Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Femininity, by Elisabeth Elliot

Today's daily devotional from Elisabeth Elliot, simply titled, "Femininity," reads as follows:

My late philosopher-theologian husband used to tell his students that the importance of a thing was in direct ratio to the difficulty of defining it. Last year I asked my students in seminary to write a paper defining masculinity and femininity. They were allowed a maximum of two pages in which to do it, but I told them it would be fine with me if they could manage it in two sentences. (None did.) All of them testified that it was the most difficult assignment of the course.

The difficulty has been exacerbated, I am convinced, by the so-called liberation movement, which starts from the premise that there are no distinctions between the sexes other than the purely biological. It seems a strangely naive and cramped view of the fundamental differentiation of our human existence, especially in this day when most physicians acknowledge that illnesses involve more than the body, when psychiatrists acknowledge that mental illness may have physical causes, and when any spiritual counselor knows that spiritual problems often affect both mind and body. Why, in this most obvious area of sexual distinction, should we blandly (and preposterously) assert that it has no implications deeper than the physiological?

One Thanksgiving weekend I attended the Evangelical Women's Caucus in Washington, D.C. A few women who had read some of my writings greeted me with an astonished "What are you doing here?"

"I'm an evangelical woman, am I not?" I said, but of course I knew why they were surprised. The conference was to deal with the question of a "biblical" approach to feminism. Those who attended were expected to be feminists, and I don't belong in that crowd. I cannot be a "feminist" because, for one thing, I believe in femininity--a category which I see as infinitely deeper than the merely physical, a quality radically distinct from masculinity.

I listened in vain for the word femininity in any of the major addresses, and I looked in vain for any workshop which might touch on the subject. What women feel, what women want, what women do and what they want to do and don't want to do were all discussed with enthusiasm and even with passion, but what women are simply escaped everybody's notice. One workshop leader, Letha Scanzoni, co-author of an evangelical feminist book, All We're Meant to Be, used Ephesians 5 to support her idea of egalitarian marriage, claiming mutual submission to be Paul's point there, thus divesting the analogy of its sense.

One of the planks of the feminist platform is that sexual distinctions beyond the biological ones are all culturally defined. Our ideas of femininity, they say, are purely conditioned. If we try giving dump trucks to little girls and tea sets to little boys, things would be quickly reversed, we are told. The only reason no woman has ever been a Grand Master in chess is that women are not socially conditioned to be great chess players. Sounds believable until you think of Russia, the country from which most Grand Masters have come, and a country in which as many women as men play chess (but we would not dare to suggest that the feminine intellect is in any way different from--not to say inferior to--the masculine). Women are not encouraged to seek positions which require aggression, it is said, and therefore aggression is considered a masculine trait. Society can change all this. Just start interchanging roles, encouraging girls to be plant foremen, boys to be nurses. Insist on husbands doing housework and wives taking equal financial responsibility. Make women pay alimony, conscript them for active military service, let men knit and cry in public if they want to, and we'll see what happens.

But all this sort of thing is quite beside the point. The idea of male and female was God's idea. None of us would have thought of it, and God has never defined it for anybody. He's told us what he did--he created them in his own image, male and female and he's shown us how he did it. He made the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life; then, because he saw in his creation the first thing that was "not good," namely a man alone, he made for the man a woman. He made her for the man. To me this is the first constituent of femininity. Then he made her from the man--derived, flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone, like and yet wondrously unlike. This is the second constituent. Finally, he brought her to the man, designed exactly to suit his peculiar need, prepared to meet that need for a helper, and then, in divine wisdom and love, given. This is the third constituent.

But what is this man, what is this woman? What are these elusive and indefinable but universally acknowledged qualities on which every culture and society has shaped its existence? The question which feminists resolutely refuse to confront at all is one vastly prior to the question of social conditioning. It is this: Why has every society since the beginning of time conditioned its males and females so distinctively? Granted, the ideas of masculinity and femininity have been expressed differently from time to time and from place to place, but the distinctions have without exception been, until the late twentieth century, preserved.

Michael Marshall in his profound little book Gospel Healing and Salvation says, "Modern man is hung up on his identity with others in lengthy counselings. The Christian realizes that his true identity is a mystery known only to God, and that any attempt at this stage on the road of discipleship to define himself is bound to be blasphemous and destructive of that mysterious work of God forming Christ in him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Certainly the Christian does not define his identity by his actions: that is the very ultimate in anti-Christ, for it is in effect saying that I am my own creator."

Feminists, regrettably, ask us to define ourselves not as men and women but as "human beings" (whatever that means), identified only by our function in society. We must rid ourselves, Virginia Mollenkott declared at the Washington caucus, of "all gender-based categories.

Through the centuries the church has seen the soul as "female before God"--that is, the receptor, the one who responds, who is created for the other, the one acted upon, the one who gives herself. The structure of the female body, designed to carry, to bear and to nurture--surely it is but the material evidence of the mystery of femininity, a physical sign of metaphysical realities with which we tamper only to our own peril. Femininity is indisputably bound up with the concept of motherhood. This is not social conditioning. It is not a lamentable prejudice of which we ought to try to purify ourselves. It is most certainly not, as some feminists cry, "barbaric." The physical signs, far from being extraneous frills we would do well to ignore or overcome, point to the invisible truth of womanhood, exemplified for all women forever in that simple peasant girl, the virgin Mary, utterly feminine, utterly ready to give herself up to the over-shadowing Holy Ghost in the will of God, ready to receive, to bear, to nurture "that holy thing," the Lord Christ, ready to go down into death to give him life, ready to have even her own soul pierced by a sword.

This is an example, I say, for all women forever--not only for those who are the actual mothers of children, but for all who seriously contemplate the Creation Story and accept their place as it is described there, not a competitive one, not even (heaven forbid) an "equal" one, but a different one, mysterious, defined at last only by God the Creator himself, with its own divinely designed kingdom, its own power, its own glory, and all in perfect complement to that other mystery which every real woman recognizes when she sees it--recognizes but cannot define: masculinity.

From Elisabeth Elliot's Online Devotional

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sex and the Single Man

A Panel Discussion

If you're a married man, don't go anywhere. And ladies, stay where you are. This message applies to you as well.

The title refers to perhaps one of the most eye-opening discussions on purity I've ever heard in my life: Sex and the Single Man, which took place at the 2004 Desiring God National Conference. No, I was not in attendance, but I listened to it online. And before reading any further, I highly encourage you to listen to this message now by clicking here.

This was a panel discussion/lecture hosted by Mark Dever and it features some skilled marksmanship in being able to pinpoint our tendencies to be unholy with the opposite sex. While the message starts out talking about the obvious, ("Don't have sex until you are married,") it concludes by slaying the not-so-obvious sins, and I must confess, I was convicted. Some of the discussion in the not-so-obvious section includes how we have a tendency to put off marriage because for self-serving reasons. For example, we may have been blessed with the most wonderful partner in the world, but we string them along because we want to see if there is someone better out there. (Busted! I have done this.) Fraudulent behavior is also discussed (busted again!) as well as wanting to know every single shred of information about the other person down to the last detail before you are willing to trust them. (Once, twice, three times guilty!) The common denominator in all this behavior is selfishness. We are primarily looking out for number one in all of these examples.

These principles are relevant to both the single person and the married person. Singles need to practice fidelity now. Loyalty and faithfulness are not virtues that one receives as a gift on one's wedding day. And although these are disciplines that must be cultivated before marriage, they must continually be fine-tuned far into a married couple's golden years. I would like to take this time to expand a little bit on what Dever and the rest of the panelists discussed in this session.

First, what is modesty? Ask any Christian what modesty is and they'll probably provide an answer that involves clothing. Is this really all that modesty is? What else could it be? Well, let me offer you this scenario:

How would you feel if your significant other dressed in such a way that not one inch of skin was visible below the neck, yet they flirted with every member of the opposite sex that paid attention to them? What if every time your significant other opened his/her mouth, they had a funny story about the time they and a member of the opposite sex had a grand time doing this or that?

Whether you are married or single, male or female, my guess is after a while you probably wouldn't be very impressed over how much fabric was wrapped around this person. The fact that they dress modestly is completely negated by their behavior. This is because modesty is not simply about how one dresses. Rather, modesty is an attitude that is reflected in one's behavior -- and it should be practiced by both women and men alike. So here are three minor adjustments you can make, in addition to minding the way you dress, to practice modesty in your behavior with the opposite sex:

1. Limit the time you spend with a member of the opposite sex who is not a) your spouse; or b) someone with whom you are pursuing the possibility of a courtship. If you are married this is obvious. But if you are single, it may not be so obvious -- however it is still very important. You want to demonstrate now that you are capable of being loyal, faithful, and committed. The way you behave as a single is the primary indicator of how you will behave as a spouse. For example, last year, I had a wonderful man pursue me for awhile who had been badly betrayed in a past relationship. It was a real treat for me to be able to tell this man, "You are the only person I talk to and spend time with like this." We never progressed to an official courtship, but it was still a joy for me to provide him with that sense of security. It is also a good practice for me to develop now, so when I am called to a marital union, I will not have as difficult a time "forsaking all others."

2. Ask yourself, do I really need 400 "friends?" It is important to be mindful of how we come across regarding the number of opposite sex "friends" we have, both in person and online. Take MySpace, for example. I do not personally have a MySpace account, however, I do belong to other online communities and I have seen how one's behavior on websites like MySpace can be detrimental to one's character and Christian walk. It is probably not a good idea to have a majority of one's top "friends" on MySpace to be of the opposite sex. This is important for both married people and single people. When we have dozens of attractive people on our Friends List, it can poison the mind of your current (or future) spouse. Current spouses naturally may become insecure and wonder where your fidelity is. Prospective spouses may also feel insecure, as though they must compete with all the beautiful women or attractive men on your MySpace page. Prospective spouses may ask, "Will I also have to compete with these friends after we're married?"

MySpace and other online communities aside, it is also probably not going to serve your current or future spouse to have numerous stories that involve your opposite sex friends. For a woman to continually talk about men and say things like "I don't have many girlfriends. I just get along with men much better," is a sign of something else going on much deeper under the surface. Try to be sensitive to a current or prospective spouse by making them feel as secure in your fidelity as possible. The best way to do this is not give them a reason to feel insecure in the first place. For some of us, that means dying to self and distancing ourselves from those opposite sex relationships that we know would be hurtful to a current or prospective spouse.

3. Do not give into the temptation to "put yourself out there". While I think it is totally appropriate to be about the Lord's business and put yourself in the path of other godly people, even for the purposes of finding a future spouse, we can easily become confused when we "play the field". I'll give you an example to explain what I mean by this.

I have a male friend who once said to me, "I just don't know which woman to pursue. One has godly qualities, but so does the other. Then a third one comes along. What do I do? I am afraid to pick the wrong one." What this young man is expressing is once again that sneaky tendency toward self-service. This man is more focused on choosing the right one for him, rather than being the right one for her. And so he is afraid that once he marries, he may later realize he made the wrong "choice." When we open ourselves up to too many people of the opposite sex, we open ourselves up to confusion. The Bible says that God is not a God of confusion. If we trust God for our spouse, He will provide. Someone once said "The safest place on earth is in God's will." It's true. If we take our hands off the situation, we will have no trouble discerning who God's choice of a marriage partner is. But when we start getting to know this one, that one, and all their friends, the choice becomes very difficult. Do you want to someday say to your husband, "The only one I spent time really getting to know was you," or do you want to someday say to your husband, "The only ones I spent time really getting to know were you, Jack, Bill, Tom, Joe, Frank, Steve, Charlie, Hector, Snake, The Johnson Twins, and Larry?"

Here is a true story that also illustrates this point: I had a female friend who met a lot of men on MySpace. It seemed every month, she was spending time with a different man. One day, she asked my opinion about this, and I told her that not only was she creating confusion for herself, she was also not trusting God. In addition, she was forming a reputation for herself as someone who seemed a little "boy crazy". I asked her, "Do you want to someday say to your husband, The only one I spent time really getting to know was you, or do you want to someday say to your husband, The only ones I spent time really getting to know were you, Jack, Bill, Tom, Joe, Frank, Steve, Charlie, Hector, Snake, The Johnson Twins, and Larry?" She immediately understood my point. She deleted her MySpace account (I told her this was unnecessary -- but she didn't know how to stop herself from being tempted to talk to all these men if she didn't). And would you believe, about two weeks later she met her husband! That may not have happened if she continued to allow herself to be confused by the company of so many men.

Married people may not be consciously "putting themselves out there," but they can still subconsciously put themselves in these situations. Think about the numerous times a married person has declared that they want to get a divorce simply because they "feel" that they love someone new: "Things haven't been good between us for awhile, and I have discovered I have feelings for Biff -- I'm sorry, but I'm leaving you." How does something like this happen? I think that in the same manner that singles struggle with confusion in the examples above, a married person can also become "confused." Marriage vows are not about feelings. A marriage is more than a commitment -- it is a covenant, and it is "for better, for worse". When we forget that, we put our marriages in danger the moment we hit one of those "for worse" times. Instead of remaining true to the covenant, we begin "venting" to an outsider of the opposite sex. Then we begin to develop feelings we shouldn't. Those feelings become confusing . . . and again, confusion is not from God!

1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality. What is sexual immorality? It is not just a matter of fornication. Simply put, it is any sexual behavior that is wrong. Many people forget that flirting is sexual behavior. Emotional bonding with the opposite sex is sexual behavior. And unfortunately these things are often exercised in immoral ways. We are so blind to the many sinful, depraved thoughts and behaviors that reside in our hearts. It really does take examining ourselves against the backdrop of a holy God to see just how wrong and potentially hurtful our "innocent" behavior can be to both others and ourselves.

Although the audio recording is titled, "Sex and the Single Man," do not be fooled. The wisdom in this discussion is a valuable gem for anybody, male or female, married or single. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen. You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Where Are All The Women At?

I originally began this blog as a resource for women, but I've discovered I have a slight problem: women don't read my blog.

After two months it appears that most of my readers are men. I sent my blog to all my female friends. I even sent the link to the list of women in a women's Bible study I belong to. None of these women have read my blog. In fact, I only know of one woman who reads my blog regularly, and actually enjoys it too. (At least, that's what she tells me.) So it leads me to wonder, where are all the women?

First, I just want to say that I think it's really nice that so many men read this blog. It shows that men are concerned, or at least curious, about what goes on inside the mind of a woman. It shows that men are interested in what women think, in what they have to say, or how they perceive things. (Quite a contrast from what the feminist movement says about men, eh?) But what does it say about the women?

I think it says that women are not interested in this blog, and I suspect it is because they are doing a poor job of educating other women on what it means to be biblically feminine. Just Google some phrase like, "Christian Woman," and a million sites will come up that will focus on just one thing: "Encouraging women to be wives and mothers." This is such a limited way to definine femininity.Just Google some phrase like, "Christian Woman," and a million sites will come up that will focus on just one thing: "Encouraging women to be wives and mothers." This is such a limited way to definine femininity.

Before I joined Metro Life Church, I belonged to another congregation that had a mentoring ministry based on Titus 2. When I inquired about having an older woman mentor me, I was turned away and told that I could not participate in the program because I was not married. I was absolutely furious. Why would a church deny one of its members a request for accountability? Why would a church turn away a member who was pursuing godliness and sanctification? Because that church has not a clue what it means to be a woman.

"Wives" and "mothers" are roles women are called to fulfill. But these roles do not define what God had in mind when He created us. The Bible says He created them male and female. It does not say He created them husbands and wives. It does not say He created them fathers and mothers. It says He created them male and female.

So it is possible to be fully female and not be a wife and a mother. But in many women's minds, if you don't write about baking cookies and getting out those tough grass stains, you don't have much of a blog. I personally think this misunderstanding is one of the reasons so many young, single, childless women are drawn to feminism. When we as Christians insist that Biblical femininity is nothing more than being a wife or a mother, where does that leave the single, childless woman? It leaves her feeling as though she has nothing to contribute. I personally believe this is why women don't read my blog.

I feel there are most likely two kinds of Christian women out there. Both have been brainwashed into believing that this is all there is to being female, but some have bought into it and will look no further at what true biblical femininity is. Others are disgruntled because they currently don't fit that definition. So in a nutshell, most women probably will not read this blog because:

a) They are wives and mothers looking for cake recipes and laundry tips. I do not write about these things, so they figure there's nothing for them here and move on.
b) They are single, childless women who just assume that this is yet another blog about cake recipes and laundry tips, so they figure there's nothing for them here and move on.

Being a woman is about being a helper. Any woman can be a helper. You don't need a husband or children to help people in need. You just need to be willing to help. Being a woman is about submitting to male leadership and respecting men. You don't need a husband to do that. You just have to be willing to yield to and respect the men around you. It's that simple!

So I've got a problem. I have this blog, and I have a vision now of turning it into an online community where men and women can encourage each other toward godliness in their sovereignly chosen gender. But how will that be accomplished if the women aren't interested? I know men are reading this blog, but will any of them have the courage to sign up for a message board with a title like Reformed SHEology?

Nevertheless, I am pressing forward as God leads, and so far, Reformed SHEology is taking on a life of its own. As God leads, I have seen it transform in only two months from being just another blog about women encouraging women, to a blog with a focus of women encouraging women encouraging men. This is why God put us here. This is why God put all of us here -- to encourage, edify, and care for one another. Women may demonstrate this by baking cookies, and men may demonstrate this by killing spiders. But it is vitally important to understand that baking cookies and killing spiders is not our primary reason for being here. Loving one another is.

So men, if you are reading this, please consider encouraging the women in your lives toward a better understanding of what it means to be a woman. Help her to understand that no matter how tender and juicy the Thanksgiving turkey is, there is not a shred of femininity in her heart if she is disrespectful to you. Praise her not for the way she irons your shirts or keeps the home in order. Praise her for her loyalty. Praise her for her trustworthiness. Praise not your wife only, but your daughter, your sister, your mother, your friend. Regardless of whether she is married or single, she is still a woman. And that is how she was created.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Requiem for an Anthem

When I was growing up, several of my friends had favorite songs that were very special to them for various reasons. Some of these songs brought back fond memories. Others communicated how one was feeling when ordinary words would not suffice. But above and beyond all our favorite songs was the song we singled out as being our "theme song." A person's theme song captured the very essence of who that person was.

Like my friends, I too had a "theme song," but I never admitted to it. The reason was my theme song was such an accurate description of what was going on inside my heart, to expose it to someone else would be far too intimate - and a betrayal to the song itself. There was one song that stood out to me above all others in its ability to perfectly diagnose the condition of my own humanity. Go ahead -- have a listen (click here for the lyrics):

This is a song about willful isolation. And I would go so far as to say it is a song about sin. Some may say this statement is a bit extreme. I beg to differ, and as a former hermit, I speak from experience. So here are my top five reasons why willful isolation is sin:

1. It is the epitome of selfishness. When we refuse to open our hearts due to some past emotional injury, we are choosing self over others. Remember Josh's McDowell's definition of love? To protect and provide. When we build walls, "a fortress deep and mighty that none may penetrate," as Simon and Garfunkel describe, who are we protecting first and foremost? Self. And as a result, who are we failing to provide for? Everyone else.

2. It is a prime example of rebellion, which God says is as the sin of witchcraft. God exists in a state of continual relationship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we are created in His image. When we willfully choose to isolate ourselves from other people, we are rebelling against His design.

3. It is evidence that we do not trust God. We are afraid of how others might hurt us, so we take control and apply our own solution to sin: isolation. But God has already provided a solution for sin. It's called the cross. When we shut our hearts off from others, we are saying that we do not think reconciliation and restoration are possible. We are basically saying that the cross is powerless in the life of the believer.

4. It is evidence that we will not forgive. Many people have been badly betrayed or seen others go through a betrayal. As a result, they have chosen a life of solitude. "But what if you've been hurt really badly by someone?" If this is the case, wisdom would dictate that you stay away from that person. Yet many use proverbial wisdom as a license to sin and justify shutting themselves off from everyone. If we are constantly punishing everyone for what someone else did to us, we have not only not forgiven the offender, we have become the supreme judge of everyone else who crosses our path from that point forward. These poor people do not stand a chance against our subconsious accusations. They have done nothing to us, but they stand condemned for the offenses we know they could possibly commit against us in the future.

5. It shows we're only in this life for what we can get out of it, not what we put in. This is especially true in courtship scenarios. The world's philosphy in selecting a mate is not based on what we have to offer the other person, but rather, what they have to offer us. This is in direct opposition to Christianity. Again, wisdom would dictate that we carefully consider the character of anyone we are considering for a potential marriage partner, however, we are in sin if we are deliberately avoiding marriage (the way I did for over a decade) for any reason. Feminist philosophy is loaded with this type of self-serving mentality. It turns our divine command to love one another into a barter system: "If and only if you treat me right, then I will respect and submit to you." The Bible places no conditions on the command to respect one's husband. So when we deliberately "choose" not to get married, it is because we've asked the question, "What's in it for me?" and decided the dividends were not high enough. Others (myself included) have remarked, "I don't want to ruin my life." Is this an accurate portrayal of love?

Jesus said there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends. But He wasn't just talking about one's physical death. He was talking about giving one's day-to-day life to others: living in service to other people. Christ gave His life, and every single Christian is expected to do the very same thing. We honor fallen war heroes who have given their lives for our country, but we forget that every day there are people all around us who have given their lives for others: parents, teachers, pastors, friends -- through the random acts of selfless service to you and me.

When I consider how I used to bellow, "I AM A ROCK!" I realize I have stolen one of our Lord's titles. This is prideful. This is presumptuous. This is sin.When I consider the gusto with which I used to belt out the lyric, "It's laughter and it's loving I disdain," I am faced with the realization that I have looked at God Himself with disdain. I have held in contempt the system of interconnectedness that He intended for me to have. How is this any less offensive to God than lying or stealing? When I consider how I used to bellow, "I AM A ROCK!" I realize I have stolen one of our Lord's titles. This is prideful. This is presumptuous. This is sin.

The world wants to lull us to sleep concerning these issues, and it endlessly encourages us to justify our sin. Last Sunday, my pastor stated in his message that the hardest word to get around in pastoral counseling is the word because: "I was mean to her because I was tired," or, "I stopped talking to him because I was angry." Does the word because justify our actions? Are we justified when we say, "I shut myself off because others have hurt me in the past"? Secular counselors would have us spend countless hours and dollars talking about why we did this or why we did that. Regardless of why, the fact remains we still behaved in a manner that displeases God, and He holds us accountable for our reactions to others' sin against us. Our excuses do not impress Him. We do not need counseling. We do not need therapy. We need to repent and forgive. Period.

Jesus urges us to put to death the deeds of the flesh. The Bible says that those who do such things are worthy of death, yet we continue to do them and give hearty approval to those who practice them. Consider what Simon and Garfunkel were suggesting in the following lyric: I have my books and my poetry to protect me. I was one of those who used to "connect" with others through books instead of fellowship. Instead of connecting with real people of flesh and blood I could touch and see, I connected with fictitious characters. The song may be forty years old, but the idea is the same. Only the methods have changed. We still may shun real relationships, but instead of hiding behind our books, we now hide behind our computers.

Though I am horrified to think that I once considered "I Am a Rock" to be my "theme song," I know that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, the one true Rock. It is only by Christ's power I could repent of this sin. I will always remember 2007 not only as the year I repented of isolation, but also as the year I refused to give any approval to those who practice it. It is the year I stopped asking, "What's in it for me?" It's the year I wrote a requiem for an anthem I should have outgrown a long time ago. Praise be to God for the freedom we have in Christ to be more than conquerors. May we all continue to grow in love and service toward one another in 2008.