Sunday, February 24, 2008

Does Christianity Squash Women?

This is my first post here at Reformed SHEology and I would like to say it is a blessing and privilege to be a part of what God is doing here. I pray that any contributions made will bring Glory to our Father and encouragement to the body.

The following is not only a review of Does Christianity Squash Women by Rebecca Jones but it is also a testimony, so please bear with me as I weave the two together. I picked up and started reading this book shortly after going through one of the toughest times so far in my walk with God. If I had to describe what my walk has been like so far I would have to say it has been very much like a path with many obstacles which had to be overcome. No sooner was one overcome, I had no time to reflect on what I just went through when I was met by another! The most recent one was the darkest. But glory to God He brought me through and I feel like a different woman.

This brings me to the point of this review. What is it to be a woman?

In the preface of Rebecca’s book she tells us about a conversation she had with her hairdresser. After telling her hairdresser Jakki the title of the book she is writing Jakki asked, “But the question is, what is a woman?” In chapter 1 Rebecca talks about feminism and "how women fair under feminist cultural rules". The chapter is brief but it was a sobering and informative read. Clearly feminism has caused much confusion as to what a woman really is and how we are seen in the world. At the end of the chapter Rebecca writes:

What is a woman? Who defines womanhood? How we answer this question will determine our goals, our actions, and our satisfaction. On this level, the feminist issue brings us to the heart of what can only be a religious question. Feminism began by attacking societal structures that support male authority. (pg 16)

All my previous ideas of what it meant to be a woman slowly fell down around me as my walk with the Lord went on. I began to see that women cannot have authority over men and if married are to submit to their husbands. This REALLY bothered me. I thought women who submit in this way were in bondage and seen as completely powerless, "squashed" as Rebecca would put it. But where did this thinking come from? Why did I feel this way? I have grown up to believe a woman can have it all even having and exercising dominance and authority over and above the man/husband. My own mother is a very strong and independent woman. She reflects the mantra Rebecca mentions on page 7: "For thirty years, feminism has been repeating the mantra, “I can look after myself, thank you!”

Ironically enough I turned thirty this year. I have grown up with this very mantra reverberating throughout all the women in my family. On my mum's side they are all strong, independent women and I have been expected to be the very same. Much to their dismay (more to my mother and father) from the moment of my birth I was considered "weak". Often I was called names by my own family that reflected my "weak" appearance. So I grew up thinking my performances would gain the respect I longed for, and so for the first years of my walk with God I believed I could gain God's favour by my works (legalism). Because I longed for the approval of man I also found myself putting more trust in people than the Lord.

Last year I entered a very testing time. All those in my life I trusted hurt, mistreated, falsely-accused, used, and abused me. I was devastated to say the least. It was in this dark time the Lord brought me out of the bondage of legalism and I saw God for who He really is…the God of grace. I longed for Jesus for who He is and my desire was to know Him, to seek His face and have a closer relationship with Him. What I had before that wasn’t really much of a relationship as I gave more of myself (trust, works etc) to man than to the Lord Himself.

From this I longed to please God and become the woman He designed me to be. The remaining chapters in Rebecca’s book all point towards the same source….our saviour Jesus. I discovered that it is always about the Lord. Rebecca traces the women in Jesus’ lineage all pointing to the saviour to be born. She then writes a very encouraging chapter on Jesus and women when Jesus was on the earth and amongst men. Time and space will not allow me to tell you just how encouraging a chapter this is, I can only recommend you read it. Everything about us as Christian women points us to Christ. As Rebecca says when we accept God’s authority to define us we discover what it means to be a woman. I believe this is key. Once I accepted God’s authority to define me I am discovering more and more each day what it is to be a woman. Again words fail me to completely express what it is to be a woman as I believe it is only to be experienced by women as we accept God’s authority for us and seek Him first in a living, loving relationship with Him. I can give you a very brief example. Headcoverings….a post in itself, but as I personally accepted that this was His will for me to cover my head whilst in prayer (1 Corinthians 11) and expressed to God my desire to do so and put it into practise in my daily walk I found it brought immense blessing to me in a way I cannot explain. I felt closer to God.

In a nutshell Rebecca Jones’ book explains to us the blue print of biblical womanhood. Once we accept this blueprint for our lives and live it out practically we will learn and discover for ourselves what it is to be a woman.

I heartily recommend this book as part of a study on biblical womanhood that will become not a head knowledge but heart knowledge, lived out practically pointing you to the captain of our salvation, our husband, the Lord Jesus.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

The most incredible thing happened to me this week. This Tuesday I had a conflict with someone who never wants to speak to me ever again. And in spite of everything, I cannot wipe the silly grin off my face. I made a huge mess of things, and it was worth every minute of it! Sound weird? Let me explain.

Three years ago, God gave me an assignment: I was to work on mortifying my pride and to open myself up to people. I did not like the idea one bit. I followed Him, kicking and screaming of course, but I obeyed nonetheless. And over time, He gave me the grace to develop friendships with people whose company brings me such joy.

But even in the best situations conflict is inevitable. Last year, this particular friend had made a decision I did not agree with and in the process of carrying out the decision, he sinned against me. I remained silent for his sake, but stewed in my anger toward him for months, all the while knowing my sin was absolutely disgusting. I thought, “If this person could see me now, he’d want nothing to do with me!” But I would not repent.

Then I began to read Tim Lane’s and Paul Tripp’s book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, and God’s voice broke through. After several months of stubbornness, God gave me the grace to repent. This Tuesday, I finally confronted my friend. I told him how much pain his sin had caused me, but I also confessed my reaction to his sin, which, in my opinion was far more revolting than what he did to me. And do you know what my friend said to me? He said, “We’re done. I wish to cease all communication with you.” And that was it. Game over. If I could play a dying Pac-Man sound for you, I would.

I realize this is not your average book review, but I want to illustrate just how applicable the concepts outlined by Lane and Tripp (2006) are to this unfortunate situation between me and my friend.

First, Lane and Tripp (2006) define a relationship as follows: "What is a relationship? The intersection of the stories of two people. The problem is that an awful lot of carnage takes place at this intersection" (p. 62). This truth is what often makes us wonder if it's really worth it to even bother with other people to begin with. Many of us may be thinking, "What's the point in getting close to anyone? They're just going to sin against you and betray you in the end, right? Even Christians will stab you in the back!" Indeed, Christians will hurt us. My friend hurt me very badly last year. And I hurt my friend badly on Tuesday when I tried to tell him. Not only did I take all the pain I felt he caused me and dump it onto him, I did it through the filter of my sinful words. There were definitely some things I could have said better. His solution? Let's never speak again. I must admit, it sounds like a great way to avoid any future pain and drama, right? But is cutting ourselves off from others really the solution to our relationship problems?

Lane and Tripp (2006) explain why we not only should bother with these messy relationships, but why we need to:

Conflict with others is one of God's mysterious, counterintuitive ways of rescuing us from ourselves . . . The closer you are to someone, the more potential there is for conflict. Relationships are costly, but so is avoiding them. If you choose to avoid them, you will minimize the conflict in your life, but that safety has liabilities of its own. If you choose to face conflit head on, it is full of risks and the potential for great hurt, but it can also be redemptive. (pp. 78-79)

God uses the relational conflicts in our lives to reveal to us the sin patterns lying dormant within us that keep us from becoming conformed to his image. A conflict, according to Lane and Tripp (2006) is a unique opportunity for sanctification because it provides us with a practical means to imitate our Lord: "When we choose to practice true forgiveness, the relationship is not just brought back to where it was before the offense; it actually moves further down the road to maturity," (p.93). When we look at our relational conflicts this way, they almost seem to make sense, whether we be the hurting victim or the forgiven offender.

In spite of the fact that I am grieving the loss of a friend this week, I can be at peace because God has given me the power to shift my focus from people to the cross. Amazing! Two years ago, I would have been devastated by this. My pride would have been hurt to know that someone "hates me" because I messed up. But now I realize that true freedom is the ability to love others unconditioally, and allow others to love me unconditionally in return. It is exhausting to constantly hold a debt over someone's head. It is also exhausting to avoid conflict, never confronting someone about their sin or confessing your own, always feeling as though you have to tiptoe around people because bringing it to their attention might upset them. True freedom is the ability to admit sin openly because I know there are those in my life who still love me in spite of my sin. What a relief not to carry that burden anymore! What a relief to just be myself and know I am still loved and forgiven!

Ironically, I had shared these ideas with this very same friend in an email only two months ago. In this email I described the change that God has brought about in me. I basically summed up in my own words the valuable lessons I learned after reading Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. The following is an excerpt from that email:
Praise God, He has broken me of my pride. I am a sinner, and I will shout it from the rooftops. When I get married, I am not going to run myself ragged trying to be a stepford wife. I am going to let all that sin hang loose and say, "That's right, you married an angry woman. You married a prideful woman. You married a self-righteous, gossiping, slandering, idolatrous, merciless, lover of self!" And it will be a struggle. And he will see the ugly. There will be no facade -- he will not be able to praise me and say, "Many women have done excellently, but you have excelled them all" without first acknowledging the power of Christ in my life. Because apart from Christ, I can do nothing.

Underneath these robes of righteousness that do not belong to me is a hideous creature. I am positively revolting. But the glory story lies in the fact that Christ died to reconcile us to Him and to each other . One of the most profound things I read in the relationships book last week is that if we give our relationships over to God, they will grow in maturity. Even your best relationship that you have right now is a minefield of sin. It's how two people react toward each other's sin and encourage each other toward sanctification that strengthens that bond -- together, they are fighting the power of sin and glorifying God. I see now that opening myself up to my friends, my mentor, and my pastor is a chance for me to defeat sin, instead of letting it get the best of me.

The outcome of Tuesday's conflict was actually quite fortunate in that I discovered I have reason to rejoice in all that God has done in my heart. This week I have received numerous emails and phone calls from friends and loved ones who came alongside me to celebrate my progress. Here are a few examples of the congratulations I’ve received:

KEEP LOOKING UP – for our Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom – and He is pleased with your life! Love you my friend and am praying for you!

I can’t believe you are the same girl I met three years ago! I can’t believe you are the same person who wouldn’t let anyone in church get to know you. I can’t believe you are the same girl who didn’t even want people saying hello to you. Wow!! Praise God!! Jen I am so happy for you!

What a testimony to the power of God in your life! Praise God, what an incredible change in you!

Wow Jen, this sounds just like how you and I got our start! Remember? I offended you right from the beginning and you told me to just stay out of your life and that you were not interested in a friendship with me whatsoever! And look at us now!
(I am humbled and embarrassed to admit the truth of this comment – I actually rejected this person at first, but she has since become a trusted advisor to me.)
What courage and obedience! You are such an inspiration to me. Thank you so much for sharing what God has done in your life. What an awesome God we serve!
Wow, I can hear you smiling through the phone!

This is so exciting! You must feel totally awesome right now!

Only in God’s Kingdom can such a thing be possible! And it doesn’t end there. I am praying that God will grant my friend the same gift to see that relationships really are a mess worth making!

"The Bible assumes that relationships this side of eternity will be messy and require a lot of work," (Lane & Tripp, 2006, p. 30). This week I made a huge mess of things, and it was worth every minute of it. You know, it's interesting: one of the final things my friend said to me was, “I forgive you, but I don’t have time to deal with this stuff.” Years ago, I would have agreed with this perspective 100%. But today, I realize this “stuff” is the Christian life. We have no choice but to deal with this "stuff." This "stuff" is what Christ died for. This "stuff" is what the Kingdom of heaven is built upon! We are horrible sinners, and we treat each other so badly. But the power Christ gives us to overcome makes it completely worth it in the end. We are not meant to live the Christian life alone. We are not meant to run for cover when sin rears its ugly head. We are expected to stand up and face this "stuff" head on!

If you have a friend whom you are afraid to confront about their sin, or if you have unconfessed sin toward another and you are terrified of what a mess it may create in your relationship, do yourself a favor and make that mess anyway. To do anything else is to negate the power of Christ in your relationships and in your life.

Lane, T., & Tripp, P. (2006). Relationships: A mess worth making. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Do Kids Come First?

Many years ago, I befriended a man (I'll call him John) whom I dated for a few months. John's father was an alcoholic and drank himself into a wheelchair. Because he was often intoxicated and could no longer work and provide for his wife, all responsibility fell upon John to provide for his mother. John was frequently inundated with tasks that were clearly not his responsibility. John often would run to his mother's side whenever she was bored or depressed, or needed a shoulder to cry on. Needless to say, my presence was not welcome. I remember calling John that year to wish him a Merry Christmas, and his mother picked up the phone and said, "For crying out loud, you just saw him yesterday! Can't you have some respect and let his mother spend time with him on Christmas?"

When Valentine's Day rolled around, John and I had plans to go to dinner. About two hours before John was supposed to pick me up, he called me to say, "I am going to have to cancel. I'm taking my mother out to dinner instead." Naturally I protested. But my objections had no effect on him. You see, John was not married to his mother, but he was committed to her just the same. After explaining to me that mother came first, we hung up the phone so he would not be late for his "date". I called him the next day to tell him we'd be better off as friends.

Most of the ladies reading this will understand what a gross offense this was on behalf of the man. But I personally believe the mother is primarily to blame. She chose not to raise John according to the Bible's instructions that a man is to leave his mother and father (and ultimately cleave to his wife). I wonder, how many ladies out there are raising their children in the context of a relationship that resembles the one between John and his mother?

What is the purpose of parenting? As a parent, your job is to prepare your children to leave (Genesis 2:24). That's right, moms: your children will leave you one day! Their job is not to stick around and provide you with companionship. Instead, God expects that they will provide companionship to their own spouses. When a parent demands an inappropriate amount of time and attention from a child, the child becomes confused about his role. The child will eventually grow up to break his wedding vows every time he feels obligated to postpone plans with his wife to attend to your needs instead. Perhaps your child will choose not to marry at all, assuming "Mom needs me." Therefore, if you aim to be a good parent, you will remember your place in your child's life, which is to equip him to become a man, leave home, and start a family of his own. When you don't release your grip on your children, they do not learn for themselves how to leave.If you are divorced, your children already have a negative attitude toward marriage. They have been programmed to think that marriages are destined to fail. Your second marriage is your golden opportunity to demonstrate to your children that this is not true!

Let me give you another scenario to think about. One of your coworkers is divorced and has two children: a girl, 11, and a boy, 13. She just got remarried six months ago and already there are problems in the marriage. Her children and her new husband are not getting along. Your other coworkers are standing around the water cooler gossiping about the situation and one of them remarks: "My kids come first. If I ever get married again, I don't care - my kids come first." Would you agree with this statement? Throughout my life I have heard many women say this, and sadly, it is perhaps the worst mentality toward parenting (and marriage) a person can have.

When you ask most women to explain what they mean by this statement, their response is almost always the same: "I want to show my kids that no matter what, I love them. I would never choose a man over my own flesh and blood." There are so many problems with this type of thought pattern -- where do I begin?

Let's start with the concept of "flesh and blood." Your children may be your flesh and blood, but the Bible says that a husband and a wife are more than just flesh and blood: they are one flesh. This puts the husband/wife relationship at a higher level than any other relationship we claim to have with a "blood relative," including our children.

For women, this is a difficult truth to accept. A woman has had nine additional months of bonding with the child and literally experiences the child coming forth from her own flesh. In spite of this strong bond, the relationship with a woman's husband still trumps the relationship she has with her child. The Bible says that God fashioned Eve from one of Adam's ribs. Therefore, a woman is the product of one person -- her husband. Her entire being rests in him. A child, on the other hand, derives its entire being from two people, and therefore its "loyalty" is divided evenly between those people. Only a husband and wife were designed to give full attention and devotion to one another. In traditional wedding vows, the two promise to "forsake all others." This includes children. Now before I start getting all kinds of nasty comments on my blog, let's remember that this is not my opinion. This is God's idea. God never does anything for no reason, so let's look at why the order of "spouse first, children second" makes sense.

Many parents who make their children the most important people in their lives sincerely believe that they are demonstrating to their children how much they love them. In the short term, this may appear to be loving. But in the long run, it will destroy the child's ability to have a faithful, committed marital relationship of his own. You may think your children are feeling offended, abandoned, or ignored. And perhaps they are. This may be one of the reasons they choose to act out by being disrespectful to your new husband. But there is another side to this: children who act out are testing the loyalty of the institution of marriage itself. This is because your children desire security. They are testing the waters to see how long it will take before this marriage crumbles, too.

If you are divorced, your children already have a negative attitude toward marriage. They have been programmed to think that marriages are destined to fail. Your second marriage is your golden opportunity to demonstrate to your children that this is not true! If you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ and His ability to mend broken relationships, your second marriage should be a breeding ground for healing for your children as well. This is your chance to model to your children that a healthy, committed relationship is possible in Jesus Christ. It gives them new hope for their own future.

Being faithful to your marriage may be difficult at times when your children are vying for your affection. When you "side" with your husband, your children may accuse you of choosing your spouse over them. They may pout, cry, and throw temper tantrums. It will be painful. The temptation to soothe them and meet their demands will be strong, but don't give in! It is said that 50% of all marriages in America end in divorce, and that percentage is higher for second marriages. If you allow your children to dilute your marital bond to the point where "the kids come first" and you get another divorce, you will have demonstrated to your children once again that marriage does not work. You will reduce the power of God in their eyes as well: "What God has joined together, let not man separate," (Mark 10:9). When you don't cling to your husband, your children do not learn for themselves how to cleave.

It may take many years of heartache and patience, but if you are faithful to your husband, your children will one day look to your marriage as a positive example of what a healthy relationship should look like. The ultimate reward will be a grown child who aspires to have a marriage "just like mom and her husband."

As a child, are you allowing your parents to interfere in your marriage? Repent of this by leaving your parents. As a parent, are you allowing your children to interfere in your marriage? Repent of this by cleaving to your spouse. God has designed for all of our needs to be met by one another. When we follow His plan according to His design, provision is made for everyone. When we don't, all sorts of problems occur. At the very most, you will break a cycle of failed marriages in your family. At the very least, you can avoid someday becoming the subject of someone's blog as "The Worst Valentine Ever!"

For more information, see this article by Dr. Adrian Rogers: