Where are the mothers in the family of God?

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Last week I had lunch with my friend and minister, Deborah.

Deborah is on the ministerial staff at The Cathedral Church of the Advent in downtown Birmingham, where my husband and I are members. Deborah has the gift of teaching and preaching. She is not only one of my favorite women Bible teachers but on of my top 10 favorite Bible teachers. She has a heart for the Lord and the gospel, is smart, and learned in the study of theology and exegesis. I’m so grateful to have her on staff at my church.

Deborah said something during our lunch that I’ve heard her say before, but today it struck me a little differently.

Following my most recent post last week about “Lost Women” she said something to the effect of “I want to move past these debates and get to the work of the Church, serving as a co-laborer next to my brothers and sisters.” Then she said, “I believe we need in the Church, just like in our families, fathers and mothers.”

Last year this summer we waited and watched as the Supreme Court made its ruling on marriage. Marriage–and all the benefits of marriage including having a family–was equally granted to homosexual couples as it has been for heterosexual couples. Christians mourned the loss of children not having both a father and mother in the home. Even though there are situations where children might be raised in a single family home, the ideal, nonetheless, is for every child to have a father and mother.

Whether it is the deep voice of my husband in times of discipline, his strength when I want to be too easy or tender, or the way he relates to our son differently than me, our son needs both his father and mother. We each have something that the other doesn’t have, and together he sees the full image of God.

As I drove back to work from lunch, I thought about what Deborah said and I thought about most churches I know. In the family of God, we have lots of fathers. But where are the mothers? In egalitarian churches, this of course won’t be the case (at least probably not). In fact the opposite might be true: Where are the fathers?

When we lived in England two years ago, we attended a church where the vicar was a male but the other two staff members were female. When lay leaders/deacons were involved with communion, prayer, etc, the majority of these were women. On some Sundays the absence of fathers was strong.

But in the States, and especially in complementarian churches, the absence of women in leadership is abysmal. Where are the mothers in the family of God?

Who are the fathers or mothers in a church? They are those called by God, set apart by him, for vocational gospel ministry to administer the Word of God for the people of God. These are the people called to shepherd and care for the souls. These are the ones who are called to feed the flock, take care of their physical and spiritual needs, and remind them of the Good News of Jesus. These in leadership–at least with men–are expected to have some kind of training because of the type of call that involves an authoritative teaching of the Word of God.

But even in complementarian churches where it is believed women can only have authority in preaching and teaching to other women there is room and ever need for mothers. We need men and women called by God and trained for this work helping with Sunday services. We need these called men and women available for prayer during an invitation. We need both fathers and mothers as co-laborers working together to raise up the children of God for the work of God. We need fathers and mothers co-laboring side by side to teach and preach the Word to the flock. If our families need both a father and a mother then why doesn’t God’s family need both too?

At the Advent the preaching is shared by all ministerial staff members even though our lead pastor–called “dean” because our church is a cathedral–carries most of the preaching responsibility. My husband has remarked on several occasions after Deborah has preached that she was able to speak to him in a way that Andrew or Matt cannot. He says, “In the same way a mother can provide for a son in a way that a father cannot, there are some things that a female preacher can provide that a male preacher cannot.” He is not saying that her exegesis does not matter; rather, God uses the whole package–including gender–to minister.

God uses the complementarity of the sexes to minister to each of us–male and female. If God saw fit to give both a father and mother to children, then why should the family of God be void of mothers?

Chipped fingernail paint and the gospel

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This past weekend was one of those tough parenting moments. As an aside, I am thankful for those friends who debunked the myth early on that it’s only the 2s that are “terrible” or else I would be completely unprepared for the 4s! Our son Philip threw the tantrum of the year. We had never seen him that angry. Because he didn’t get something he wanted on Friday night, he lashed out at us in every possible way. He was like a mad dog with his teeth sunk into his anger, and he was not going to give it up. Finally after a long time of us holding his bedroom door shut and telling him to get on his bed and calm down, he gave up. His anger gave way to tears, but the damage had already been done.

 

We grounded him for the first time ever. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because he was grounded, it meant that he missed his best friend’s birthday party on Saturday and the first birthday party of the new school year.

 

Saturday morning after waking up, Philip went into his playroom and played quietly by himself. After some time passed, I went to him and told him how much we loved him but also how much he hurt us by his sin. He looked up at me and said, “Mommy, please give me a new heart.”

 

“We know all too well our sins and offenses.”

 

Sunday morning we rushed to church late as usual. Even though I had little time to get ready, my hair and make-up were satisfactory, and I was wearing jewelry and new clothes. Quite a feat for a mom of a little one! Everything about my outward appearance looked put together except for my fingernails. My dark blue fingernail paint was chipped and ugly. My fingernails gave me away that all wasn’t put together on the outside.

 

“It turns out Jesus doesn’t even want the best we have to offer.”

 

One of the main reasons that my husband and I left the Baptist church and have come to the larger Anglican church (our church is actually an evangelical Episcopal church) is because of weekly Communion. In part we love taking weekly Communion as it is a constant, visible reminder of the gospel. But we also love the way in which Communion is taken at the Anglican Church. Instead of little cups of juice and fingernail size crackers being passed to each person individually without ever needing to leave your seat, the taking of Communion in the Anglican tradition involves getting out of your seat and kneeling next to brothers and sisters. Communion isn’t just an individualistic experience but one the church does together. (As an aside, in a way, Communion is also more of an individual experience in the Anglican tradition as the priest or vicar gives each person, individually, bread and wine, looks into their eyes, and says, “Take this and remember Christ died for your sins.”) I remember the first time the significance of the act of taking Communion truly sunk in. I walked forward with open hands, bringing nothing with me, kneeling in reverence and submission, and receiving the bread and wine. This was the message of the gospel. I bring nothing of my own merit to Christ. Instead I kneel at the feet of Christ in reverence and submission waiting to receive from him in faith his body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of my sins. Instead of taking Communion, here I’ve learned to receive Communion just like I have received the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

“What does Jesus want? He wants you.”

 

Sunday morning after listening to Dean Andrew Pearson’s wonderful sermon of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I have been quoting here, Communion was offered. We were sitting on the last row that morning. As I waited for my turn to go to the table, I prayed and watched people of different kinds get up from their pews to receive Communion. Then, a few rows ahead of us, a man on crutches got up and limped forward to the Communion table. He was lame. Yet while he is lame on the outside, it occurred to me we all approach the table of Jesus Christ limping, lame with our own, invisible crutches and bruises. Just like Philip asked me on Saturday, so I, too, that morning came limping to the table asking, “Jesus, please give me a new heart.”

 

When it came for my turn to get up, I looked down at my chipped painted fingernails and was thankful. I was thankful that there was something on the outside of my body that wasn’t perfect, that needed fixing, that was ugly. Because it reminded me that stripped of all of my pretenses and outward appearances, I am one in great need of Jesus. I need a new heart. Every day. I, like Philip, make my Father sad. At times, I, too, sink my teeth deep into sin, into my selfishness and pride and refuse to let go. I, too, need the Holy Spirit to continue to sanctify and make new my heart. I, too, come to God on crutches knowing that he heals the sinner, cures the brokenhearted, and makes new the old. Only in Jesus do we find what we’ve always been looking for – love so perfect, love divine.

 

“Every time we celebrate Communion we issue an altar call. We say, The table is set. This is what Jesus Christ has done for you. He has died and is risen again. And he is alive. Come forward and simply receive by faith Jesus Christ. What do you bring when you come forward? Nothing. You just come forward, and whether you are rich or poor, young or old, whether you got it together or you’re a total wreck, whether your bruises really hurt or whether you are still struggling with your bruises, we all take the same posture on our knees and open our hands like beggars and simply receive. We say ‘yes’ to Jesus and surrender our hearts and lives to him.”

 

For the full sermon, listen here.

Rest in God: Reflections on biblical rest

 

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“Jesu, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast:
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

What creates unrest in your life?

Worry? Fear? Relationships? Health? Your children’s extra-curricular activities? Bills? Money? Violence?

We live in a world of unrest – of restlessness.

The search term that brings most people to my blog is restlessness, which leads them to “An Answer To a Restless Spirit,” a post I wrote last year. We are people who struggle with unrest and want to know how to overcome it. As I was thinking about what causes unrest in our lives, I thought of the following.

ISIS creates unrest for people who will not convert. Planned Parenthood creates unrest for babies who were once living restfully in their mothers’ wombs. A white racist created unrest for African-Americans worshipping in a church. Gangs create unrest in neighborhoods. The gossiper creates unrest for the gossiped about one.

Sin creates unrest in all of our lives. There are varying degrees of unrest, but it touches each of us because sin touches each of us.

In the United States, I believe, egocentricism and narcissism eats away at our rest like cancer in its last stage. The more we feed on ourselves the more unhappy and restless we become.

How do we find rest? How can we cultivate rest? Or, how can we overcome unrest?

To answer this question we must begin at the beginning – Genesis 1.

In the beginning God created. The creation account describes God making order out of chaos and thereby creating a good and perfect world (Genesis 1-2). At the end of each day “there was evening and there was morning,” language to communicate the completion of a day. Whether or not this was a 24 hour day or a longer period isn’t important for our discussion. But don’t miss this! Guess what happens on Day 7?

“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

The seventh day was never meant to end. It is the only day that did not have an evening and morning! The seventh day was not a 24 hour day; it was the reality or the space in time in which God was to live with his people forever.

The seventh day commemorated the fulfillment of his creating acts. His creation and creating was complete, perfect, and good. Each creation day ended with the same refrain, “and behold, it was very good.” When God rested from his work he did so because his work was perfectly finished and completed.

On Day 7 we see God, the Creator, resting in a perfect and unbroken fellowship with his creation, most importantly with the man and woman. Rest is not equal to relaxation. Sometimes I feel worse after waking up from a two-hour nap than I did before the nap! The Hebrew word for rest means “to cease.” God rested or ceased from creating work and rested in a good world in which he created. Therefore, biblical rest is the description of the state or reality where sin is not and everything is perfect and completed.

Notice how the work week doesn’t start over for God. Again, it is complete. It is finished. Creation was meant to live in a state of rest with its Creator forever. 

In Genesis 2:3 God does something that he does not do for any other day. He sanctifies the day as belonging to him. God sanctifies rest. God doesn’t sanctify his other days of work; rather, he makes holy the reality (the day) in which he and his creation would live. Creation was meant to live in unbroken fellowship with God, and creation (including you and me) was created to take part in Day 7 with him. Rest was God’s idea from the beginning – “divine rest in a perfect creation.” (See quote below.) The original couple were invited, created with the intention, to enjoy and participate in that rest with God.

This reality did not mean that the original couple did not work nor did it mean that work was a rest-stealer. Work in a sinless, perfect world was good and not hard (Genesis 2:15).

What disturbs the rest that our Creator was enjoying with his creation in the perpetual seventh day?

Genesis 3 tell us it was sin – disobedience.

Sin disturbs this rest and creates unrest. Or, put another way, sin undoes rest and creation.

The perfect, unbroken fellowship with God is now messed up and broken. Good and restful work now turns into hard work with pain, thorn, and thistles. Adam and Eve are sent out of the place where they once dwelt with God. Their physical reality (moving away from God’s presence) is indicative of their spiritual reality – being separated from God. Creation, which was also once at peace with one another because of it being at peace with God, now turns in on and against itself. The first example we see of this unrest within creation is Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother because of jealousy. After the Fall, there are continuous patterns of sin taking the people further away from God and from one another into unrest.

We do not hear of the Sabbath after creation until Exodus 31 when Moses is on Mount Sinai.

“But sin ruined that rest in fellowship with the Creator, as well as God’s rest in a creation unspoiled by sin.” This made it impossible for God to impose the Sabbath on a fallen humankind, because the thing it memorialized — divine rest in a perfect creation — had been destroyed. … The idea of the Sabbath, therefore, disappeared from Scripture until it was reinstitute at Mount Sinai for the people whom God redeemed.”[1]

At Mount Sinai, after God has rescued the Hebrew people out of Egypt, God makes a covenant with his redeemed in order to reestablish a new creation. This is known as the Mosaic covenant.

And the Lord said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” (Ex. 31:12-17; See also Lev. 23:3 and Deut. 5:12-15)

Because of what the Sabbath memorialized – peace with God – God does not reestablish the sanctification of the day until he makes a covenant with people whom he had redeemed (pictured perfectly in the Passover as God passed over every household that had blood of a lamb on its doorposts). We cannot enter into God’s rest without first being redeemed. Redemption is necessary to experience rest.

The law of the Sabbath points back to the first Sabbath. In the celebration of the Sabbath the people are sharing in the intended reality of rest with their Creator and now their Redeemer. In God’s redeeming act (as seen in the Passover and release from captivity in Egypt) is the idea of rebirth – God recreating a people for himself. And because God chose to redeem them, he invites them to share with him in his holy day. In return, those who keep the Sabbath will show themselves to be the faithful, true followers of God.

“As the people of God, the Israelites were identified with their Creator and Redeemer by sharing that Sabbath.”[2]

While this day had physical rest implications (garnering strength for a new work week), it was more than that. The day was a day of worship not for personal pursuits. Worship of God ushers us into rest. When we elevate and feast on ourselves, we become more and more restless. When we elevate and feast on God, we find more and more rest. The promise of rest is often given in conjunction with the promise of land. Think of the Israelites as they leave Egypt. God, through Moses, promises both rest and land. The idea of land and rest brings to mind the garden of Eden when the land also saw rest.

The celebration of the Sabbath also points to a future Sabbath – eternal, eschatological rest. Since the time of the Fall, God in salvation history has been working to bring back the seventh day. In Jesus Christ, God has been working to restore and recreate what was lost in the Fall, a time when what once was will be a present reality again.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, however, we read that the people of God fail to enter rest and the land because of rebellion and unbelief. The three commandments that the Israelites are most often accused of disobeying are: not worshipping idols, not intermarrying, and not keeping the Sabbath. Unbelief delayed the fulfillment of the promised rest.

As we turn to the New Testament, something changes after the Incarnation. The Sabbath is no longer commanded or imposed. Rather, the Sabbath is descriptive of the reality for those in Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus gives a promise for those who will follow him. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus says he alone holds rest, and therefore he alone is able to gift rest. How is it that Jesus can promise rest, and, therefore, how can we trust that Jesus is able to give it?

First, because he is the lord of the Sabbath. As the incarnate Son of God, through whom the world was made (John 1), Jesus is rightful lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8 and Mark 2:28). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus with the Father and the Spirit created the world. As Creator, Jesus with the Father and Spirit rested and sanctified rest.

Second, because of Jesus’ salvific work on the cross and in the resurrection. God recreates us through Jesus’ death and resurrection by reconciling us to himself. Listen to how Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, 21.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this if from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. … For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus puts us back into right relationship with God our Creator. As a result, when we are in a right relationship with our Creator we experience rest. Our proximity to God determines whether or not we will experience rest.

Our four-year-old son has always had difficulty with sleep. Ever since he moved out of a crib, we have struggled with him getting out of his bed in the night to come to our bed. Whether it is us lying by him in order for him to fall asleep or him climbing between us to fall back to sleep when he’s woken up in the night, he can’t seem to find rest unless he is as close to us as possible. Our presence brings comfort and rest to him.

The same is true with us and our Creator, our God, our Father. His presence alone brings true and lasting rest for our souls. The further away from him the more restless we are.

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God also establishes a new covenant. Jesus tells us this when he institutes the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper or communion is the divine interpretation of the cross. We cannot understand the meaning of Jesus’ death without the Lord’s Supper.

At the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says this is my body given for you and this is my blood poured out for you. Just like we could do absolutely nothing to bring about our own creation, we, too, can do nothing to bring about our redemption. Just like we were completely dependant upon God for our physical birth, we, too, are completely dependant upon God for our rebirth. Rest, therefore, cannot be earned, bought, or worked for. It is a gift of God that we receive through Jesus Christ, the lord of Sabbath.

What kind of rest does Jesus give us?

First, as just discussed, we rest from works of salvation, from any and all attempts to get to God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). For those who come from other religions or perhaps from a misconstrued type of Christianity, this type of work is very wearisome and burdensome (just like it was for those trying to keep the Sabbath). Taking Jesus’ yoke is to accept the work of salvation he has done on our behalf, and as a result find rest from works of salvation. Works attempted on our own are hard, but works that are a result of the Spirit of God are light and easy.

Second, we rest from sin and the guilt of sin. “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5b). “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28). “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).”To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts. 10:43).

Third, the rest we have is peace with God. We are at peace with God because we have been reconciled to God. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

So what do we do with the Sabbath commandment as Christians?

Since the Sabbath is no longer commanded or imposed, we must not confuse what we do on Sunday as the Sabbath. We come together on Sundays to worship Christ and to celebrate what he has done for us in ushering us into this eschatological rest, but we are no longer under the law of the Sabbath. Instead, in Christ every day is a Sabbath because we are reconciled to God. We are reminded of this reality through worship. And it’s not only spiritual rest, but we also are given physical rest in worship because of who we are worshipping. Therefore, we are able to enter into God’s rest even while still living in a world and a land of unrest that is still waiting for its final redemption because we are at peace with God. This is counterintuitive to what the world offers. The world says to exalt yourself and trust in yourself to find “your best life now.” God says, Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, those of you who are tired of running away, turning inward, rebelling, and I alone will give you rest.

It doesn’t matter how much we declutter our lives and our homes, how many times we say “no” to good things, how organized we are, how many naps we take, or how many hours we sleep at night. These are good things to give our bodies rest. But we cannot create rest for ourselves. We might look restful or happy on the outside, but without Jesus, without a relationship with God through Jesus that is spent feasting on his Word and in prayer, any rest we have is only a mirage. It is a fake and so thin that the slightest thing will break it, undo it.

But in Christ, we have a foretaste of the seventh day. The not yet will one day be. There will be no more unrest or restlessness when the kingdom of God comes.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'”

No matter what is causing you unrest or restlessness in the present, daily troubles of this life, rest in Christ. Rest in his salvation. Find rest in your Creator and Redeemer. And rest in his promise that he will one day bring you into his eternal rest where we will once again dwell in that “seventh day.”

 

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My unexpected sabbatical: A look back at Cambridge

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There is a clock in the center of Cambridge, England. Actually there are as many clocks in Cambridge as there are churches in Birmingham, Alabama (where I am from). But the clock I am referring to is a special and unusual clock.

The Corpus Clock draws the attention of visitors and residents alike. For one, there are no hands on this clock. In fact, at first glance, one might not know that it is a clock at all! What draws people to it is its unusual appearance. Amongst a sea of brown and grey bricks and stones sits an encased 3-dimensional circle, almost 5 feet across in diameter, plated in 24-carat gold, and worth at least 1 million pounds if not more.

What is even more unusual about this clock is that the time is accurate only once every five minutes. Sometimes the clock slows down and at other times it races forward. Not to mention that what sits on top of the clock is a strange creature that looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a locust. This creature, also known as the Chronophage or “Time Eater,” opens its mouth as if he is eating time and occasionally blinks to show his satisfaction.

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Although the clock isn’t always accurate it truthfully represents our perception of time. For often time feels as if it has slowed down: when school or a work day feels like it will never end; when waiting for an appointment; or when waiting for test results. At other times in life time feels as if it is moving too fast, especially as a parent when you watch your children grow. Yet, no matter whether time has “slowed down” or “sped up,” it nonetheless passes and what is in the past will never be present again. This is why the Time Eater makes such an impression. For it illustrates this reality in a haunting way: time is eaten until it is eventually all gone, evidenced by the Latin inscription that marks the top of the clock: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius (“the world passes away and the lust thereof”) from 1 John 2:17.

One year ago my family packed up what we could fit in six suitcases and moved to Cambridge, England, for six months for my husband’s sabbatical. I’m crying now as I write this. Those were some of the best months of my life!

My husband teaches New Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and was up for his first sabbatical since being at Beeson Divinity. He was under contract for a new book, The Acts of the Apostles: Essays in Interpretation, History and Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming), which meant he wanted to spend his sabbatical at a good, theological library. Cambridge is home to the world’s largest (and best!) evangelical library, Tyndale House, not to mention that by being at Tyndale House he also had access to the Cambridge University libraries.

When our family of three moved to Cambridge, we did so for my husband’s sabbatical. Sabbatical comes from the Latin sabbaticus, which means to cease or take leave from work. You might also recognize the connection with the word Sabbath.

While Osvaldo was taking a paid leave of absence from his work as a theological educator, he wasn’t ceasing from work entirely. Yet, his reprieve from teaching allowed him to do something else that he loved – research and writing.

Then there was me. At that time I was a stay-at-home mom. Moving to England didn’t mean that I was ceasing from my work. I just carried it with me. His name is Philip, and at the time he was three. This won’t be a sabbatical for me, I thought.

What I soon discovered, about a month after being in Cambridge, was that indeed God was gifting me with a sabbatical of my own. But not in the way that you or I would think.

What moving to Cambridge did for me was that it took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a reprieve from expectations, commitments, temptations, cultural priorities, and even idols that came with where I was living. In this way, I was gifted a sabbatical.

The power of contrast allowed me to see those areas in my life and heart that had been controlled by culture or worldly things rather than by God.

Our way of living drastically changed. We were now living in a place without a car, TV, or 4G Internet access away from Wifi hot spots. Our home had no air conditioner, which surprisingly was a problem during the summer months, and no electronic clothes dryer. Part of my daily routine was to hang all of our clothes, towels and sheets! To get anywhere in town we would mostly walk or cycle and occasionally take the bus. This meant spending more time getting around town, which, consequently, meant more time in communication with my son, reflection, and prayer.

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This contrast brought clarity. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see those things in my life back home that were superfluous, that created unrest in my life (the opposite of Sabbath), and that were unpleasing to Him. Like looking at my reflection in the glass window of the Corpus Clock, by living in Cambridge the Holy Spirit allowed me to see myself more clearly. In many ways I had been living like that person for whom the Corpus clock is true – as if time was a limited commodity that I had to utilize before the Time Eater ate it up.

I’ve heard it said, “That’s the thing with idols: when you think you have a control on them that is when they really have control of you.” For me, one of those idols was time.

The ironic twist in my sabbatical was that as life became more difficult (no car, TV, clothes dryer, etc) and thereby in many ways more time consuming, as I spent more time in communion with Him, and as time became less of an idol for me, the more time I had. My days felt longer. I had time for tea. For relationships. For conversations. For adventures. As a result, I experienced more freedom.

Within a month, I noticed a change in my spirit. Burdens that were once there, often placed by me, were gone. Life was simpler. Less time was spent caring what others thought, what others were doing and saying on social media, and trying to keep up with Pinterest, while more time was spent visiting parks. (We visited a total of eight while in Cambridge.)

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We took adventures. My first month in Cambridge, I was invited to a tearoom with other moms and children, whose husbands and fathers were studying at Tyndale. Going would mean cycling with Philip almost four miles one way without having a GPS. I screenshot some maps, packed a backpack and our basket on the front of the cycle, and we were off. With the help of several, kind English people, who gave me directions along the way, that little adventure took us down ivy-grown paths, along a river, past open, green fields, into an apple orchard where I eventually sat down for tea and scones with other women while the children played under apple trees.

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Whereas time before Cambridge was rushed and there never seemed to be enough of it, in Cambridge I was finding more time with the cessation of expectations (i.e., making a wreath for my front door or planning parties), material things, and the need to work and be productive all the time. Whereas my time in prayer and Scripture were rushed and not always made a priority before Cambridge, in Cambridge there seemed to be ample time for me to hear from God through His Word, prayer and Christian friendships.

As I reflect on our six months in Cambridge now that I sit back in our home in Alabama, where we have two cars, a TV, 4G Internet, air conditioner (hallelujah!) and an electronic clothes dryer, I am not the same person. Despite my longing to be back in Cambridge to have that way of life once more, God’s unexpected gift to me (and really to my entire family) of a sabbatical has stayed with me. Although I find myself back in a busier culture with different values and temptations than that of England (which has its own temptations and negative values), God reoriented my mind and heart so that I could discern better and easier between what was important and unimportant, what was good and what was stealing my rest and joy, and what was necessary for life and salvation and what was cultural.

As I think back to the Corpus Clock, it strikes me that the inventor of the clock only put the first part of 1 John 2:17. Either he didn’t know the rest of the verse or didn’t believe it. “The world is passing away along with its desires” would leave anyone depressed. Life is frivolous. Life is just a breath. You’ve heard it said, “Drink, eat and be merry for we may only have the night.” I feel that as Americans we often live in this kind of reality. Live this life to the fullest because we all have just “one life to live.” Perform, do, work. Hurry up! Time is passing, and you only have a short amount of time to accomplish so much before you die. In this way, even for the Christian living in the States, life can be hard, restless and pressed from every side.

Yet this is not how the story ends. In Jesus we have a “salvific but” in this verse. The “but” tells us there is an alternative to the prior reality. For some, there is a period after “the world passes away and the lusts thereof,” but in Christ there is a comma. “But whoever does the will of God abides forever.” What is the will of God? Jesus answers this question for us in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The world may pass away, but those who do his will – believe – will live forever and will never die.

You see, by Jesus Christ destroying sin on the cross and overcoming death in the resurrection, he destroyed the Time Eater. Those who die with Christ – by faith – will be raised to everlasting life. We won’t need a clock that tells us that time is passing by because time will never end. Instead of a Time Eater, we will have a Time Giver: Jesus Christ.

Before I went to Cambridge, I lived by a clock. Now that I am working outside the home full-time, in some ways, I live by the clock even more! But by the grace and mercy of God, the gift of my sabbatical continues. The reality that Jesus gives us is not one that has to wait until we pass from this life to the next; rather, it is one that begins here and now if we allow Him to be first in our life. You don’t need to go to Cambridge, England, to have this kind of sabbatical. As Jesus continues to reorient our hearts so that it is no longer bent inward toward self, time, and the things of this world, but arched outward to Him, He gifts us with rest, freedom and, ironically, more time.

 

 

 

 

 

Media and the sexualization of children: Thoughts from a concerned parent

spot_thumbA scene from Tylenol’s new commercial, #HowWeDoFamily

The Today Show’s article about a transgender child came up on my Facebook newsfeed once again.

This is the third time I have seen an article from The Today Show featuring children whom, they say, have realized they were born the wrong sex.

These children are 10 years and under. They have yet to hit puberty. Their minds, personalities and bodies are still maturing, and, therefore, we would not consider them adults.

Yet, these children have become the poster children for a sexually hungry and motivated media. They are Exhibit A for a liberal, sexual agenda.

The unnaturalness of same-sex marriage or transgender practices has become naturalized, and if they can prove that people are just born that way, starting with young children, then they believe they have their argument made.

What has resulted, I think, is an overt sexualization of children.

In an important but disturbing article, Katie Yoder makes the case that the media is transfixed on transgender children and its movement.

But the media is not just using children who express a desire to be the opposite sex or love the same sex for its agenda. (This is the first problem.) Those few elite personalities behind the media are trying to influence and change the way our children believe, think about and view sexuality as evidenced in the kinds of shows targeted to our children.

Just take a look at the shows playing on ABC Family, whose tagline is “A new kind of family.” Becoming Us is about an “ordinary” (note the use of this word) Midwestern boy named Ben whose father, after his parents’ divorce, is now transitioning into a woman. Or, how about Baby Daddy, which is about another main character named Ben, whose ex-girlfriend left their baby on his doorstep and who is now raising this child with two other single male adults. Then there’s The Fosters, which is about two lesbian women raising six children. They are described as a “close-knit, loving family.” I could list other popular shows aimed at our children, like Glee, that are hyper-sexualized and seem to blush at nothing.

In addition, the media is obsessed with Bruce-turned-Caitlyn Jenner since this popular, all-American athlete makes the perfect model and spokesperson for the transgender movement. (He also was recently awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN).

I fully expect to see cartoons, video games, children books and movies reflecting these changing views of family and marriages. Already last week I saw a new Tylenol commercial that is trying to redefine conventional family by including scenes of both lesbian and gay couples with children using the hashtag, #HowWeDoFamily.

So where does this leave me as a parent, who believes traditional marriage is best for society and children and who doesn’t share the same views and sympathies as those shared in media?

I don’t have five suggested steps or three answers that will solve our problems. I’m simply sounding the alarm. For some, an alarmist is a bad thing. But for me, alarms have always saved my life – whether it was when my apartment burned down or when a tornado passed by our home. I am grateful for alarms.

I want to provide information and pose questions. As a former journalist, the best starting place is becoming knowledgeable. Knowledge truly is power.

I want to become vigilant and aware of how a minority is trying to change the views of the majority. I want to speak up where necessary and say “No” where needed, even if it isn’t a popular thing to do. Instead of watching Disney and Pixar movies on ABC Family (which has a ridiculous amount of commercials anyway), I can rent those movies. We lived for six months in England without a TV; it is possible (and wonderful!).

Most importantly I do not want to give the media any voice where it concerns my family, particularly my son.

I remember watching the show Friends in college, while my roommate’s favorite show was Will and Grace. We laughed and made excuses for the promiscuous hetero- and homo-sexual lifestyles. They won us over with comedy. It was just so funny. However, these shows, over time, can act like guitar strings on fingers, making us calloused.

But I see more clearly now that while these shows did not change my view of sexuality, over time it has played a part in changing our society’s views. Like a stream that over many years changes the appearance of mountains, the media over time has helped to change and bend hearts and minds to its will.

I don’t want to be ignorant. I want to be vigilant and prayerful. I pray that as my husband and I teach God’s view of sexuality, according to Scripture, to our son, that the Word of God and our feeble attempt will be a louder voice than that of the media.

Like King Solomon, I, too, will say to my son, “Do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.” (Prov. 3:1-2)

Concerning the media and those who wish to pervert sexuality, I will tell him, “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.” (Prov. 5:3-6)

SCOTUS decision, marriage & Christian response

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Photo credit: Meredith Teasley. Check out her beautiful work.

Shortly after posting a critique of Jennifer Hatmaker’s response to the World Vision event as it related to gay marriage last year, I was asked by a reader to explain my view on homosexuality and how I find support for that in Scripture.

I haven’t done so before now because I thought others were articulating it better than I and because I wanted to give it careful thought.

Now in light of the SCOTUS decision, Christians again are asking questions about marriage. Some are asking, “Am I on the wrong side of history?” Like some pop-Christian authors and preachers, some Christians are buying into a redefinition of love that finds its meaning, not in God or Scripture, but in self-fulfillment. Other Christians chide fellow Christians for speaking up in any way negatively about the issue because they, too, have bought into a different understanding of love — that is, to put it negatively, love doesn’t offend nor does it hurt feelings, or, to put it positively, love is accepting and non-judgmental.

As it relates to the meaning of love, Christians who want to be faithful to Scripture, must ask how Scripture defines and lives out its definition of love. We must ask ourselves if our definition of love squares with Scripture. Was God’s message to Nineveh through the prophet Jonah, loving? Were any of the prophets’ messages to the nations and even to Israel considered loving? Why were God and his prophets so concerned with other nations? (Imagine doing evangelism like the prophets! And read the prophets if you haven’t already.) Was Jesus loving when he told Peter, “Get behind me Satan”? Was Jesus loving when he rebuked his disciples for not letting the children come to him? Was Jesus loving when he overturned the tables in the temple? Was Paul loving when he rebuked the Roman, Corinthian, and Galatian Christians or Peter? I could go on.

Make a test. Use the world’s definition of love (or even perhaps your own) and see whether God (in the Old Testament) and Jesus and his disciples in the New fail or pass your love test.

If the basis of love is truly self-fulfillment, then same-sex marriage is right before the eyes of God. However, this is not how the Bible defines love or marriage. Scripture speaks unanimously that practicing homosexual behavior is a sin. There are never any exceptions to this in the narrative.

But just because we oppose same-sex marriage doesn’t mean we oppose people. Love both corrects and welcomes. We welcome people (whoever they might be!) into our homes; we share with them the gospel of Jesus; we get to know them and have dinner with them. We can do all these things while at the same time teaching that Scripture teaches that practicing homosexuality is a sin just like any other sin.

We also do not teach that marriage is the end-all nor do we teach that one finds ultimate fulfillment in marriage. We do not separate the married from the singles as the haves and the have-nots. Instead of offering an institution as the savior we offer Jesus as the savior.

So how should we understand marriage, our culture, the SCOTUS decision and what our response should be?

Again I refer to others who speak on this better than I can. Over at First Things magazine, a number of “male and female, gay and straight, Christian and Jewish, Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox” contributors give their answers. I highly encourage you to read each response. The following quotes are some that really stood out to me, and I hope they are helpful to you as you process a Christian response and a biblical view of marriage.

For marriage policy to serve the common good it must reflect the truth that marriage unites a man and a woman as husband and wife so that children will have both a mother and a father. Marriage is based on the anthropological truth that men and woman are distinct and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children deserve a mother and a father.

The government is not in the marriage business because it’s a sucker for adult romance. No, marriage isn’t just a private affair; marriage is a matter of public policy because marriage is society’s best way to ensure the well-being of children. State recognition of marriage acts as a powerful social norm that encourages men and women to commit to each other so they will take responsibility for any children that follow.

Redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution fundamentally changes marriage: It makes the relationship more about the desires of adults than about the needs—or rights—of children. It teaches the lie that mothers and fathers are interchangeable. — Ryan T. Anderson

When a culture treats the family primarily as an arena for self-fulfillment and self-expression rather than first and foremost as the sphere dedicated to the education of future generations, that culture manifests a weakening of its faith in the abiding value and imperative power of its core beliefs. That this spirit of “negation and despair” has corroded liberal Western culture, to its detriment, is an old story. Justice Alito’s dissent notes the rate of illegitimate birth, and nobody is shocked at the routine acceptance of marital infidelity and instability. All this is ominous for the sustainability of Western civilization. To outsiders, however, it appears inconsistent and selective to judge practicing homosexuals, for whom same-sex impulses are usually deep-seated, more strictly than wanton adulterers. If the bonds of faithfulness have frayed, a 5-4 vote in the other direction would not have reversed the ravages of the sexual revolution, the fruit of chronic secular despair under the progressive commodification of late capitalism. — Shalom Carmy

However, there is one thing that, tempted as we may be to expect it, will not happen, either in our lifetime or beyond: Marriage will not go away. The Gospel-imaging union between a man and a woman as a sacred testimony to Christ’s pursuit of His church will never be scrubbed from our culture, as if it were a coat of paint on our social consciousness. No, marriage is not merely a cultural accessory, it is a cosmic, spiritual, and deeply human reality is embedded into the creation itself. No amount of same-sex marriage in the twenty-first century will change this, just as no amount of blue-collar, Bible-belt divorce culture in the late twentieth century changed it then.

The Sexual Revolution always promises fulfillment but betrays its followers bitterly in the end. Even as we brace for a generation’s worth of confusion and enforced conformity, we must also stand fast in holding out hope to the refugees from the Sexual Revolution who will come to us, being wrecked by the fantasy of autonomy and self-creation. We must keep the light lit to the old paths. We must point out why marriage is rooted not just in nature and tradition but in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:32).

Marriage is resilient because it is God-created, not another government program. That’s why hand wringing and siege mentality has no place among those who want to champion traditional marriage. Marriage does not exist thanks to humanity, and so it cannot be unmade thanks to it either. Even in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling, we know this to be true. Let’s be compassionate, confident, and, like the institution we care about so deeply, let’s be resilient. — Russell Moore

Bruce Jenner has become a celebrity because his decision “to define and express” his identity as a woman epitomizes our reigning view of freedom. It’s our national religion now, the religion of Me. Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, “Every country gets the government is deserves.” We’ve gotten the Supreme Court decision we deserve. …

We’re part of the culture that now embraces the religion of Me and it’s perverse view of freedom. Our first task today is do differentiate ourselves from this false religion—and to do so with clarity. This means speaking forthrightly about matters of moral substance.

We need to speak about sexual morality. We need to demand marriage equality. Why do the rich today get married, but the poor don’t? Why is our supposedly progressive culture fixed on the luxury good of gay marriage while ignoring the collapsing family culture elsewhere in our society? We need to talk about the complementarity of men and women, something political correctness tries to prevent us from doing. We need to sin against the religion of Me by speaking of God—and God’s laws.

In traditional Islamic societies, non-Muslim’s are dhimmis. They are allowed to exist, but they live under severe restrictions. Islam alone is permitted to define the public square. Over time, dhimmisinternalize their subjugated status, accepting their subordinate roles.

The greatest challenges we face will not be legal. They will be cultural. We will be tempted to submit, tempted to remain silent. We will be tempted to reorient our efforts, trying to find a way to survive in an American regime governed by the religion of Me.

We must fight against this temptation. We must resist dhimmitude and its false path of self-imposed submission. Now is the time for truth-telling. We need to find our footing in today’s cultural landscape so that we can speak boldly about the goods of marriage, the sanctity of life, and the true nature of human freedom. — R.R. Reno

There are many ways that we can respond in these coming days: prayer, conversations, posting articles that reflect truth, writing letters to congressmen, teaching our children truth, etc.

Here are my two concluding thoughts:

1. We should not shame each other for believing and standing up for traditional marriage. Nor should we shame each other for speaking up that nationalized same-sex marriage will have negative repercussions for our children. We believe traditional marriage is the best for our society, and working toward a betterment for our society isn’t wrong or shameful.

2. Should we shout and defame people? Should we cry and stamp our feet? Should we be rude to others? No. Whatever side you are on that kind of behavior is wrong. Rather we share the truth (notice that part) in love. A love that is patient, kind, not arrogant or rude.  A love that rejects and warns against false teaching, which leads to death, and upholds truth, which leads to life. And even when people reject the truth, when a nation redefines the institution of marriage based on a new definition of love, we do not despair, because “our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

Homesick for Home

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Four months and some days ago we returned back to the States from having lived in Cambridge, England for almost six months.

I began missing Cambridge the moment the taxi driver drove us out of the city toward London.

It is funny what a place can do to someone. I am homesick for Cambridge, even if it was my home for a brief moment in time. Her streets, churches, colleges, bicycle paths, foliage, river, parks, and people have all left an impression on my heart and mind, and if I close my eyes I am immediately transported back onto her streets on my bicycle soaking in the sights, smells and sounds.

As I continue to reflect on our sabbatical and specifically our time in Cambridge, I am humbled by the many spiritual lessons I have learned. But this particular lesson is one that the Teacher continues to teach and one that I hope He doesn’t stop teaching. And it is this: Cambridge points to something better – a better home.

I have been homesick before. I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to pursue a masters degree having no immediate family less than seven hours away. In fact, I had no family east of the Mississippi River. I was alone and missing home.

When we were living in Cambridge, I, also, had moments of homesickness, especially around Thanksgiving. Not only did we not have family to celebrate with us, but since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, it was for all practical purposes nonexistent in the world in which we now lived.

Even though I have had these homesick moments before, this time living back in the States missing Cambridge has been different. For one, I have a deep longing to be there. But what makes this homesickness especially different is that every time I think of Cambridge, God redirects my thoughts to the new heavens and the new earth. It is not as if missing and longing for Cambridge is a bad thing (it’s not!), but longing for Cambridge has been the impetus for longing for something better than Cambridge. The Holy Spirit has used Cambridge to point to something better than itself.

For those of us living in places free of persecution, it is easy to romanticize and memorialize this world as if a particular place will bring about inevitable happiness or as if there is truly heaven on earth. When I have had these types of moments with Cambridge when I only remember the good and not the bad, I will talk to some of my American friends living there. By the end of our conversation I am reminded quickly the things that I hated about living in England: no clothes dryer, a hot and cold faucet, high costs of living expenses, not prescribing antibiotics unless you are “dying,” its often impractability, and leaving dishes to dry without rinsing off the soap. To put it succinctly, Cambridge is not perfect.

If I move back to Cambridge tomorrow, I would not necessarily have a better life. To be sure, I would find many things to complain about and I am sure I would be restless at times. I will not have reached heaven on earth. Cambridge, ultimately, would not be my final home, nor would I want it to be.

Yet, coming back from Cambridge reminds me of what it means to long for something better, for something that I love, for a place I want to go. Jesus has redirected my longing for Cambridge to longing for that promised, blessed new earth when all will things will be made right and when all will be at peace and rest because God will be our God and we will be His people. Knowing Jesus has given me a foretaste of what is still to come. His presence has put into my heart a longing for that eternal home.

Cambridge is not my final destination. The new earth, where God and man will dwell together again in perfect peace and love, that is where I am headed. That is where I long. And, until then, I will be homesick for something better than Cambridge. I will be homesick for Home.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:16

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” Revelation 21:1-5a