bible study, I noticed that most of the uses of the word "fear" followed the words "do not". Over and over again I read, "Do not fear...Do not fear." From Genesis to Revelation, God rebuked fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of men, and even fear of Satan. Additionally, the command to fear God often appeared shortly after "Do not fear." Upon realizing this, my heart was dramatically softened toward God's command for us to fear Him. It was presented as the remedy for our other fears: "Rather, fear God" (Matt 10:28).

God never wavered in His message: Fearing God was an antidote for other fears. It is not supposed to make us scared, it is supposed to make us bold. God is not facing us saying, "Fear Me or else!" God is standing behind us, beside us, inside of us, and in front of us, looking at our challenges with us, saying, "Fear me, not that." Yes, we should fear God, but not so that we will shake in terror. We should fear God so that we will rightly know that He is in charge, not the circumstances in our life. No challenge in your life is a match for God, not your sins, your abuse, your diseases, or your failures. All other fears we have should be dealt with by the truth that we do not serve a weak God; we serve a God who is not only all-loving and all-good, but also all-powerful. 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for inviting me into your kingdom. Today, for the first or fifteenth time, I submit my life to your plan. Thank you for being strong and capable so that I can trust you with my future. Thank you for demanding that I give all of my fears to you; I can't handle them on my own. I repent of the fears that control my thoughts and actions. Help me to walk forward in boldness as I fear only you, my good and loving Father.


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I will be posting my devotionals from The Redemptive Pursuit once a month as they are published. Sign up to receive these weekly devotionals via email hereFollow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

From Dating to Marriage, Part 6: Tough Times

'Divorce and Children' photo (c) 2010, o5com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/A blunt confession here: I hate divorce. I don't hate divorcees, but I hate the causes of divorce and the pain that results from divorce. I want to do everything I can to build up my own marriage and the marriages of my family and friends. 

I recently heard an interesting statistic that I thought was worth sharing:

Over two-thirds of unhappy couples will be happy again if they stick it out for five years.

I heard this recently from Tim Keller. (The shortest video clip I can find with the quote is here, around minute 4:30.) Tim and Kathy Keller have written a new book, The Meaning of Marriage. I have yet to read it, but most of my understanding about marriage comes from the Kellers, so I whole-heartedly recommend it.

As Kathy says, many people want to ditch when the going gets hard, but marriage takes an investment. And like a financial investment, you ride out the low times; you don't jump ship. 

So if you are discouraged and unhappy about your marriage, I hope this is encouraging. I know you might feel lonely and miserable, but please know that a) you are not alone, and b) all hope is not lost. 

When Josh and I hit a rough patch, please remind me of my vows, vows which were meant to prevent us from jumping ship.

Also, please know that if you are divorced, I have no condemnation for you. It's hard to speak clearly and strongly against divorce without making divorcees feel bad, so please don't read condemnation in my words. The Bible does allow some reasons for divorce, and I understand that sometimes it is the necessary course of action.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Gospel Coalition and Race

The Gospel Coalition has been talking about race recently. I appreciate this, mostly because I know that TGC's base is largely white. (Yes, there are also many other races represented, but for the most part...) In my experience, groups that are mostly White like to ignore racial issues, so I deeply appreciate the effort. In fact, more than the effort itself, I appreciate the repentance I have seen.

A lot of the conversations I have been reading about race by The Gospel Coalition have been brought about by the release of John Piper's new book, Bloodlines, in which he talks extensively about his own racist history. I look forward to reading his book at some point when classes are not in session.

Here's the 'but':

Then I saw this video. I'm not critiquing the actual content of the video, so there's no need to watch it, although I think it would help. Rather, it's the subtitle of the video that must be addressed. Here's a photo:


Let me type that out again:

Can anyone bridge the divide between historically black churches and gospel-centered theology?

I honestly don't even know where to begin addressing the problematic assumption behind a question like that. It seems like such an obvious problem to me that it doesn't need explanation.

But let me try to spell it out: The Gospel Coalition is saying that historically black churches are not gospel-centered. By saying that there is a nearly insurmountable separation between historically black churches and gospel-centered theology, they are assuming that black churches are not centered on the gospel. Sure, there are plenty of historically black churches that have preached a watered-down gospel, and some that have preached no gospel at all. But to claim that historically black churches as an entire group have been separated from gospel-centered theology is offensive and false.

Would TGC make such a blanket statement about historically white churches? I doubt it, because most of us are able and willing to accept differences within our own race, but we lump everyone of other races together. We, as whites, are able to separate ourselves from gospel-less white preachers and recognize and honor the rich heritage of faith we have received from historically white churches. Can we not extend the same honor to historically black churches?

Now, I don't think the men in the video are addressing the question posed by the subtitle. They are addressing the divide between historically black churches and reformed theology, but the subtitle does not inquire about the divide between black churches and reformed theology. Reformed theology is not the same as gospel-centered theology. If the subtitle had simply ended with "and reformed theology?" that would have been understandable. But, unfortunately, TGC often equates reformed theology with gospel-centered theology, which is a major problem. I don't know who is responsible for writing that subtitle, but they equated "reformed theology" with "gospel-centered theology," as demonstrated through the ease with which they used those phrases interchangeably.

Of course there are churches within every culture that do not preach the gospel. But historically black churches do not deserve to be lumped together and treated with such theological disrespect. Black Christians should be proud of the rich gospel-centered, Christocentric, incarnational heritage they have.

I truly do appreciate the efforts that The Gospel Coalition has made to foster racial and ethnic harmony and full participation. But it's missteps like this that reveal why black Christians often feel dishonored and disrespected by white Christians. I hope The Gospel Coalition sees the hurt this subtitle inflicts and corrects their error.

I know race is hard to talk about, but I'd love to hear from you. Am I being too sensitive or is this a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed? As a (mostly) white woman, perhaps my reaction is off base. I don't think it is, but I'm certainly open to the possibility.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Church and Sabbath

'Sunday after church' photo (c) 2010, José Manuel Ríos Valiente - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/A month ago I asked Who and What are Church Services For?

Since then, I've been mentally and emotionally unearthing some things that lie beneath why we do what we do. I have more questions than answers at this point and that's okay. 

So far, I've continued processing by asking Does God Hate Our Worship? and by reading this series by a blog friend. 

I want to continue the conversation by addressing practical questions about community, worship, preaching, etc. But I know that first I need to lay aside the practical questions and address the underlying assumptions about our church services. 

All of that said, I have a few questions for you as I explore one of the cornerstones of Christian life and the church calendar, the Sabbath.

To show my deck, my husband and I observe a Sabbath every week, and I have been intentionally observing the Sabbath for about seven years now. What has constituted Sabbath for me has changed, however, depending on my circumstances. For instance, I once took a Sabbath ski retreat to Vermont with eight good friends. (It was a small taste of heaven.) Also, when my husband and I worked in vocational ministry, taking our Sabbath on Sunday wasn't always possible. Most of my understanding of the Sabbath developed under the teachings of Tim Keller when I lived in NYC. I have written a bit about Sabbath in these posts: Work and Rest, Where I Am, and Coupledom

However, I have intentionally loosened my grip on my own opinions while in seminary. So, while I have some opinions, I do not think I have it figured out (imagine!). So, I'd love to hear from you!

What is the Sabbath?
Do you observe the Sabbath?
What makes the Sabbath different from other days?
What components make up an actual Sabbath day?
As Christians, should we view every day as Sabbath or is the 1/7 distinction valuable?
How should our understanding of the Sabbath affect our church schedule and worship services?

I don't expect anyone to answer all of these questions, but I'd love to hear any thoughts you have. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Anxiety, My Fertility, and Confession

'~ red sky ~' photo (c) 2008, { pranav } - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I was never an anxious person until I started trying to conceive this year. 

After our first month of trying, I experienced my first "waiting weeks," the weeks between ovulation and knowing if you're pregnant or not. In my opinion, the waiting weeks are the worst, at least mentally and emotionally. My first waiting weeks brought a tidal wave of anxiety, which was very unnerving for me. 

Mostly, I was anxious about my ability to get pregnant. Since I was young, the worry that I would not be able to have children has been in the back of my mind. But I had never put it to the test; now I was going to see if my fears were groundless or not. 

So, what did I do? I called a friend who I know struggles with anxiety and confessed to her. I asked her for advice and perspective. She talked me through my fears, speaking truth to me in a powerful way. I started to feel better, but the anxiety wasn't gone completely. I said, "I do feel better, but I still feel anxious. Can't I just make this go away?"

"No," she said. "It only makes it worse if you fight it. Just admit to yourself and to God that you feel anxious. In fact, sometimes it helps me if I say out loud 'I feel anxious, I feel anxious, I feel anxious' very slowly. In saying it, I actually become less anxious because I'm admitting my feelings to myself and to God instead of trying to hide them or fight them."

Since that conversation, I have been doing just that. Because emotions are not the easiest thing for me to express, simply saying how I'm feeling out loud to myself and to God has helped me stay afloat in the crazy ocean of emotions I have experienced this year. 

"I feel sad."

"I feel angry."

"I feel confused."

"I feel abandoned."

These have become my quiet confessions. When I stop fighting how I'm feeling, God is able to speak to me in amazing ways. Sometimes he simply says, "I know. I'm here." But other times I hear him respond through a booming recollection of a piece of Scripture. Today, this is the one that came to mind when I told him how anxious I am:

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isa 41:10

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