Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Michelle's Christmas List: Faith Like A Child

Yesterday, James and I went to our sixth Christmas party in 8 days. I know school is out, but it seems like life hasn't slowed down yet. After work, I've rushed home, cooked something to take with us, hopped in the car, and headed out to that evening's Christmas destination.

Our Christmas parties are over, but the travels have just begun. I have a date with the laundry room tonight, then tomorrow, James and I work in the morning, pack in the afternoon, attend the Christmas Eve service, head home, load the car, and head for Tennessee. ETA? 3 a.m. The day after Christmas, we'll head to Knoxville to see my family, spend 2 days there, come back to his family's house for one more day, make the 10-hour drive back to Texas on New Year's Eve...where we are invited to two parties that night.

Don't get me wrong. We are both blessed with amazing family, friends and co-workers. Though it has been party overload, we enjoyed ourselves everywhere we went, and we can't wait to see our family in Tennessee. However, as I pulled out my calendar of the busy party week now behind us and our busy travel schedule ahead, I realized something was missing.

My third grade teacher was the first person to introduce me to a planner. We were only required to keep up with our homework assignments, but I also loved keeping track of important dates - holidays, birthdays, etc. That year, I remember drawing a birthday cake on December 25. On the top of the cake, I wrote in my best handwriting, "Happy Birthday, Jesus!"

This morning, fifteen years later, December 25 on my calendar was blank.

Feeling guilty, I pulled out my Bible. Fighting back tears, I opened to Luke 2.

In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. - Luke 2:1-6 (ESV)

Closing my eyes, I imagined Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem from Nazareth...As I pictured the pain and rejection Joseph and Mary being turned away, the tears finally came. Not because of Joseph's humiliation in feeling like he could not provide for his family. Not because they had to sleep outside. Not because Mary had to give birth without any of her family present. Though that breaks my heart, my tears came because I realized that with this year's chaotic schedule, I'm every bit as guilty as every person that turned Joseph and Mary away. I haven't made room for Jesus either.

I've made every desert and appetizer known to man in the past 2 weeks. I've searched for perfect presents, spent way too much time creating crazy white elephant gifts, fought the mall & Super Wal-Mart, stood in countless lines, wrapped presents, decorated my Christmas tree, perfectly coordinated my schedule...but today was the first day that I've really taken time to reflect on the Christ of Christmas... outside of church.

Sure, I've had my quiet time. I've prayed. But even as a third grader, I had a better grasp of what it meant to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. That year, my neighbor, who was Jewish, and I were playing outside.

"What are you doing tonight?" Rachel asked.

"We're decorating the Christmas tree!" I boasted proudly.

She looked at me with a blank stare. "What's a Christmas tree?"

My mouth dropped open. How could she not know what a Christmas tree was? "Come on!" I insisted, grabbing her hand. "I've already got one up in my room. I'll show you!"

We scurried up the stairs and into my bedroom to admire my tree (that couldn't have been more than two feet tall).

"It's pretty," she admitted. "But what's it for?"

Without hesitation, I began telling her everything I had learned in Sunday School - everything from the birth of God's son as a baby to His death on the cross and his promise to come back for those who believed in Him.

Rachel nodded along as I talked. We had forgotten to tell her parents where we were going, so it wasn't too long after my story that her mom showed up on our doorstep.

"Michelle showed me her Christmas tree, Mom," Rachel said. "How come we don't have a Christmas tree?"

I remember her mother taking Rachel by the hand and taking her out of our house without another word to me or my parents. Rachel wasn't allowed to come over to our house after that.

But I didn't know that I shouldn't tell her something that was different than what her parents taught her. I didn't know what it meant to be politically correct and religiously tolerant. I just knew that I was telling her the truth and that I wanted my friend to believe in Jesus.

In Matthew 18, the disciples asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus called a child and put him in the midst of the disciples. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)

So this morning, I got my planner back out, dug some highlighters out of my desk, and began drawing a birthday cake on the square for December 25. I still have two days left before Christmas, and I'm not going to waste it. Sure, there will still be travels, presents, and family like before. But this year, I'm asking God for a Christmas present. I'll have to earn it, but I'll need His grace and blessing too.

This year, I want faith like a child.

Happy birthday, Jesus.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Christmas Challenge

This sign is displayed next to a Christmas tree and nativity scene in the Capital Building in Olympia, Washington. The conservative response was not quiet. I couldn't help but become angry when I saw the sign. It doesn't stop at the atheist claim that God does not exist. It says that my personal relationship with Jesus Christ hardens my heart and enslaves my mind. I know Psalm 10:17 says that the Lord strengthens my heart. Romans 8:6 says, "For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." God doesn't enslave my mind. He gives me peace.

I was not alone. Christians were outraged nationwide. Bill O'Reily called it "political correctness gone mad." The sign even disappeared within an hour of being put up. It was soon found in a ditch on the side of the road. A part of me even felt a little satisfaction when I found out it had been stolen.

However, my satisfaction soon turned to conviction.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said they would replace the sign with a new note saying, "Thou shalt not steal."

"I guess they don't follow their own commandments," Gaylor said.


Gaylor may be wrong in her beliefs about God, but she does have a point that this is not the way God would want His children to respond.

At today's fall graduation, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, made a fantastic observation. He said, "Isn't it interesting that atheists are so intimidated by the birth of a little baby that they have to put up a sign to refute it?"

What a great perspective. Newborns can't walk or talk. They can't survive if left to fend for themselves. What could possibly be threatening about a newborn baby to an organized group of adults who claim that there is nothing beyond our natural world?

The only answer is that they are afraid that the birth of Jesus Christ disproves everything they claim to believe. He is God Incarnate. He was prophesied throughout the Old Testament. He was born of a virgin conception. He lived a sinless life, died a voluntary death, rose again to conquer the grave, and ascended to prepare a place for us. He will intercede as our High Priest until He returns one day for those who profess Him as their Lord and Savior.

Philippians 2:1-12 says, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It is my prayer this Christmas that Christians will not get caught up in the culprits who try to "steal" Christmas, the cost of Christmas, or any other distraction. Rather, let the Christ of Christmas truly be the only focus this year.

Monday, December 8, 2008

God Doesn't Take Short Cuts

I was not a patient child. The classic “baby” of the family, I wanted 100% of the attention 100% of the time. One of the many embarrassing home videos of me is our family at Christmas the month before I turned three. With so many new toys, (not to mention all of the bubble wrap, bows, and boxes), I was making one breakthrough after another. I announced each discovery loudly, right into the camera.

I have to give my parents credit for their incredible patience with me, as I made sure they saw the new teddybear I unwrapped, all of my favorite candy in my stocking (each individual piece, I might add), and my first pair of “big girl” jeans. My sister tore into her present, having each gift unwrapped in about 2.5 seconds. Not me. I savored as much “screen time” as possible. Christmas must have lasted for six hours that year.

When my sister and I were finally done, my parents began to open their gifts. My dad got my mom a beautiful crystal candleholder set that year. As he helped her unwrap the individual pieces and match each candle to its appropriate holder, I grew restless. In the corner of the screen, you can see me desperately trying to find something that I hadn’t debuted to the camera yet.

Finally, I found something. I took off for my sister’s gift pile and lifted her new hairdryer in the air in victory. “You see, Mom?” I asked. No response. I tried again. “Mom, you see?”

It’s hard for me not to laugh as I watch my younger self’s patience wearing thin quickly. I called again, louder this time. “Mommy, you see this?” Nothing.

In a desperate final attempt, I stomped the ground, took a deep breath, and said, “Do you see, MARY RUTH?”
My mom’s mouth dropped at the sound of her first name from her two year old’s mouth. She and my dad immediately burst into laughter. “Yes, Miss Michelle,” my mom said, between giggles. “I see.” Satisfied, I placed the hairdryer down and went back to playing with my toys.

I’ve gotten older. It no longer tests my patience if my mom is unimpressed that I can lift a hairdryer. However, I still consistently battle responding impatiently toward those who love me most…especially my God.

In high school, I was impatient with God when he moved my family from Memphis to Knoxville. By the end of my senior year, I loved Knoxville so much that I stayed there for college. In college, my friends were surrounded with boyfriends while I remained unattached. Now, I am so grateful that I never gave my heart away before I met James. Why do I never learn that God’s plan is better than one I could ever imagine?

God’s people have a history of impatience with their Creator. After God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, Exodus 13:17-18 says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.”

I’ve read over this passage dozens of times in my life, and I’ve always missed the depth of the meaning here. God didn’t take them to the nearest land. He didn’t want the quick fix to their problem. He wanted the best solution.

Naturally, the Israelites did not understand why they had to go through the wilderness. Numbers 14:1-4 says, “Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’”

I admit it. I’m not exactly a fan of sleeping on the ground and traveling on foot all day. But I can’t imagine a camping trip so bad that I would want to go back being a slave. The Israelites had some growing up to do, and God knew it. Remember, the passage in Exodus said that God led them around by the way of the wilderness. He never left them. But He wasn't just concerned with their final destination. He was intentional about experiences they would encounter who would determine the people they were to become along the way.

Over Exodus 14-17, God provides the Israelites with one miracle after another. He divides the Red Sea to let the Israelites cross safely, and lets the waters crash back into the middle to drown the Egyptians' chariots and horsemen. (I hope heaven has HD DVR - I really want to see that!) He provides water, manna, and meat. He promises to protect them from disease if they obey His commands.

But how quickly the Israelites forget. After they affirm a covenant with God in Exodus 24, they turn right around in Exodus 32 to build a golden calf to worship instead of God. This is the point where the Israelites make me want to call them, "The Boneheads of the Bible." Seriously. How do you walk across dry land on the bottom of the sea with water held up on either side of you by an invisible force and days later, turn to doubt God?

It's the same way I can become impatient with where I am in life - even though God has proven Himself to me over and over again. At different times, I've wished life had a "Fast Forward" button. "God, can I just blink and be done with school? I mean, can't I just write a book and get it published without a degree?"

Imagine falling asleep in the car as someone else drove you to a party. You arrive and begin talking to people. Apparently, there was a huge construction project that caused massive delays on the Interstate. Everyone has a story about what they heard, and what they saw. You cannot relate, and you have nothing to contribute.

My experiences in life, though I may not have understood them at the time, have always prepared me for the next step God guided me to take. It is along life's journey that He teaches us truth, molds us to be more like Him, and gives us time to grow. I may not have made the Bible, but I'm just as much of a bonehead as any of the Israelites.

The prophet Nehemiah offers some explanation of the amazing and patient God we serve. Nehemiah 9:17,They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”

He didn't forsake them. He had a plan.

Sometimes, it may seem like God isn't paying attention. He doesn't notice that you can lift a hairdryer by yourself, and you think that justifies your ability for a better assignment than where He has you and His undivided attention. Don't let yourself grow so impatient that you miss it when God parts a Red Sea in your life. He is always at work. Expect delays, and learn from them.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Treasure of TRUE Beauty

In the last post, I talked about a cheerful giver. What does that look like? To me, I see smiles, joy, and laughter. A woman possessing a heart as described cannot help but radiate on the outside. Her heart is so full of God that it cannot help but manifest itself on the outside.

The Bible teaches that a joyful heart is always accompanied by a cheerful face (Prov 15:13). Similarly, Proverbs 27:19 reads, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.” The wisdom possessed in the heart of a worthy woman also “illumines” and causes a “stern face to beam” (Ecc 8:1). Therefore, it is easy to see how the female examples given to model biblical womanhood in Scripture are described as beautiful in physical appearance. Their actions coincide with the attributes of a beautiful heart.

For example, Rebekah was described as “very beautiful, a virgin” and immediately met the need of Isaac’s thirst (Gen 24:14;18). Purity, gentleness and compassion accentuated her lovely features.

Esther was likewise described as “beautiful of form and face.” She was also a virgin and predominantly modeled obedience to keeping God’s commands, even when faced with the possibility of losing her own life (Est 2:7; 4:16).

Sarai, the wife of Abraham, was recognized as beautiful, and Peter used her as an example of modeling Godly living with her behavior (Gen 12:11; 1 Pet 3:6).

Ultimately, the goal is not to strive to be like Esther, Rebekah, or Sarai. Rather, a biblical woman’s heart focus should be on Christ, for He is the only one who possessed these heart traits in their entirety. In one of her most well-known works, Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “A woman’s heart should be so hidden in Christ that a man must be seeking the Lord to find it.”

Elliot was referring to a romantic relationship, but the policy applies to a biblical woman’s life in general. A biblical woman lives her life in such a way that in order to grasp the depth of her beauty, one must first understand the magnificence of the Lord.

A biblical woman is worth more than jewels, so she is a rare treasure to all who come in contact with her (Prov 31:10). Just as she is a treasure, she likewise stores up for herself “treasures in heaven, where neither mouth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” because she knows that her heart follows her treasure (Matt 6:20-21). A biblical woman’s treasure and identity is in Christ.

Lyrics to “Treasure,” a recent worship song include:

My heart is where my treasure lies.
My great reward is in Your eyes.
My every breath belongs to You.
You are my treasure.

In fairytales, treasure is frequently buried in secret. Earthly treasures are stored away, regarded as rare, but not enjoyed. However, the treasure of Christ can never be taken away, and the gift of sharing salvation is yet one other attribute that can aid in a woman’s genuine beauty in Christ.

Paul declared in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet that bring good news!” Biblical women chase guaranteed crowns in heaven by growing in beauty proclaimed by the King of Kings rather than striving for the world’s unpredictable approval. Miss America may only crown one girl each year, but God doesn’t grant first runner-up. Each of His daughters get a crown.

Seek true beauty - serve willingly and cheerfully, reflect Christ with your actions, and tell others about Him.

Friday, November 21, 2008

God Looks at the Heart

After examining what the flesh values, such as youth and appearance, Romans 12:2 reminds believers to not conform to the patterns of this world. While many parts of God’s creation are pleasing to the human eye, God’s perspective proves different.
First Samuel 16:7 explains: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Obviously, this is not referring to the muscle that pumps blood throughout the body, but to the soul and reflection of Christ within a godly woman. First Kings 8:39 says that God is the only one who knows the hearts of all mankind. The Lord even goes as far to search “all hearts and understands every intent of the thoughts” (I Chr 28:9). The Scriptures are very detailed as to what the Lord is looking for in a beautiful heart, so God has outlined His specific checklist for being beautiful in His eyes.

Each piece of a beautiful heart is woven together with God’s clever craftsmanship within His word to describe beauty in the eyes of the supreme Beholder. Each characteristic of a beautiful heart in the Bible matches the description and instruction to worthy women in the passages God intended especially for His daughters. God created men and women equal, but He made them different and clearly defined His plan for biblical womanhood throughout His word.

Today’s recurrent message of the feminist’s “independent woman” directly contradicts the reality of God’s design and gift of femininity. The woman He desires His daughters be and the heart He favors knows His word, keeps His commands, and demonstrates love, wisdom, purity, gentleness, compassion, and humility.

First, a beautiful woman of God knows her Father’s Word. Developing intimacy with God involves spending time with Him and seeking to know Him as He knows His children. Envision a baby girl in her daddy’s arms. At this age, she can only understand His love and strength. As she gets older, she can understand him in many roles, such as her authority and her provider. A relationship with Christ is the same. By becoming familiar with His teachings, a beautiful woman can fully grasp the Heavenly Father’s teachings.

Psalm 119:11 encourages believers to treasure His word in their hearts to prevent sin. Therefore, the responsibility is more than just knowing what the Bible says. Biblical women should model His word in daily life. Deuteronomy 30:14 says, “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” Ultimately, women of God know what pleases and displeases their Father and respond with respect, or fear of the Lord.

A biblical woman’s fear of the Lord should be praised above charm and beauty (Prov 31:30). Earlier in the passage, it is written that a worthy woman is blessed by her children and praised by her husband (Prov 31:28). Being praised by those closest to her illustrates her authenticity. She demonstrates her fear of the Lord with “chaste and respectful behavior” (1 Pet 3:2). Only a woman who had sought to embrace her role within Scripture would be able to receive such praise.

Along with being able to discern right from wrong, a woman God would deem as beautiful accepts the duty of keeping His commands. Deuteronomy 5:29 reveals God’s desire for His children to have “such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always.” So in addition to her fear of the Lord, she desires to keep His commands always. This does not mean she keeps the commands that are easy to follow. Regardless of the level of difficulty, Abba Father has commissioned His daughters to remain faithful. As God searches a woman’s heart, He may even test her to examine her heart and her faithfulness to keep His commands (Deut 8:2).

God knows His children’s specific weaknesses, and in love, He cautions about them in His Word. While He warns man against such things as being “double-tongued or addicted to much wine,” He cautions woman against becoming “malicious gossips” (1 Tim 3:8;11, Tit 2:3). Most women can testify that this is a daily battle. Deborah Tannen, regarded as an expert in gender and linguistics, notes that women use gossip as a means of building relationships. By communicating something that she would not necessarily ever say out loud or in front of a large group, a woman discloses something personal, producing a closeness that women desire in relationships. However, God, the ultimate authority, instructs to not “associate with a gossip” (Prov 20:19). No matter the struggle, when God’s trials come, a God-fearing woman knows what He has called her to do and should follow His instruction.

According to Jesus, the greatest and foremost commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Deut 6:5). In the next few verses of all the New Testament passages sited above, Jesus states the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). Not only does the Lord desire His daughter’s entire heart, but He desires her heart first; He longs for it to be full of His love and for her to pour out that love on others.

In His perfect plan, He uses this beautiful trait of love in His daughters so that others may come to know Him through knowing her. The challenge has often been presented to believers of examining if one were put on trial for being a Christian if there would be enough evidence for conviction. Surely, keeping the greatest commandment and possessing a loving heart would be critical evidence.

Those who choose not to keep His commands will be ruined while “the wise of heart will receive commands” (Prov 10:8). Therefore, a beautiful woman is also wise. God’s academic agenda has a completely different location and set of priorities than what man perceives as wisdom. While the world is consumed with head knowledge, God is concerned with heart knowledge. The name most associated with wisdom in the Bible is King Solomon. First Kings 3:12 shows that God gave Solomon a “wise and discerning heart” and I Kings 10:24 says “all the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart.” Specifically, James 3:17states, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”

From that description, man’s definition of intelligence looks much easier in comparison. However, James 1:5 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” For example, the passage in Proverbs 31 referred to so many times describing a worthy woman was an intense word given to King Lemuel by his mother (Prov 31:1). This God-breathed advice comes to the hearts of women straight from the heart of none other than a biblical woman. God knew and understood the need for women to use words to build relationships; He created His daughters to be this way.

Ponder for a moment on the impact of this passage in Scripture and the detailed insight God delivered through a woman who more than likely had never received formal education. This is the type of speech that will build relationships to replace gossip among sisters in Christ! Rather than corrupted conversation that tears another down, her pure perception continues to encourage and challenge women of the Word.

Just as Paul taught Timothy years later, this king’s godly mother modeled how the goal of instruction is “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (I Tim1:5). Purity is a distinguishing characteristic, separating beautiful women of the world from beautiful women of the Word. In the instance of the Persian kingdom of Ahasuerus, there is a distinct difference between Vashti and Esther. In old Persian, Vashti actually translates to mean “beautiful woman.” When the king sought to find a queen to replace her, he obviously desired more than physical beauty. He requested for “beautiful young virgins” to be brought to his palace (Esther 2:2). Purity set Esther apart, and accompanied with wholesomeness and modesty, it continues to separate biblical women from worldly women.

Matthew 5:8 illustrates the honor that accompanies a pure heart, revealing that the pure in heart will see God. However, John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God.” In her book on the beatitudes, Dorothy Patterson beautifully states that God’s divine character can be seen as He grants spiritual discernment. “The God who is
invisible becomes visible through the Son.” Therefore, a biblical woman realizes in order for Him to increase, she must decrease (John 3:30). Jesus is the only one to ever walk this earth without sin in His heart, so to acquire a pure heart, a beautiful woman must no longer live, but let Christ live in her (Gal 2:20). While God created physical beauty to be enjoyed, the Lord warns against beauty being marked by merely physical appearance, like Vashti.

Rather, the Father encourages “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet 3:3-4). While external beauty is passing, her gentle spirit is permanent. Many feminists protest against the teaching of gentleness, manipulating the term to imply frailty. Rather, gentleness manifests a tender strength. “Meekness is not weakness…It is submissiveness under provocation, the willingness to suffer than to inflict injury. The meek [or gentle] person leaves everything in the hand of Him who loves and cares.” Therefore, a biblical woman puts full trust and faith in her Lord rather than trying to live life on her own.

Unbelieving (and some believing) feminists cringe at the mention of woman giving up her “right to independence” for total dependence on anyone, including God. However, a biblical and beautiful woman realizes that her God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and almighty. She trusts in the fact that she is clothed in strength that comes from the Lord. A worthy woman is bound “with strength and makes her arms strong, and she is not afraid of the snow for her household” (Prov 31:17; 21;25). Repeating themes of strength, boldness, and courage in this passage eliminate weakness from her image. She realizes she has been chosen of God and accompanies her heart of gentleness with complementing attributes, such as compassion and humility (Col 3:12). She humbles herself, recognizing that she is subservient to Almighty God. Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29). If Jesus, who possessed God’s power and lived a sinless life, responds to God in meekness, how much more should His sinful children submit to Him?

Reflect on the hours leading to Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus did not resist or fight back. As prophesied, Jesus was led like a lamb to slaughter; “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth” (Is 53:7). In place of resentment, Jesus offered compassion, requesting that God forgive them because they did not know what they were doing (Luk 23:34).

Compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Scripture teaches to take this desire that comes with compassion and respond with mercy through serving and giving to God and others. Prov 31:20 describes, “She extends her hands to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy.” As a genuine and generous servant, a beautiful woman doesn’t just offer care at her convenience. She extends and stretches her hands, and she even “works with her hands in delight” (Proverbs 31:13). She goes out of her way to joyfully express sensitivity and to invest in others. As stated in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting Past the Mirror

Throughout history, women have sought to find identity in their physical appearance. While young boys aspire to play professional football to prove their strength, little girls dream of becoming Miss America to verify their beauty.

In the United States alone, women spend more money annually on beauty products than the nation spends on education. Over six billion dollars is spent on makeup alone. So in some distorted way, the image of beauty is fixated on a solitary crown that must be won before the age of twenty-four or pre-packaged dyes that will inevitably empty over time.

External beauty is where too many women, God-fearing women included, strive to find their value. Proverbs 31:31 is a beautiful reminder that this type of beauty fades, but eternal beauty in a relationship with God continues to develop as one grows in daily fellowship with Him. Instead of dwindling like cosmetics, biblical women can become more beautiful with each day.

In Ways of Seeing, Berger acknowledges that women live in a self-conscious world. A woman has “to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.” He insists that this pattern is instilled from a young age, and he appears to be correct. In 1998, Exeter University conducted a study of 37,500 girls between the ages of twelve and fifteen. Over half (57.5%) listed appearance as the biggest concern in their lives.

It would be easy to blame the today’s media for this phenomenon in today’s age of airbrushing magazine photographs and misleading “beautiful” icons. A study done in 2000 even showed that the average Miss America is 12% underweight and 2% taller than the average female. Today’s culture does give out its share of mixed signals. However, society began training the general public that appearance is everything long ago. For instance, it can be traced back to 650 B.C. when King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Daniel 1:4 lists the first two characteristics he desired in those he wished to take back to Babylon as youthful and good-looking.

As Andreas K√∂stenberger has argued, many Christian self-help books rely more on secular teachings than biblical foundations. The problem begins with the label placed on this genre of literature. Christians should not rely on “self-help” books. God is
the ultimate Helper, and He has provided answers to life problems throughout His Word. Believers simply create more conflict in life when they attempt to map a plan for themselves rather than placing trust in God. For that reason, the primary text for this series will be the Bible itself, examining it as a whole to embrace God’s definition of beauty and avoid superficial cures for false instruction from a fallen world.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Marriage: Ultimate Glorification of God

While God has chosen to use men and women to demonstrate aspects of Himself, one must never consider that God needs human beings to do His work, as Paul expressed in Acts 17:25. Instead, “all things were created through Him and for Him.” All of God’s creation exists to bring Him glory.

Many married couples bring to their relationship a view of God that is “so small instead of huge, and so marginal instead of central, and so vague instead of clear, and so impotent instead of all-determining, and so uninspiring instead of ravishing, that when they marry, the thought of living marriage to the glory of God is without meaning and without content.”

Knowing God for who He truly is, rather than who mankind selfishly wants Him to be, esteeming His glory over any personal agenda, and eliminating any disrespectful question of His plan from our impure thoughts is the only way to live our lives fully to His glory. Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

While most of the debated New Testament passages refer to the marriage relationship, females still cannot dismiss these teachings if they are single. Not only is no one exempt from creation order, but Proverbs 31:12 says, “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” Since mankind is incapable of knowing what tomorrow holds, every woman who professes Christ should sumbit to the Lord, embracing her created purpose, rather than anxiously seeking a man to marry or insisting that she will never marry. Women should submit to men’s leadership over the church and the home. Adopting a serving and submissive spirit, women should pray that thier attitude, like Jesus Christ, will further reveal God to a lost world.

Likewise, the best preparation for males to handle headship like Christ is to be faithful to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” In an attempt to display God’s communicable attributes and mimic Christ’s love for the church, Christian men should refuse to see headship as an opportunity for dominating women, but as a chance to truly seek the Father’s wisdom for his family. More than likely, Christians will not be able to convince the media to go back to a sitcom displaying correct gender roles in the family. However, true realization that the Father knows best has the power to eliminate distorted family structures within our churches.

My Sources:

Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem

P.S. The picture above is from our wedding. James and I both treasure this moment as the most special time of our wedding day. No unity candle, no unity sand - just our closest friends and family gathered around us in a continual prayer that God will be glorified through our marriage.

True Masculinity & Femininity

Throughout Scripture, God reveals Himself using masculine terms. Egalitarians say this is another way for humans to understand God, just as He compares Himself to animals and inanimate objects. The main problem with this view is that God created males and females in His image. He did not create Himself to be like human beings. Rather, God created masculinity to augment some of His attributes and created femininity to such display others.

This does not imply that God is male or female. God is not established by gender, but by His simultaneous plurality and unity. Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (emphasis added). As made in the Trinitarian God’s image, males and females are equal yet different.

Referring back to Ephesians 5, God has given men headship over women, just as Christ has dominion over the church. Men are not given freedom to interpret this headship position on their own. They are instructed to follow the pattern of Christ. While complementarians disagree with much of the feminist movement, most do not hold feminists as the ones who are ultimately responsible.

Rather, they attribute the feminist movement to the negligence of men to practice humble headship like Christ. One theologian notes, “I believe that if Christian men had been the servant leaders in the home, rather than conceited chauvinists, the feminist movement would have died a quick and easy death…I am tired of hearing that feminists are responsible for the breakdown of the family. We need to put the responsibility where it belongs – on the heads of homes.”

Women are just as guilty of not being obedient to their created purpose. “God created woman to directly reflect the man’s headship authority by recognizing it, revealing it, submitting to it, receiving it, and supporting his leadership.” More often, women end up ignoring it, resenting it, rebuking it, disobeying it, and discouraging male leadership.

Appalling feminists everywhere, I Corinthians 11:7 describes women as “the glory of men.” But where is the egalitarian objection that Jesus was sent to glorify the Father? Each time a groom beams as his bride walks down the aisle, Christians should be reminded of the Father’s words from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Each time a woman gives birth to a child, this miracle should serve as a reminder that eternal life can only come from the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Egalitarians dismiss many of the gender-related passages with an “ad hoc” argument, meaning that they believe these passages were written out of historical circumstance and only refer to the original audience. Due to the mention of head coverings, I Corinthians 11 is a passage egalitarians often disregard theologically. However, because of Paul’s use of the Trinity, an omnipresent deity, there is no way to interpret this as simply cultural wisdom.

While most complementarians agree that this passage does not indicate women today must wear a hat at all times, the cultural implications should remain. “Wearing a head covering communicated a submissive demeanor and a feminine adornment.” Therefore, as women pray or prophesy in public, they must communicate their support for male headship with appropriate conduct and mannerisms.

Teaching Scripture within biblical parameters includes more than just following the Titus 2 mandate of only teaching women. Women should seek to be earnest expositors of God’s Word without emasculating their God-given feminine characteristics. Women were created “to be reverent in their behavior” and embody an “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

Titus 2:4-5 lays out the curriculum for older women to teach younger women to work at home and love their husbands and children, while pursuing purity, wisdom and kindness to uphold the commands in Scripture. This does not mean women are to deliver emotionally driven and spiritually shallow messages. Simply, there are some things God knew pastors, as men, would not be able to teach from the pulpit with the same effect as a biblical woman who has been there.

My Sources:

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, edited by Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

"God, Gender, and Biblical Metaphor (Chapter 16) by Judy L. Brown," by H. Wayne House in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

20 Controversies that Almost Killed a Church by Richard L. Ganz

Men and Women: Equal Yet Different by Alexander Strauch

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper

For further discussion on the difference between prophecy and teaching, see Wayne Grudem, “Prophecy—Yes, But Teaching—No: Paul’s Consistent Advocacy of Women’s Participation Without Governing Authority,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987): 11-23.

God Is Purposeful & Impartial

With feminism, the issue at stake goes beyond women desiring to work outside of the home and resenting the Biblical mandate to submit to their husbands. Psalm 19:1-6 describes how every part of creation reveals the knowledge of God’s existence. Human beings are God’s supreme creation created in His image. Logically, God’s general revelation should manifest itself most clearly through humanity.

Feminism has essentially blurred some of God’s self-disclosure by human neglect to follow the example set by the divine Trinity. Just as some males try to exercise overbearing authority over women, some women spend their entire lives attempting to eliminate any undermining of their gender.

Paul wrote of God’s manifold wisdom and “eternal purpose.” God has never altered the initial plan He implemented in creation. Beginning in Genesis, there is significant timing when God declared man as the leader by creating him first. Then, He created Eve to be a helper to Adam when He acknowledged that it was not good for man to be alone. Before the fall, God clearly defined the roles He desired for men and women in the perfect world, and His opinion did not change after the fall.

Even though woman sinned first, God rebuked Adam before Eve. Ultimately, God held Adam responsible. After Adam’s judgment, God declares in Genesis 3:16 to Eve that her “desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.” God warned society at the very beginning that there would be a power struggle between males and females.

However, in Genesis 2, God did not tell Eve to help Adam whenever she felt like it. Rather, Eve’s purposeful existence was to serve as Adam’s helper. God’s creative design for humanity still consists of male leadership in the home and in the church.

Revelation 19:11-16 describes Jesus, seated on a white horse, with eyes like fire, a sharp sword in his mouth, and an iron rod in his hand to rule over the nations. Followed by the armies of heaven, Jesus is declared the King of kings and Lord of lords. Yes, Jesus’ role as the Son is different from the Father’s, but in no way does this passage depict Jesus to be any less God than the Father.

Proverbs 31:10-31 describes the woman who fears the Lord as anything but weak or worthless. God did not elevate Himself above His Son, and Jesus did not attempt to be greater than God. Unfortunately, males and females cannot make similar claims.

The Danger of A Personal Agenda

As early as Eve in the Garden of Eden, feminism’s true quest has been for superiority. Carolyn McCulley says, “One woman decided that God’s boundaries and definition for her weren’t good…The seeds of feminism are, ‘I want what I want,’ ‘I want to define it how I want it,’ and ‘I don’t want to give God the glory.’” The desired object may no longer involve the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The desire to become one’s own God, however, seems to be like a ribbon flowing throughout history that Satan uses to pull people away from God. There is natural rebellion against the prophet Isaiah’s words that God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, and His thoughts are higher than human thoughts.

Recognizing that it was “not good for man to be alone,” God made a “helper fit for him” by creating Eve. In The Feminist Mystique, Betty Friedan tells countless tales of women who feel oppressed by the stereotypical image of females. One woman insists she loves her husband, children and home, but feels she has no personality. She says, “I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want something. But who am I?” Selfishly wanting success in some form other than in the family she claims to love, this woman’s personal agenda, like many others, prevents her from flourishing in the Father’s purpose for her life. This is hardly a twentieth century struggle.

James 3:14-16 says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

This is exactly what has happened in the world today. Resentment of the created purpose of males and females has created the muddle of effeminate men, manly females, and transgenders. The same bitterness produces depraved habits including homosexuality and pornography. One theologian evaluated the cost of feminism “cannot be measured by MasterCard, for some things are priceless. It is measured in the fifty percent divorce rate, the destruction of the family unity, the elimination of forty million unborn children, and the proliferation of pornography, and its ugly cousin, sexually transmitted diseases.”

What if Jesus Christ had come to earth with a personal agenda? Not only was He brought into the world with the incomprehensible task of living a sinless life and dying for humanity’s sin, but He was also the only One to never question the Father’s authority. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified, Jesus said, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Though he was fully God, He knew that His role was to be submissive to the Father. According to Paul, Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Christ’s task was much more demoralizing than making a few beds or cooking a few meals. Realizing the cross that was before him, human logic can see how easy it could have been for Jesus to resent that the Father did not choose him to build the ark like Noah, part the Red Sea like Moses, or ride a chariot of fire to heaven like Elijah. However reasonable this thought is, Paul shares reality in Philippians 2:8. Jesus “humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death.”

Jesus Christ could have used His deity to climb down from the cross. He could have fought back. He had the power, but he refused to use it, because He sought to fulfill the lifelong covenant that God made with Abraham. Andreas J. Kostenberger argues marriage is a comparable covenant “because it is rooted in creation and the will of the Creator Himself.”

I Corinthians 12:9-10 should encourage married couples to seek God’s sufficient grace and power made perfect in weakness rather than divorce. Paul writes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Works Cited:

The Feminist Mystique by Betty Friedan

"Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and The Contemporary Collapse of Sexual Moral," by Peter Jones - (http://www.cbmw.org/images/articles_pdf/jones_peter/sexualmorals.pdf)

Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley

The Strength of Submission

Since the days of Tertullian, the Church has believed that the Father, Son, and Spirit are God. They are one, but there are also distinctions among them. Jesus Christ, the Son, came to earth to complete the will of the Father. Though Jesus was obedient to the Father, He has always been viewed as equally God and equally essential to Christianity. A.H. Strong says, “The subordination of the person of the Son to the person of the Father, or in other words an order of personality, office, and operation which permits the Father to be officially first, the Son second, and the Spirit third, is perfectly consistent with equality. Priority is not necessarily superiority.”

Prior to the gender debate, most evangelicals were in agreement concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, when the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) attempted to set the margins of its doctrinal basis to capture a broad audience, they decided on the inerrancy of Scripture and basic views of the Trinity as the society’s core concerns. The ETS statement reads: "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory."

As complementarians began capturing the illustration of gender roles and the Trinity, the views of evangelical feminists began to change. Egalitarians insist that complementarians hold the heretical view of subordination. However, complementarians do not condone an ontological difference between the Father and the Son. I Corinthians 15:28 says, “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all.”

Jesus’ voluntary obedience to the Father did not make Him inferior in essence, but gave the Father priority of authority. Taking away equality or role differences between the Father, the Son and the Spirit essentially abandons the Trinity, which is the center of the Christian faith. Herman Bavick went as far to say, “In the confession of the Trinity throbs the heart of the Christian religion: every error results from, or upon deeper reflection may be traced to, a wrong view of this doctrine.”

Complementarians were not first to draw this comparison. I Corinthians 11:3 says, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Paul quickly establishes three headship relationships exist between Christ and man, man and woman, and God and Christ. As Paul notes these relationships, he shows that Jesus Christ is the example for both genders, as He is submissive to the Father but also the head over man. The headship and submissive roles assigned to men and women in creation offer the ideal opportunity for both genders to apply Scripture’s teaching to strive after Christ’s righteousness.

A similar passage in Ephesians 5:24-25 says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ loved the church through times of obedience and rebellion, and He died to cover all human sin. Yet, feminists frequently scrutinize these passages by saying the Bible’s “hierarchy created about the whole love life of woman an atmosphere of degradation.” In this passage, redemption resonates far above restriction, and salvation outweighs subjection. Headship and submission were never created, but have always existed in the nature of God Himself.

In Woman and the New Race, Margaret Sanger, a feminist best known for initiating the birth control movement through the establishment of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, insisted that with the world of women’s liberation: "There will come a Plato who will be understood, a Socrates who will drink no hemlock, and a Jesus who will not die upon the cross." What Sanger thought was a statement of deliverance was nothing less than condemnation of the entire human race.

The core of Christianity can be summarized by submission. If Jesus had refused to die on the cross and submit to the Father’s plan, both males and females would be left without the hope of redemption. Instead, “the ultimate and telling proof that equality and submission may coexist in glorious harmony is found in the mediatorial mission of the Son of God…who completed it in the true liberation of submission to His Father.”

Further explanation...

Tertullian: an early church father who was the first to name the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the term "the Trinity'

Subordination: This is best referred to as putting yourself under someone else's authority (Ex - Children are subordinate to their parents, Humans are subordinate to God).

Complementarian: This is the view that I believe: God created men and women equally, but he also gave them different gender-defined roles. (Males - Husband, Father, Provider, Protector; Females - Wife, Mother, Nurturer). Check out more at http://www.cbmw.org

Egalitarian: also referred to as evangelical feminists, this group believes that one's gender does not determine role or status in life, nor does it limit spiritual giftedness and ministry opportunities. Essentially, they believe the only differences between males and females are physical. You can learn more on their website: http://www.cbeinternational.org

Headship: Humble, loving leadership, such as Christ's love and authority over the church

Submission: Humble, serving respect, such as Jesus' obedience to the Father's plan for His death on the cross for the forigiveness of sin

My Sources:

An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine: Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

The Hermeneutics of Doctrine by Anthony C. Thiselton,

Systematic Theology by Augustus H. Strong

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper

Men and Women: Equal Yet Different by Alexander Strauch

Does Father Really Know Best?

Disclaimer: These next few blogs are going to cover the topic I've been writing this semester for Systematic Theology. Though it might be a little more scholarly than my normal blogging style, the truths I discovered through my research are too important to leave as an assignment. In addition to praying for divine intervention, at the bottom of each post, I'm going to do my best to include definitions of any term that may be unfamiliar. Feel free to post comments asking questions, and I will do my best to respond. As always, thanks for reading and allowing me to share my heart with you.

From 1954-1960, television brought an idealized family into American homes through Father Knows Best. Though the children were not always perfectly behaved, disagreements were always settled by the end of the 30-minute program, primarily due to rational advice of the father, Jim. In just 50 years, American culture has shifted from a father who knows best to fathers including: Homer Simpson of The Simpson’s, who knows nothing; Tim Taylor of Home Improvement, who knows everything about tools, cars, and the emergency room; and Doug Heffernan of King of Queens and Ray Barone of Everybody Loves Raymond, whose wives know everything for them.

Though initial feminist efforts by pioneers such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sought restoration of equal rights for women, the feminist quest did not end with equal rights nor stay within political realms. The gender debate has not only found its way into television scripts, but inside the doors of evangelical Christian churches. Some churches have called females to serve as senior pastors, an office I Timothy 2:12 mandates for males. A recent translation of Scripture, Today’s New International Version, eliminates masculine language from the Bible, which at times, significantly alters the meaning of the text. The gender controversy today runs much deeper than equal rights.

Genesis 1:27 says God created males and females in His own image. Therefore, human beings can best learn about themselves by seeking to know the nature of God. Wayne Grudem writes that “there are no differences in deity, attributes, or essential nature between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God and has all the attributes of God. The only distinctions between the members of the Trinity are in the ways they relate to each other and to creation.” Addressing submission, personal agenda, and impartial purpose, these next few blogs will examine how the doctrine of the Trinity reveals the Father knows best in His created purpose for both males and females.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dare to Be Different

"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these." - II Timothy 3:1-5

If the apostle Paul's definition is right, we've got to be living in the last days, right? It sounds like he was sitting at a bench at the mall, writing down everything that he saw.

But what hurts me is that Paul wouldn't have to go out into the world to write these characteristics. He wouldn't even have to step outside of the church.

Have you ever said (or thought) anything like these statements?

"I can't believe she's at church today. Who knows what she was doing last night? Her sins are so much worse than mine..."

"I guess I could give my tithe this week...but I really want that new iPhone. I'll start giving to the church after I get what I want."

"I hope everyone heard my solo this morning. That song is perfect for my voice."

"I wish they would stop with the 'fearfully and wonderfully made' routine. Can't they just accept that I hate the person God created me to be?"

"My parents told me not to date him, but if there are other couples there, it's not technically a date..."

"Pizza again?! Every time I help out with the youth ministry, I have to eat pizza. Can't they ever spring for something different?"

"Ugh, why does he have to come to this church? I'm sure God loves him, but that doesn't mean I have to!"

"I know this is compromising a little bit of my sexual purity. But I'm still a virgin, and he really loves me, so it's not that bad."

"Not even God would expect me to forgive her for what she did to me."

"I heard that she got so wasted last weekend that she couldn't even stand up."

"Sure, I'm going to heaven. I'm a good person, and I give money to the poor. As long as I do more good than bad, God smiles on that."

"Scripture? Sure, it's mostly true. But I'm sure they got some of the details wrong. And some verses completely contradict themselves. Men wrote it, so it can't be perfect."

"Why do we always have to sing those hymns? Doesn't our worship pastor know that times have changed? I can't worship to those old songs!"

Wow. When we look at it that way, we Christians don't look near as different from non-Christians as we should. In fact, did you know that when Jesus prayed, he said that the world would hate us? Check out John 17:14-21.

"I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me."

Really let the last part of vs. 21 sink in - "so that th world may believe that You sent me." If others can't see that our lives are different, why would they ever want to make the decision to follow Christ? In college, I actually heard a guy say, "The only difference between me and a Christian is that I sleep in on Sunday mornings."

Since Paul told us the kinds of people to avoid, we can also learn how we should live. In Romans 12:2, Paul instructs us no to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed. Watch what happens if we transform the words Paul wrote about evil men to discover our role as believers in this world:

For Christians should be lovers of others, lovers of servanthood, humble, modest, and Godly, obedient to parents, grateful, holy, loving, and forgiving, encouragers and supporters, with self-control, gentle, with love for what is good, loyal, careful, meek, lovers of God rather than lovers of pleasure, holding to a personal relationship with Christ, proclaiming God's power. Follow men and women such as this.

Do you think the world would notice that Christ made a difference in our lives if they looked like that? Absolutely! And here's the good news - we don't have to do it alone. Galations 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Christ will work THROUGH us. All we need to be is willing.

Let's dare to be different.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reality Check: Almost Doesn't Count

God has been teaching me a lot lately about who He is and who I am. As I’ve studied His attributes in comparison with my human nature, here is what I’ve discovered:

He is supreme. I am dependent on Him.
He is holy. I am sinful.
He is pure. I am corrupt.
He is true. I am deceitful.
He is righteous and just. I am immoral and undeserving.
He responds to unholiness with wrath. Sometimes, I don’t even notice.
He is unconditional love. I am situationally selfish – loving and hating who and what is convenient for me.
He is goodness. I have a sin nature.
He is gracious. I am disrespectful.
He is merciful. I am heartless.
He is steadfast. I am unstable.
He is spiritual. I am worldly.
He is wisdom. I am foolish.
He is faithful. I am a traitor.
He is peaceful. I am rebellious.
He is perfection. I am flawed.
He is glory. I am shame.

As I’ve grown in my walk with the Lord, I’ve turned over nearly every aspect of my life to Him. And until this weekend, I’ve been okay with that. But I know that’s not good enough. God doesn’t want nearly every aspect of my life. HE WANTS MY WHOLE LIFE.

However, there are a few areas where my flesh has continually refused to submit control over to God. Looking at the characteristics of God above and comparing them with the standards of the world, I have to wonder - what am I really holding onto? Rebellion? Sin? Shame? Why would I consciously do that when I have the opportunity to have a complete new life in Christ? II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Imagine getting a new pair of jeans. They are the perfect shade of denim. They actually fit in length, waist, and hips. (As a female, a practically impossible feat!) In addition to feeling as soft as sweatpants, they were given to you for free. Your old jeans are about an inch too big in the waist, could stand to have a little more room around the hips, and they are only the perfect length with your tallest pair of boots. Not to mention, they have permanent grass stains, a hole in a place that no one would call fashionable and a zipper that only goes up halfway.

The next morning, you go to your closet to get dressed for the day. Which pair of jeans would you get? The new ones, of course! So why am I capable of seeing the obvious choice in this situation, but continue to put on my old life with all of its flaws when Christ has given me the option of Him living through me in new life? Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Later, in Galatians 5:24, Paul writes, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If I haven’t turned over all of my personal passions and desires, do I really belong to Christ?
This past weekend, 412 Ministries (http://college.fielder.org) had the privilege of hosting the Jeff Johnson Band for RED RIVER LIVE, an evangelistic effort alongside the infamous Texas Longhorns/Oklahoma Sooners rivalry. Jeff Johnson’s lyrics to “Ruin Me” were the tipping point for what I am praying is my complete self-death.

The song’s lyrics are, “Woe to me, I am unclean - a sinner found in Your presence. I see you, seated on Your throne – exalted, Your Glory surrounds You. Now, the plans that I have made fail to compare when I see your glory. Ruin my life, the plans I have made. Ruin desires for my own selfish gain. Destroy the idols that have taken Your place 'till its You alone I live for, You alone I live for. Holy, holy is the Lord Almighty! Holy is the Lord!”

The song comes from Isaiah 6, when Isaiah sees God sitting on His throne. He is so overwhelmed by God’s presence that he realizes how much he truly needs a Savior. Isaiah – one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament – realizing His shame before Almighty God. Once He saw God’s power, His life changed. The plans he had were ruined because Isaiah finally realized how insignificant he was in comparison to the Lord.

In Isaiah 6:8, Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah responds, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah didn’t wait to find out what the assignment was. He didn’t see if it conveniently fit with his work schedule. He heard God’s voice, and He responded immediately. In Genesis 12:1, God told Abram (later Abraham) to leave his country and his family to go “to the land which I will show you.” Genesis 12:4 records that Abram “went forth.” He didn’t even know where He was going, but He knew He was following the Lord, and that was all that mattered.

If you’ve read my testimony, you know that I battled anorexia for four years. While I no longer give into Satan’s temptations to restrict food content, I have also not relinquished control of my personal appearance to God. There are days where the priority of my workout comes before my personal time of Bible study and reflection. There are days when I worry more about gaining weight than the genuine prayer concerns of my family and friends. Although I know that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3), I often find myself fearful of what pregnancy will do to alter my body.

There is nothing wrong with staying healthy through exercise. However, there is something wrong with valuing something as fleeting as beauty when the fear of the Lord should be the ultimate goal of a Godly woman (Proverbs 31:30).

God has ruined areas of my life before. He ruined my life when I didn’t win Miss Tennessee. I had such great intentions of using the title to spread the Gospel across my state. Plus, I would have had the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss America and be able to share His love with our country. I prayed for God to either open this door or close it. But judging from my good intentions of using the title to further His Kingdom, how could God not be on board that was the perfect plan for me?

But He wasn’t on board. Not only did I not win, but I was the only preliminary winner that didn’t make the Top 10. Watching my hard work go down the drain as my life was ruined right before my eyes as the crown went on another girl’s head, I clearly felt God’s presence and His voice say, “You asked me to open this door or close it. Not crack the door, let you make the top 10, then gently shut it. So, I slammed it.”

His plan for ruining my life included me moving to Texas to begin seminary. Three weeks after the move, I met the man I married five months ago. Seeing the full picture now of God’s intentions in ruining my life, I would have him ruin my life over and over again to be where I am right now, serving in ministry alongside my husband. Because when God truly ruins your life and you submit control to Him, reward and blessing will follow. These gifts may not always appear on this earth, but His gifts are eternal, fully capable of surpassing the human boundaries of time.

This is my public request for God to ruin my life - once and for all. Not just most areas, but all of me - whatever that may mean. I am releasing all that I am to Him and His control. I have a feeling I am in much better hands that way.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reality Check: God Doesn't Need Me

Psalm 113
Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
Praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
The name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations;
His glory is above the heavens.
Who is like the LORD our God,
Who is enthroned on high,
Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in heaven and in the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the needy from the ash heap,
To make them sit with princes,
With the princes of His people.
He makes the barren woman abide in the house
As a joyful mother of children.
Praise the LORD!

Okay, I know the picture and this Scripture look funny next to each other. But recently, I've realized how guilty I am of saying one thing with my mouth, but living another...with good intentions, no doubt, but completely missing the picture. I try not to be selfish. I always want to put someone else's needs above my own. Each day, I strive to learn more about God simply because I desire to know Him and make Him known. It drives me crazy if something prevents me from being there for a college student who needs some counsel. When James and I go home to Tennessee, we do our best not to miss a Sunday because we feel a responsibility to be there for the students of 412 Ministries. A few days ago, I would have been pleased of this fact. But yesterday, I got a reality check from my Texas dad/boss/Systematic Theology professor:

"God doesn't need you."

What? God doesn't need me? Are you kidding? Then what am I doing here? I mean, I know that God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (ever present), but...oh my...God doesn't need me!"

Why do I trick myself into thinking I am the center of the universe? If someone in our ministry has a problem, can God fix it without me? Yes. If someone I work with is lost and doesn't know Christ, can God draw them to Himself without my help? Yes. Am I really so prideful to think that God needs me to do His work? Unfortunately...yes. Sometimes, I think I fall captive to that lie. I sing to Him, "It's all about you, Jesus, and all this is for You. For your glory and your fame, it's not about me, as if you should do things my way. You alone are God, and I surrender to Your ways." At the same time, I am concerned because I left small group early. Do I really think that my input really makes that big of a difference on God's Word?

That doesn't mean that God doesn't desire a relationship with me or that I shouldn't strive to serve Him. God is involved in everything in this world. Acts 17:27-28 says, "That they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him, we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, for we are indeed His offspring." God cares for me as my Heavenly Father. I love the truth in this verse that God is not far from me. The part of me that is still a little girl sometimes just desires to crawl up in my Daddy's lap when I don't know what to do or I'm hurt. He cares about every detail of my life and your life.

But He is also above everything in this world. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." This doesn't mean that God doesn't understand our thoughts or our ways. It simply acknowledges the fact that He doesn't have to deal with our struggles. He is perfect, and we are not.

There must be a delicate balance between comprehending both of these truths for an accurate understanding of who God is. If we lean to heavily on the Isaiah text, we may fool ourselves into thinking that we don't have any responsibilities because God is supreme. (I wish there was a way to make a buzzer go off on my blog right now.) Yes, He is absolute, and He is sovereign. But we can't forget the last words from Jesus before He ascended into heaven: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). We are instructed to tell others and help them grow in their faith however we can.

The danger on relying on the Acts text alone leads us to putting ourselves on an equal level with God. God is holy and deserves our utmost respect. He loves you and will be there for you when you call on His name, but He is not your co-pilot or your homeboy. (Sorry if you have the bumper sticker or the t-shirt, but it's true.)

Isaiah 57:15 may sum it up best: "For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, 'I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" God is above me and greater than me in every way. He knows that I am incapable of getting to His level. However, because He cares for me, He lowers himself to restore me for His glory.

God doesn't need me; He exceeds me.
God doesn't need me; He precedes me.
God doesn't need me; He will lead me.
God doesn't need me; He will succeed through me.

Special thanks to Dr. Thomas White for his spiritual guidance in this post's content.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gettin' Sassy with Satan

Job 2:2
"The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it."

Not exactly a lovely thought, huh? From this verse, it sounds like we could just bump into Satan at Target! He's just hanging out where we live...and his goal is to make us stumble in our faith. Oh, and he won't make it easy on you. Contrary to cartoon depictions and popular belief, he more than likely won't appear to you in the form of a little red guy with horns carrying a pitchfork. But when you find yourself in a situation where you have the choice to compromise your Christian testimony, you can bet that Satan is near.

I would love to tell you that Satan is dumb. Unfortunately, he's not. He's pretty crafty... much smarter than we would like for him to be. (Side note: He's also not nearly as smart as we sometimes give him credit for. There will be more about that in a later post.) However, it sometimes seems like he knows just where to get us - individually. Every Christian struggles with certain sins. Have you noticed that Satan always seem to hit you where you are most volunerable? Of course he does. He has a purpose - to make you give into his temptation.

It's exactly like a man who is going to propose to his girlfriend. Do you think he would propose if he thought she would say no? Not unless he just enjoys rejection. Satan tempts you in areas he knows you are likely to give in and say yes.

Do you know situations that you would be likely to give in to temptation? Personally, Satan likes to attack me in my physical appearance...specifically, my weight. I battled anorexia for four years, and I'm much better now. However, he still uses the same lies to try and make me fall back into old habits. It's important to know the areas where you are more likely to fall for Satan's tricks so you can be prepared when he attacks.

Do you know how to protect yourself from His temptations? Ephesians 4:27 says, "Do not even give Satan a foothold." Don't put yourselves in situations where you could be tempted. For example, I don't keep full-length mirrors in my house. When I stand in front of one, there's always the chance that Satan will start filling my head with lies. It doesn't eliminate the problem...but since I stopped keeping full length mirrors, I find myself in that situation much less.

Your struggles may be completely different that mine. Maybe you feel pressured to party with your friends. Instead of waitinf for them to invite you to do something that you know you shouldn't do, could you take control of the situation and plan a night of clean fun? Maybe you are so in love with your boyfriend, and you just don't want to wait any longer. It would probably be best to limit the time you two spend alone.

Maybe you are thinking, "I don't struggle with any of those things! I must be okay." Really? What if you walk up to group of friends, and they are talking about another girl you know? Do you join in on the gossip? Do you just stand there and not participate? Or would you have the courage to ask them to stop? If that doesn't work, do you walk away? Here's the bottom line: Your relationship with Christ is too precious. Don't put yourself in situations where you would be in danger of compromising your Christian standards.

These are all situations where Satan lies to you by whispering in your ear things like, "It's okay. It's just one time. No one is around, so no one will find out. You know if you speak up, your friends will make fun of you. Nobody's perfect. It's alright to mess up every once in a while. You're supposed to mess up."

DON'T FALL FOR IT. Do you realize who you are listening to if you give in to Satan's lies? The Bible refers to him with such terms as the devil, adversary, evil one, murderer, liar, thief, tempter, accuser of the brethren, prince of demons, and god of this world. He is in constant rebellion against God. Through his influence, Satan generates discord, deception, and disobedience among human beings.

In Christ, Satan is already defeated, and his dominion and influence as god of this world will cease at Christ’s return. (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9; 1 Peter 5:8; John 8:44; Job 1:6-12; Zechariah 3:1-2; Revelation 12:10; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 20:1-3; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8) If you've read the Bible, specifically the book of Revelation, you know the end of the story. God wins, and Satan loses. You have nothing to be afraid of because the battle is as good as over. As long as you are a child of God, NO ONE and NOTHING can take you from Him.

But here's my question. Do you take that attitude with Satan? Do you let him know that he is defeated by the One who lives in you? Or do you tip toe timidly around him - afraid that he will convince you to give in?

Imagine being at a football game. You are with your best friend. You are cheering for opposite teams. She has gone on and on about how her team is going to destroy yours. She's pestered you, sent jeering text messages, talked smack on Facebook. At the end of the first half, your team is up by seven. By the third quarter, her team's offense can't even seem to move the ball. With five seconds left to go, your team has ran up a score SO HIGH on her's that it looks like a basketball scoreboard.

Now, dear Christian friend, tell me. Would you sit back in those last five seconds and be afraid that her team would make up the difference? NO! If you're like me, you won't start your victory dance, pull out your cell phone and ask again, "Now wait a second, when you said your team was going to make us cry, did you mean tears of joy? Because we won. Can you see the scoreboad? Seriously. My eyesight is bad. Can you read it for me? A little louder? I'm sorry. What did you say? WHICH TEAM is it who won? So if we won, does that mean that your team lost? Can you say that again? It sounds so nice." (Yeah, you don't want to lose to me.)

In all seriousness...don't waste that awesome attitude on a friend. USE IT ON THE ENEMY! Get sassy with Satan!

And you know what makes him really mad? Don't use your own words. I mean, as fantastic as my Christian smack is, my words are nothing compared to God's Word! Quote Scripture. Seriously. He can't refute it. He can't beat it. When Jesus was tempted in Matthew 4, (another passage will will look at in more detail in a later post) that's exactly how He got Satan to beat it. And God has armed us with the same weapon!

I've been known on more than one occassion to retort back to Satan's lies about my appearance with the "Michelle Version" of Psalm 45:11. "Oh yeah? Well, guess what, Satan? My King is enthralled with MY beauty! And I will honor Him, and NOT YOU, for He is my Lord!" Oh, and you can bet my neck is working the whole time.

Memorize Scripture that teaches against where Satan tempts you. When you find youtself in that situation, SAY THE SCRIPTURE, and SAY IT SASSY!

John 10:27-30 quotes Jesus saying, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Once you belong to the Lord, Satan will never be able to get you. The Lord is too strong.

Take that, Satan.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Finish Line Faith

The Olympic Games...two solid weeks of athletic competition and patriotism. The media switched their focus from the presidential election to cover table tennis. Kids were allowed to stay up past their bedtimes to see if Shawn Johnson would win the overall title. Companies like Wheaties, VISA, and Coca Cola developed new logos to capture new comsumers by manipulating the spirit of the games for their products.

You would think anything that would alter life so drastically would have more of a lasting impact. But even though details were fresh on our minds before each competiton began, there is one thing we remember when it's over: the winner.

Think about it. In the 100 meter men's sprint, can you tell me which runner took the first lead? No. How about second place? Probably not. But what can you tell me?

As a runner, you can probably tell me that Jamaica's Usain Bolt broke his own world record in that race to win the gold. He joined the ranks of Carl Lewis in winning gold in both the 100m and 200m. Not to mention, he shattered Michael Johnson's record that no one thought would ever be broken.

Do you see a pattern here? No one remembers how you started unless you finish well.

Let's go through two Biblical examples. First, let's talk about Judas Iscariot. He started out pretty well. He was one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. I'm sure his family and friends thought he was a good man to be that close to Jesus. But what is he remembered for? He was the one who betrayed Jesus Christ. For thirty pieces of silver, he handed his Savior over to be crucified. (See John 18 for the whole story.)Today, if someone betrays you, you may even call them a "Judas." No matter what good he did with his life, even 2,000 years later, he is not remembered for accompanying Jesus for his three years of ministry on this earth. He is remembered as a traitor.

On the other hand, consider the apostle Paul. He got off to a pretty rocky start. First of all, his name was Saul. You know what he did all day? Persecuted Christians. (Check out Acts 8 for the details.) But the Lord had other plans. He blinded Saul with a great light, Saul was converted, and God changed his name from Saul to Paul. God told Ananias, Paul's teacher, that Paul was a "chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." (Acts 9:15) From that moment on, that's exactly what Paul did. He preached the Gospel to those who had not heard the name of Jesus. He wrote over half of the New Testament. He started more churches that we can even begin to count. When we think about Paul, we don't think about the innocent Christians that he killed in his life before Christ. We think about the amazing relationship he had with the Lord and the amazing testimony of his life, bearing the name of Christ, proclaiming joy in persecution and suffering.

Think about this in your own Christian life. After you make a decision for Christ, things are going pretty well. You pray and read your Bible. You might even tell someone else about Jesus. But what happens? Life starts getting busy. Priorities change. Before you know it, your relationship with God is about as meaningful as your relationship to your sixth cousin twice removed.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, towards the end of his life, Paul wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Paul may not hsve had the lead at the beginning of his Christian walk. In fact, he wasn't even in the race. Others who got a better start dropped out along the way. Their endurance couldn't take the pressures that are promised to us when we follow Christ.

Jesus didn't teach that we might face hardship. He assured us that it was inevitable. Matthew 10:22-23, Jesus says, "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes." Notice that he doesn't say IF they persecute you. It says WHENEVER they persecute you.

Not everyone wins a race. It's the same way in the Christian faith. Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." (Matthew 9:37). Paul had what it took because he understood what it meant to cross the finish line. He practiced the same message He preached. And here's just another amazing fact about our incredible Father God. He doesn't just give gold medals to those who finish first. He gives a gold medal to everyone who finishes BEST.

In I Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul writes, "Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Oherwise, I fear thst after preaching it to others, I myself might be disqualified."

You may be a casual runner like me. I'll never win a gold medal in the Olympics for Track & Field. I'll never know what it feels like to stand up on that top box while the Star-Spangled Banner plays in the background with a gold medal around my neck...until I get to heaven. To hear God say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant," will overshadow any Olympic ceremony.

I remember training for my first marathon. I followed the training plan exactly...until two weeks before the race when an injury kept me from running the race. I trained for months and had nothing to show for it. I did get another chance. Above, you see me crossing the finish line and beaming for the camera.

As a marathon runner, I'm continually asked, "What in the world motivates you to keep running for 26.2 miles?" Easy - the accomplishment in crossing the finsish line. That doesn't mean it wasn't difficult...that I didn't hit the infamous "wall" at Mile 20. But I pushed past the pain, and the finish line was well worth it. When you think about it, the Christian life is the same way. Some miles are harder than others. It can even hurt.

But having faith - finish-line faith - will always be worth it.