Saturday, May 31, 2008

The 1 Corinthians 11 Society

Shortly after publishing my first post on the topic of headcovering a few weeks ago, I was stunned at the number of people who were commenting on it both publicly and privately. I realized there is definitely a need for and an interest in this topic, so I veered away from my usual inspiration (writing about themes prevalent in our chosen "Films of the Month") and dedicated much of my writing to the headcovering topic. I regret that I was not able to devote more time to some of the other rich themes in our film of the month, but I am going to make one final attempt on this last day of May to mention our sadly neglected film.

When I first started studying 1 Corinthians 11, I was looking for further evidence beyond the regular arguments that this is not just a cultural thing, but a true symbol reminding us of the proper exchange in behavior between men and women. And so I asked myself, "How has headgear often been used throughout much of our culture?" (I am basing this entirely on American culture, because it is the only culture I am truly familiar with.) Since much of American culture is reflected in television and film, I began to reflect upon the images of headgear I had seen in both television and in the movies.

As a former theatre major in college, I can remember my costuming textbook had various drawings of both men's and women's apparel that corresponded to the changing times. Whenever we would consider adding a hat to an actor's wardrobe, that actor was responsible for using it not only as a part of his or her costume, but also as a prop. Headgear communicates quite a bit. It becomes an additional appendage by which we can amplify our body language. Watch this clip (approximately ten minutes) from Splendor in the Grass, our film of the month, and pay careful attention to the use of headgear as it relates to the attitudes of the people using it:



If you look carefully, you will notice the following:

1. Men wore hats but took them off in church. As they are leaving the service, the rain is quite heavy, and many hats go right back on. This "reverse look" at covering from the uncovered perspective helps us to further understand the idea of "praying without ceasing" as referring to the practice of prayer and not the action of prayer. After all, if being covered in prayer is a disgrace to a man and we are to pray without ceasing, when would a man ever wear a hat?

2. The use of a hat to symbolize who is the leader in a relationship. Ginny is clearly in charge of Glenn, whereas Deenie has submitted herself lovingly and adoringly to Bud. Look at where Ginny's hat ends up about halfway through the clip -- on Glenn's head!

3. The implied contrast between sinner and saint; rebellion and submission. The scene in which both Ginny's uncovered, short hair is contrasted against Deenie's covered, long hair together in the same shot is a mark of cinematic genius. The imagery is very strong and I wholeheartedly believe director Elia Kazan made this choice on purpose.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things I can gather from this clip is that once you look at headgear against the backdrop of 1 Corinthians 11, you start to see things you didn't notice before. You begin to realize that even within secular society, the use of a hat or headcovering is quite symbolic.

Note that it was common in 1928 (the year in which this story is set) for women to cover, and for men to be uncovered. Although the main characters in this story are most likely not Christians, it demonstrates that headcovering was understood to be a way of life in society. It was not just for the Corinthians. The year 1928 is much closer to our present-day culture both chronologically and technologically than it is to the Corinthian culture in AD 55, yet the practice of headcovering in society was quite commonplace in both cultures. Ironically, we view headcovering more as a matter of fashion that was particular to that society at that time in history. The truth is, the hat or heacovering has been a staple of the feminine wardrobe for centuries. That means, the only time headcovering has ever really been a "cultural thing" is in our present day society -- because it is our custom not to wear it!

This clip is only one example. Imagine all the times you have seen a man wearing a hat on television, perhaps in an old Western or an old episode of Little House on the Prarie. What do a group of men do whenever a woman enters their presence? They take their hats off! As soon as the woman leaves, the hat is returned to its rightful place on the head. Even in brief encounters, respect for God's order is acknowleged. Should a woman walk by, what does the man do? He either "tips" his had to her or slightly lifts it off his head. Ask yourself, where did such a custom originate, and why is it not the other way around (women tipping their hats to men)? Is this just some strange ritual that manifested out of thin air? Or can we trace its beginnings to a specific custom that explains why it began and the reason it has continued for centuries?

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:2 that this is not a temporary fad reserved only for the Corinthians. This is a tradition. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for breaking the command of God for the sake of tradition (Matthew 15:3). That is, they focused too much on ritual and not enough on the meaning behind it. Our modern day culture appears to have outdone even the Pharisees: for we have forsaken both God and tradition. We are a people who no longer needs God to tell us how to live our lives. In essence, today's woman says, "I don't need God -- I've got it covered," as she bares her head to the world.


13 Therefore the Lord said:

“ Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder;
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
15 Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the LORD,
And their works are in the dark;
They say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?”
16 Surely you have things turned around!
Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay;
For shall the thing made say of him who made it,

“ He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,

“ He has no understanding”?

(Isaiah 29:13-16, NKJ)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Becoming

Becoming speaks of change, development, maturing, growth and transformation. It also speaks of beauty, something attractive or pleasing, appropriate or proper. Just as the caterpillar grows and reaches the stage of complete transformation it becomes beautiful to behold, pleasing and attractive. It is transformed into that which it was created to be.
As it is with us who are born into the kingdom of God. We too are being transformed into that which we were created to be.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers. Rom. 8:29

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph. 2:10
Like the caterpillar within the chrysalis, we don’t transform ourselves; we are transformed!

It is this subject of becoming like Jesus that has held my attention now for months. I am captivated by the reality that we can be transformed. Transformed from our old sinful self to being like our saviour, like Jesus. For me personally this gives me hope. God starts with us as we are the moment we are born again and deals with, in His time, our sinful thoughts, motives, attitudes, feelings etc. As we surrender ourselves to Gods transforming work, no longer relying on our natural human nature but on the Holy Spirit, we will, in time, begin to produce the fruits of the Spirit. Like the caterpillar within the chrysalis, we don’t transform ourselves; we are transformed!

From Jacob to Israel

A wonderful example in the Bible of this transforming work is in the life of one of the patriarchs, Jacob. On learning of who Jacob was we see the beauty of God’s grace when we read the words “Jacob have I loved” (Mal. 1:2,3 Rom. 9:13). Jacobs name (Ya’aqob) means “heel-holder” or “supplanter” and indeed he was true to his name for as time went by, from his birth, he supplanted his brother Esau. The means by which Jacob gained the blessing from his father, Isaac, was by deception. Jacob had strength of character and his nature completely controlled him. We see his desire for spiritual things but he was yet to have his own personal encounter with the God of his father, who at this point was only a God whom he accepted on trust from his parents.
Then, on fleeing from his brother Esau, Jacob has his first personal encounter with God which we see in Genesis 28:10-22. It is very interesting to note the impact of this encounter on Jacob by comparing Genesis 27:20 to 28:21;

But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” Gen:27:20

“so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. Gen:28:21

From this moment on we see the beginnings of the transformation in Jacob. His mind is transformed and his will redirected and established. We see this in Genesis 28:20-22;

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,
“so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,
“and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”


Later in Genesis we see Jacobs faith has matured by his change in name, from Jacob to Israel: Genesis 32:28. An interesting verse in Isaiah. 43:1 captures this transformation and maturing in faith;

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.


Notice that Jacob was created and Israel was ‘formed’. Indeed we too have been created but on being born again we are being formed, as the potter forms the vessel.

Belle!
It is an encouraging thought that God takes our weakness, our faults and turns them into a thing of beauty. We can become women of beauty and strength. This may at times be a very lonely place but we have one who understands and the results of our endurance are of everlasting worth, far exceeding any worth of earthly treasures!
The following is poem, Belle!, written by a dear sister & friend, Juliette Hutsby, who has kindly given me permission to include it here. It is a poem born from experience.

There was no beauty for Him to be desired
but when transfigured His splendour was admired
so it is, with you and I
like the caterpillar, destined to fly!

She crawls upon the earth feasting upon her leaf
who could know such beauty lying deep beneath
even she will encounter a glorious new birth
flying then with wings no longer crawling earth!

She knew her time, the time to be still
the time for transformation letting go of her will
alone in her darkness the journey lay ahead
with it’s new horizons where new dreams were bred!

At the appointed time her beauty arrived
the fruit of her labours the tears she had cried
she need not have strived her time was always right
as she had been predestined to change and take her flight!


Ecclesiastes 3:11
He hath made everything beautiful in His time

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What is Forgiveness?

Over the past year or so, I have found myself in several discussions where the question will be posed, "What is forgiveness?" The individual who initially raised the question will then proceed to demonstrate that forgiveness is not required of a Christian until repentance occurs first. The reasoning goes like this: The Bible says we are to extend forgiveness to others, just as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). This naturally inspires a follow-up question, How has God forgiven us? The response is, He forgives us when we repent. Of course, we should always be ready and willing to forgive, but we do not actually extend forgiveness until the other party repents. We don't hold a grudge against that person, but that is not the same thing as forgiveness. Only when true repentance takes place can true forgiveness really happen.

If you have ever been exposed to this definition of forgiveness, please know that this is not biblical.

First, the reasoning of "how has God forgiven me?" has already presented itself as flawed the moment we attempt to answer the question with "when". When and how address two completely separate issues. When addresses the issue of timing -- the sequencing or the order in which a thing occurs. How addresses the means by which an action is accomplished. To answer "How does God forgive me?" with, "When I repent" is to evade the real question being asked. Even if this were an appropriate response, it would still be incorrect from a reformed perspective. According to reformed theology, we do not initiate anything. God forgave us first. He did not wait for us to repent. The Bible says Christ died for us while we were yet his enemies (Romans 5:8). We respond as a result of irresistible grace. So in response to the question of when does God forgive, it's not when I repent. It has already happened before I've even realized that I sinned.

So on to the real question: How does God forgive? Let's look at the verse that sparked the question in the first place:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:23).

According to the context, we are clearly told how God forgives: with kindness and tenderheartedness. This is how we forgive someone. We love them. We are not angry, or judgmental, or rude (see 1 Corinthians 13). The context of this passage tells us we are to forgive in a loving manner. There are no exceptions.

But what about those scriptures that seem to say that we are not to forgive unless someone first repents? For instance:

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, (Luke 17:3).

It certainly does appear that we are only to forgive on the condition that the other person repents first. But remember, the chapters and verses are not inspired. They are not Scripture. Only the words are inspired. In order to understand what the Lord is saying, you must read His complete thought:

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him. (Luke 17:3-4).

Now we all know that someone who is going to repeat a sin seven times in one day and just arbitrarily says, "I repent" is not very repentant at all! But what Jesus is saying here is, "Whether the person is repentant or not, you have two choices: forgive, or forgive." It's not so much a conditional as it is a command. Forgiveness is not optional.

So what is forgiveness? Forgiveness means you relieve the other person of a debt -- they no longer owe you anything to compensate you for the damage they did. You do not become angry with the sinner any more. You do not continually play the scene over and over in your head. You do not hold it against the person. We are to forgive as God forgives: completely. The Bible says, "as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." We are to remove that sin from our memory as well. This can be very difficult when the person continues to sin against us. This is one of the reasons I believe we are told to avoid people who do not repent. Their repetitive sinful actions against us will eventually wear us down and drain us of our love for them. It is markedly more difficult to forgive a person when the wound is fresh. By separating from a person who will not repent, we are protecting that person from sinning against us further. We are also protecting that person from our own anger and unforgiveness.

This is especially applicable when the offender has committed an unusually heinous sin. The final objection to forgiveness is presented along these lines. For example, what if the person sexually abused you as a child? What if they never said they were sorry? What does God expect of you in a case like this?

Well, here are your choices, according to the Bible: 1) Forgive that person; or 2) Forgive that person. The severity of the sin does not matter. You are commanded to forgive. Situations like this make it very, very tempting to justify unforgiveness by manipulating the Scriptures so that they read the way we want them to read: "If he repents, then forgive him." We may even say, "How can God expect me to forgive this person when his sin is so great?" There is nothing people have done to you that you haven't done to God one hundred times worse.

Let's put this into perspective. Whatever that person did to you, they sinned against another sinner. But you sinned against a Holy God. Which sin is worse? If I step on a bug, it will go completely unnoticed. If I kill a dog, I may have some explaining to do. If I kill a homeless man, I'll probably be prosecuted for it. If I kill the President of the United States, I'll get locked up for a long time. Reader, you killed Jesus Christ. What do you think He'll say when you look Him in the eye one day and tell Him you couldn't forgive that other person because they _________ (fill in the blank)?

There is nothing people have done to you that you haven't done to God one hundred times worse. God forgave you. So you should forgive your brother, just as God forgave you.

Is there someone in your life that you have not forgiven? Consider your choices as outlined in Luke 17:3-4. You can forgive, or you can forgive. You have no other options. If you haven't forgiven someone, remember, unforgiveness is a sin in itself. You may have some repenting of your own to do.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Without Ceasing

Although I have only been covering my head for four months or so, one thing I have found among women is that the "when" is something women struggle with a lot. In my four short months of examining this topic for myself, it seems the turmoil surrounds 1 Thessalonians 5:17, which encourages us to "pray without ceasing." When it comes to headcovering, many women wonder if this passage should be used when deciding whether or not to cover full time. In 1 Corinthians 11, we are told that a woman should cover when she prays, but in 1 Thessalonians, we are told to pray without ceasing. Most of us (myself included) have entertained the obvious logical conclusion: if I am to pray without ceasing, then perhaps I am also to cover without ceasing. There is nothing inherently wrong with this logic. In fact, I think this is logic is correct. However, I'm not so sure we're approaching the meaning of "without ceasing" correctly.

In my experience, most people immediately interpret the phrase "without ceasing" to automatically be applied to the action of prayer, rather than the practice of prayer. There is a distinct difference between action and practice. For example, how would you interpret this statement:

"Jennifer exercised for 30 minutes without stopping."

In this statement, I am implying that the action of exercising did not stop for 30 minutes. I exercised and continued exercising for 30 minutes, and then afterwards, I ceased to exercise. Now, how would you interpret this statement:

"Jennifer exercised for 30 days without stopping."

In this statement, I am implying that the practice of exercise did not stop for 30 days. Perhaps I exercised in the morning, or after work, or some other time during my normal day and I continued in this daily routine for 30 days without missing a day. I am not suggesting that I literally exercised for 30 days, not taking time to eat, rest, use the bathroom, go to work, or write for my blog, and I doubt anyone would mistake my words to mean I literally exercised for 30 days! Because this is a physically impossible task, we have no other choice than to automatically apply my statement to the practice or routine of exercise, rather than the literal action of exercise.

Many of us choose to interpret "without ceasing" in 1 Thessalonians 5 as referring to the action of prayer, whereas it is merely talking about the practice of prayer. I can pray without ceasing for 30 minutes. But eventually I am going to have to stop so I can go about the rest of my day. However, I plan on returning to my time of prayer tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and I plan to do this "without ceasing." See the difference? I may not cover full time, but I have been covering for four months without ceasing -- in church and at home, and I don't care what anybody says -- I don't plan on stopping.

I also believe if we interpret the benediction to "pray without ceasing" as another way of describing the degree to which the first of the Ten Commandments should be carried out, then in a sense we will be communicating with Him constantly, "without ceasing." This further demonstrates how the action of praying without ceasing simply cannot be carried out to this degree, because there is none righteous. We will always fail in this area, and think about something or desire something other than God from time to time. The Ten Commandments are more like a mirror to show us how much we fall short of righteousness. When I know I am not even capable of carrying out this commandment perfectly, it becomes a matter of legalism for me to wear the cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, when I know I'm not worshipping God 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I am told in 1 Corinthians 11 to cover when I pray or prophesy. But if I cannot perform these actions 24/7, then I do not need to be covered 24/7.

While it is possible for me to cover all the time, if I am not praying or prophesying all the time, the emphasis then is placed on the external, rather than the internal. Jesus called the Pharisees and others like this "whitewashed tombs." What the Lord has always cared about first and foremost is the heart. What good will it do for me to have a covered head, for example, when someone cuts me off in traffic? In moments like this, the last thing I am thinking about is praying or prophesying. (Far from it!)

That's just my personal conviction of how to handle the "when" of covering. I would not criticize anyone who covered any more or less frequently than I do, because there is good reason for a woman to cover "full time." That reason is -- she loves doing it! Let's look at Mark 2 for a moment:

23One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" 25He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." 27Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

I use this passage to guide my decisions about when to cover. Headcovering was made for women, not women for headcovering. The cover is more for us than it is for God. The cover is there for our encouragement. If you want to cover full time because it makes you happy, then I say, go for it! I honestly believe God gave us the covering as a way to be comforted. If you cover because you want to, then praise God! But if you cover because you feel you have to do it, or if you feel condemned for only doing it part of the time, this is not of God! The last thing He would want is for us to view it as a source of anxiety. The Lord reminds us in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. In addition, we are told that fear is not from God (1 Timothy 1:7).

I will also share that my uncovered times give me a greater sense of appreciation for my covered times. There are times I'll be with a group of folks just fellowshipping when someone suddenly says, "Hey, why don't we take a moment and pray for Mary, for safe travels?" I will feel naked praying without the cover, but I know God doesn't honor my prayer any less. If it bothers me that much, I will carry a small scarf in my purse for such occasions, but unless I know I will be engaging in a time of planned prayer or worship, I do not worry about covering.

When I utter a quick, spontaneous prayer, such as "Father, I took a wrong turn and I am lost, please help me find my way back," I am not so worried about being uncovered as I am being on a strange, desolate road in the middle of the night all alone and my fuel is getting low. But when I plan to have a time of private prayer and worship at home, and I drape that veil over my head, it does something to me. God is unchanging, but when I choose to cover, something happens to me inside: suddenly I am more aware of His presence and His protection over me. My focus is steadfast, my concentration only on Him. It changes my posture and my attitude, much like anything else I wear. If I go out of the house wearing torn jeans and sneakers, I am going to feel very different than if I go out of the house in a ballgown and high heels. And as beautiful as I feel being dressed that way, I know it is not appropriate to dress like that all the time. The covering does something similar for me -- it keeps me grounded in prayer and worship. So in this manner again, I say, the covering is more for me than it is for God. It is His gift to me, much like the Sabbath.

I will share with you one last story about how my covering habits relate to the idea of "without ceasing." When I first started covering, most of the people in my life told me that perhaps this was just a "phase" I was going through. Some assumed that if I should get married, I'd abandon the practice because my husband would become my covering. Some suggested that God was only testing my obedience and may one day release me from this practice. All I can say is, I may not cover full time, but I have been covering for four months without ceasing -- in church and at home, and I don't care what anybody says -- I don't plan on stopping. Why? The Bible encourages me to keep right on covering.

Anyway, I hope this also offers more insight and understanding to people regarding the practice of headcovering. I honestly did not expect to be writing so much on the subject, but since there appears to be a need to address it, I am going to continue to post my thoughts on this issue as God leads. Whether you decide to cover full time, once a week, or once in a while, my suggestion to you is that whatever God lays on your heart, obey the Spirit and continue in that practice without ceasing.

May God bless you!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Choosing and Using Your Weapon

As promised in my prior post on headcovering, I agreed to share my own personal experience as a covering woman in a non-covering church. We've already discussed the why, so now let's take a look at the what, where, when and how of headcovering.

What Type of Cover Should I Wear?

This was probably the first question I had. After doing a bit of research on the internet, I found that there were many different types of headcovering for Christian women to choose from. There are doilies, hats, snoods, headscarves, veils, turbans, shawls, bonnets, and caps, to name a few. So which one is the "correct" choice? Personally, I think it is a matter of personal preference. Contrary to popular belief, headcovering is not a matter of modesty, rather, the Scripture indicates it is a symbol of authority. Similar to baptism, the cover is an outward sign of an inward change. Therefore, the face or hair does not have to be covered. The crown of the head should be covered first and foremost. The rest is details.


I wanted my covering to be big enough so that it would be obvious that I was covering and not just wearing an oversized hair accessory. This was not because I wanted to flaunt what I was doing, rather, it was to prevent me from being embarrassed of covering. While I am extremely attracted to the various decorative doilies that are available, I knew that I would be less conspicuous if I wore one. The same goes for hats. Many people today wear hats just to be stylish, and I didn't want the safety net of blending in. In addition, hats are not practical. They take up far too much storage space in the closet, and one must take great pains to protect the hat from being crushed. Not to mention, an oversized brim can be extremely annoying to the person sitting behind you in church!

The headscarf became my headcovering of choice (followed by the shawl) for several reasons: first, they take up very little storage space. This allows you to always have one handy in your bag or purse. You can keep several dozen in a dresser drawer or storage bin. They are also very versatile additions to your regular, everyday wardrobe. Finally, they are fairly inexpensive, making it easy to own several of them and get really creative with tying them and matching them to your outfit.


Where & When Should I Cover?

The Bible says a woman should cover whenever she is praying or prophesying. Scripture also tells us to pray without ceasing. Some have made the personal decision to always be covered for this reason. I have chosen a different approach. Because this is a symbol that has great meaning to me, I do not want it to become a boring habit (no pun intended). This reasoning compares with the manner in which we observe the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is not observed every single time we are with the brethren. Most Christians will not observe communion at Bible study or casual fellowship. Rather, they will only observe this ordinance on Sundays in corporate gatherings. My church takes this a step further -- we only observe the Lord's Supper on the first Sunday of the month. This prevents the Lord's Supper from becoming an ordinary ritual that grows dull in our hearts.

Likewise, I have patterned my headcovering choices after this reasoning. I choose only to cover during all corporate and individual times of worship, prayer, and teaching that are planned. Basically, I cover every Sunday in church, and during my quiet time with God. I do this to keep the meaning of my covering fresh. I personally feel if I covered all the time, it would be more about the covering than about the Lord and eventually become a thing of legalism. But again, I believe each woman needs to discern for herself where and when she will cover.

How Do I Handle The Reactions of Others?

This one simply takes some getting used to. There were many different reactions I encountered when I began covering. I go to a church that has roughly 500 people on any given Sunday, and with the exception of one woman who is a missionary to India (and covers with doilies and bonnets) I am the only woman who covers in my church. I knew it might be a little weird for some folks, so the first thing I did was I announced my decision to those closest to me (including my pastor). This gave me moral support for the first few weeks in the beginning. It also prepared these individuals ahead of time, and was less of a shock to them when I did begin covering.

The first thing I noticed when I started covering was that many people didn't recognize me. I had many people treat me as though I was a first time visitor and greet me very warmly. So it was nice to go "undercover" (pun intended) and see how my church treats a visitor.

Some folks were extremely upset with my decision, and I was fully prepared for this. I know the reason why 99% of Christian women do not cover today is because they've either been taught it is a cultural thing, or because the practice was forced on them in a legalistic fashion. Knowing why I cover and being able to communicate this to the critics has made all the difference. In fact, many realized immediately after being provided with a logical explanation that their condemnation of a woman who covers by choice is no different than the condemnation of women who cover by force. They quickly changed their minds and are now accepting of my decision.

One thing I was not prepared for was the reaction of the men at my church. Several men approached me and asked me flat out if I was observing 1 Corinthians 11. When I said yes, they lit up like a Christmas tree. Many have expressed their support by telling me how beautiful, admirable, and encouraging it is for them to see a woman covering on her own.

A third reaction came from other women who have become intrigued with my covering. I have had three married women approach me with questions on my practice. One has made the decision to cover, easing into it with hats and now has graduated to draping a shawl over her head. Two others have confided in me that they have a deep desire to cover, but their husbands will not allow it. When I asked why, they said, "He just doesn't want me doing it." I have a feeling these husbands are afraid others will think they forced their wives to cover. This is a sad commentary on the culture's view of Biblical Femininity. When a simple headcovering is popularly viewed as an instrument of female oppression, no man wants to appear as though he is forcing that on his wife.

This is why it has been a real blessing for me to be covering as a single woman. There is no man "forcing" me to do this. Coming to church week after week with a scarf on my head is not only a sign to the angels, but also to those husbands and other women in my church that this is not about oppression -- it's about empowerment!

I have been covering now for almost four months in a non-covering church and people still look at me funny, but I think they're getting used to it. People no longer treat me like a visitor -- they now recognize me for who I am. Another fun thing is that the cover is a great identifier. If I have a visitor come to my church, they will often tell an usher they are looking for me and describe me as "the woman with the headscarf" and the usher is able to find me right away, even if I decide to change where I normally sit. One thing that I still experience though, is people staring at my head. Many will greet me each Sunday, look me in the eyes, smile, and then it never fails -- I see their gaze move from my eyes to my head. I suppose in a way that makes the headcovering a good argument for modesty, because if everyone is looking at my head, I know they're not looking where they shouldn't!

Conclusion

Overall, the decision to cover is one that comes with great study and prayer. A woman who chooses to cover publicly should be thoroughly prepared for the reactions, whispers, and questions she may experience from others. Although her first few public appearances as a covered woman will be a bit distracting for her nonetheless, being unprepared can further distract that woman's attention from worship and from the Sunday message.

Once a woman understands why she is covering and is able to provide an answer to those who ask, her next task is learning how to wear the covering. A covering that comes loose or constantly falls off in church can be yet another distraction to the covering woman and others around her. In my next post, I plan to address some tricks and tips for keeping that fabric on your head!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Restitution Story

Most of my regular readers know that this blog is an expression of repentance, and some also remember me saying that this site was birthed after a very important event took place in my life one year ago. It was at this time last year, I embraced the very serious sin of anger.

My anger was an unholy reaction against another's sin. For seven months, I marinated in my anger. I was angry with a brother in Christ. But moreso, I was angry with God. Each day was like another brick that I placed in the wall I had built between myself and God. I wanted to repent. I tried to repent. But I simply couldn't do it. I cried out to God, every day, begging Him to take the anger away because I was powerless to do it on my own. But every day, God was silent. Then one day, God reached down, embraced my broken spirit, and healed me. It was then I was able to repent.

I once read somewhere, "How do you know when a thief has repented? Is it when he stops stealing? On the contrary, a thief stops being a thief when he not only stops stealing, but starts giving." This is what repentance is. It isn't simply the discontinuance of sin. It's actually turning around and doing the opposite of that sin. God had given me the grace to repent, but He also gave me a test of that repentance.

I was given the task of making restitution: God commanded me to pay a specific sum of money for a period of exactly seven months to the brother who had caused my pain. The joy God placed in my heart and the compassion I felt for my brother in Christ was so completely opposite from what I had been previously feeling, I almost couldn't believe this was real. I called my pastor, told him what God had instructed me to do, and my pastor in turn made arrangements for my restitution to be anonymous. With one simple phone call, the plan had been put in motion. That Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, I would turn in my first check.

There are no words to describe the joy I felt in being given such an opportunity to reverse my seven months of hatred by turning them into seven months of blessing. For several days, I was walking on air, imagining the look on the brother's face when he discovered the blessing, just in time for the holidays. I knew my brother in Christ needed this money, and with no way of knowing it had come from me, He'd have no one to thank but our good and gracious Lord. And so the disrespect I had previously showed God had now become an opportunity to see Him glorified. It was the most amazing assignment He has ever given me.

I continued to send the checks, but during the sixth month, something began to disturb me. It suddenly dawned on me that my concept of restitution did not exactly match up with the situation. I began to question if what I was doing was really a command from God or just my imagination. Trying to make sense of it all, I searched for any reputable articles on restitution I could find (there aren't many out there). Basically, this is all I could conclude:

The word restitution literally means "to make whole." Restitution is commanded of a person who has stolen from another individual. The theft can be tangible, as in the case when someone takes another's property, or it can be intangible. Examples of intangible theft include slander (theft of one's reputation), murder (theft of one's life), and fraud (theft of one's trust). The theft may have been unintentional, nevertheless, restitution must be paid. (Click here for Scripture references.)

I had not sinned against this brother. I had sinned against The Lord. It didn't make sense to me why I was making restitution to the brother, and not to God. I suppose one could argue that all the times I discussed the situation with others, it was slander -- but it really wasn't so much slander as it was me trying to process and make sense of my pain. I was given someone's word and it wasn't kept. I had been defrauded, and my ability to trust had been stolen from me. In fact, the more I read what the Bible had to say about restitution and how it should be applied, the more confused I became. "Why am I paying for sin that was committed against me?" Before I could finish my question, I felt The Lord gently impress upon my heart: "Because my child, that is precisely what I did for you."

I approached God about this matter, and said, "Father forgive me, but I just don't understand. My sin was against you, not my brother in Christ. And from what You describe in the Scriptures, it almost sounds as though he should be making restitution to me! So why am I paying him? Why am I paying for sin that was committed against me?"

Before I could finish my question, I felt The Lord gently impress upon my heart: "Because my child, that is precisely what I did for you."

In that single moment, I was broken all over again. Never did I think it would get better than it did in the first month, when I experienced the glee of being able to bless a person that deep down, I didn't hate at all. Never did I think it could get better than knowing I had been freed from the sin of anger and have it replaced with a desire for reconciliation. But it did get better, once I realized that in addition to everything God bestowed on me through this experience: love, joy, and forgiveness; He also gave me an opportunity to partake in His sufferings through a mimicry of His gesture of love toward me.

This past Sunday, I turned in my seventh and final restitution check. My only regret is that my assignment is over. The beauty of this experience has gripped me in a way that I could not have foreseen back in November. We serve such an amazing, compassionate, indescribably gracious God. There are no words to express the awe of knowing His Spirit is actually dwelling within me. In times like these, when I am faced with the unending depth of God's love for me, I can hardly believe I was ever angry with another human being. The irony of the situation is that the compassion I have for my brother in Christ now exists on a far more profound level than before the sin occurred. Only a God as amazing as ours could not only reverse the effects of sin, but actually turn it for a thing of glory.

Surely, He makes all things work together for good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Discovering Headcovering

In this modern church age, covering one's head is often seen as an outdated practice reserved only for the extremely orthodox or downright legalistic Christian. A majority of today's Christians, both men and women alike, feel that the practice of headcovering is "not for today." Approximately three months ago, I began covering my head. I reached a point where the idea that headcovering was "a social custom for that particular time" did not hold any water for me. I am fully convinced that the practice of headcovering described in 1 Corinthians 11 is indeed for today, and I hope to describe why I have grown to love this practice and the way it has turbo-charged my love for God and His Word.

If you simply Google the phrase, "Is headcovering for today?" You will find several well-constructed, detailed arguments in support of this ritual. For this reason, I won't to spend too much time regurgitating what's already been written on the subject, but just touch on the basic points that sold me on the practice. First, let's look at the passage in Scripture where God commands us to cover: 1 Corinthians 11:2-17. I will not print the passage here, but encourage you to look at it in any version of your choice, and I have deliberately chosen to include verse 17 in this discussion because it was one of the verses that helped solidify my decision to cover.

Right from the beginning of the passage in vs. 2, Paul says he praises the Corinthians for the way they have observed this ordinance (some translations read "traditions"). In vs. 17, Paul states that he does not commend them for the way they are observing his instructions for the Lord's supper (another ordinance). Hence, the context of the entire chapter is about about spiritual ordinances that have great meaning. They are laws, commands from God that must be followed. (For some examples of Old Testament ordinances, click here.)
In addition to headcovering, I can think of two other ordinances were given in the New Testament: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

The Lord's Supper is the other ordinance addressed in 1 Corinthians 11. We still celebrate the Lord's supper today, and we still use bread and wine. We would never say the practice is "cultural" or "outdated," or think of using potato chips and Coca-Cola, arguing that these elements are more "culturally relevant." Likewise, we should not abandon headcovering because we feel it's not for today. We have been instructed to cover our heads, and we do not decide for ourselves the expiration date for those instructions. Some may argue that because ordinances are a type of law and we are no longer under the law, therefore we don't need to cover. This argument misses the point. It is true, we are not under the law because we are no longer condemned by it, having received the righteousness of Christ. But this doesn't mean we cease to obey. Even though we are no longer under the law, it's still a good idea to refrain from lying or stealing. But we also continue to follow the law out of love for God. When God issues a command, such as: "Preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), or "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19), we obey that command, not because we will be condemned if we don't, but because we love the Lord, and He says "to obey is better than sacrifice . . . rebellion is as the sin of divination." (1 Samuel 15:22-23). Simply put, we cover our heads because God says so, and if we love Him, we will obey His commands.

But why would God command us to do such a thing? What is the purpose of covering? The answer is found in vs 10. We often talk about baptism being a symbol. We also consider the Lord's Supper to be a symbol. In vs. 10, headcovering is also described as a symbol of authority. Truly, the word "symbol" is injected into the translation and is not in the original Greek, but the point is, verse 10 and the entire headcovering passage is talking about authority. Specifically, the passage is addressing the order of authority in God's design. The most prominent argument against headcovering today is the idea that women were instructed to cover their heads to distinguish themselves from the local prostitutes. But nowhere in this passage can we infer such a thing. Not only are prostitutes not mentioned, but unbelievers are not mentioned either, nor their customs. Yet modern Christianity insists the passage is about a cultural custom, despite the fact the entire passage is about authority from beginning to end. If anyone wishes to know why women should cover, the answer is not in the cultural norms of the day. In verse 10, we are given a direct answer as to the reason why we should cover: "For this reason, a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head: because of the angels" (NKJV, emphasis mine). There are times when the Bible seems unclear, but this is certainly not one of them. In verse 10, we are explicitly told the concept of headcovering is directly tied to "the angels." I don't know about you, but I happen to subscribe to the idea that angels are not cultural.

But what does this mean? I have searched high and low and for answers. I have read several articles on this topic, some good, some that were really reaching . . . and all were in agreement that the headcovering means something to the angels, but what? If you Google the phrase, "Because of the angels," you will get a plethora of interesting theories. Although there are a few theories that seem to make sense, only one lit a fire in me, making the practice of headcovering irresistible. It was purely hypothetical, but I later discovered this view appears to be supported in the Scriptures.

MacArthur (1997) writes: "Women are to be submissive by wearing the symbol of authority so as not to offend those most holy and submissive creatures who watch the church, who were present at creation, when God designed the order of authority for men and women," (p. 1745). A headcovering brings joy to the angels, who submit to God just as we do. The symbol shows them that we are submitting to God alongside them. But that's only half the story.

Now, here's where it gets really interesting.

I also came upon another article that suggests this symbol also has great meaning to the fallen angels, those who chose to rebel against God. God's messengers are not the only ones present during our times of corporate or private worship. Demons are present as well. This is truly fascinating in light of the fact that we do not practice headcovering in the modern church. (It is no coincidence that the practice of headcovering seems to have decreased simultaneously with the increase of feminist consciousness.)

In the King James version, verse ten reads: "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels." The word "power" is the Greek word exousia (Strong's #1849) in the original text (often translated as "authority" in some versions). Click here to see how this word is literally translated.

This word is always used whenever the Bible refers to "principalities and powers." (You can do your own study here.) The most commonly known verse discussing "principalities and powers" is Ephesians 6:12: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (NKJV). When a woman covers her head, I believe she is not only submitting to the godly authorities of her God and her husband. I believe she is also engaging in a very simple act of spiritual warfare against the ungodly authorities of this world.When we look at headcovering from this perspective, it becomes anything but oppressive. It becomes so gloriously empowering, you almost feel sorry for men that they cannot partake in this ritual!

This is truly compelling in light of the way so many people erroneously view Christianity, especially with regard to women. We are told that Christianity is oppressive to women, that practices such as headcovering are archaic and outdated, symbolizing a primitive culture where women are considered to be second-class citizens. Satan wants nothing more than for you to believe this lie, because in doing so, you are following the world according to his design, a world of rebellion and chaos.

But when you don a headcovering, you are communicating to all the fallen angels that you have submitted to God's order and not chosen to follow the devil's disorder. I have my own theory regarding this. I believe that when a woman wears a headcovering, she is making a very strong statement to the enemy of her soul. She is saying, "You may have deceived the first woman, and you may have deceived millions of women into rejecting God's design, but you will not deceive me!"

Dear readers, when we look at headcovering from this perspective, it becomes anything but oppressive. It becomes so gloriously empowering, you almost feel sorry for men that they cannot partake in this ritual!

This is why I cover. My prayer is that this article I've written will inspire you toward your own journey of discovering covering and the joy that comes with it. If so, you will probably be asking yourself, "How should I cover? When should I cover? What will it be like the first Sunday I walk into church with my new cover?" These were questions I had as well. I am still in a process of discovery myself, but I will share my insights on types of covers, how to wear them, when to wear them, and how to respond to any strange looks you may encounter, all in my next post.

Stay tuned . . .


Reference


MacArthur, J. (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Nelson Publishing, Inc.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mother's Day

As Mother's Day approaches I am pretty sure that the world (system) will be taking this opportunity to market products, such as cards, to increase their sales. For some it will be a happy time to give and receive. It will be a time to celebrate motherhood and all the joys of having a mother and being one. But for some, Mother's Day will be just another painful reminder. To those without a mother, a painful childhood, a woman longing for a child, and those whose mothers are living many miles away, to those who are fortunate enough to give to a mother (figure) in their lives, reflect on not only what that person has done, the influence they’ve had in your life, but also on God's grace for giving you such a blessing. Give God the glory also when you are giving thanks and celebrating the mother (figure) in your life.

To those whose Mother's Day will perhaps be a difficult time, there are ways in which a time of sadness can be turned into joy, whoever you are. First, I would like to share a testimony at this point, in the hope it will, perhaps, identify with someone reading this post.

After meeting and marrying my wonderful husband, we were blessed with children. After my first was born my husband went into work, very often 24 hour shifts. I felt completely overwhelmed with the amount of work and energy such a little person takes. At times many could just ask their parents (often mothers) for some help and to share in not the work only but also the joys. I couldn’t. My parents lived many miles away. By the time my next two little blessings arrived my parents had moved abroad. We’d be lucky to see them twice a year. Many times I would find myself surrounded by new mums in the church with their mothers helping with the little ones. The most what would seem like insignificant things such as the mums holding their grandchild, change his/her nappy or even sharing a moment of joy, would cause in me pangs of pain and sadness. There was a time when those in the church really hurt me, not caring if I even had a family to turn to. But in all of it I believe I was able to turn to God in times others wouldn’t have. Very recently, crying on my pillow at night, I felt the Lord saying “ok, now you have let go of your idols (see last post), I am showing you that you must let go of your parents also”. What, you should think, would have been a very difficult thing to do, was actually like a burden lifted from me. It was time to move forward with God and allow Him to draw me into a closer relationship with the Lord and that I may be enabled to grow. It’s taken a few years to get here but so many other things had to be dealt with first.

Before closing the testimony here, I would like to add that from the moment I got married and started a family God put into my life another mother figure . . . a spiritual mother. Not only is she a spiritual mother but she is also a mother and grandmother (again this week) herself. Therefore she has been able to impart a mother's wisdom as well as spiritual counsel.

Going back to those who are perhaps without a mother or even trying for a child, whatever makes this a difficult time for you, there are things you could do to bring joy to others and glory to God, thus turn it around to become a time of blessing for yourselves. Is there a child that you know God has laid on your heart? What about one you don’t even know but saw in the papers/news? A child doesn’t even have to have an age limit to be someone else's child. What about someone on the streets? That was someone’s baby once. Do you know someone God has laid on your heart? Commit them to prayer this Mother's Day (and longer perhaps). Pray for ways you can be a blessing.

What about families struggling to cope? Single parents, perhaps even without families themselves? How could you show forth the person of Jesus in their lives?
On my street there is a young girl God has laid on my heart. She’s been out on the streets till late every night since she was 2. She is now 4, my little girl's age. Very often we have her over for tea or over to play with my children in the garden. This keeps her off the streets. She craves hugs and we often read to her the Bible and tell her Bible stories. She now (as with other children on the estate) talks to us about Jesus and we can pray with. These, I am told, are little seeds we sow into others’ lives. I pray for a harvest one day.

If there are some reading this post who are struggling, remember, the church is God's family and many members in this family have a gift and a calling in their lives to help and support those who need it. This is love in action and if at this time you need some of that love shown in your life then make contact with someone today. There are many wonderful women’s ministries today, some of which are linked to here

May you all have a very blessed and Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Almost Cut My Hair

When I was a child, I used to love my father's Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young albums. I must have listened to Deja Vu thousands of times. My favorite tracks on that album were "Everybody I Love You," "Carry On," "Helpless," "Four and Twenty," "Teach Your Children," "Woodstock" -- I must confess, the entire album is just a masterpiece. Even though I am a Christian, it remains one of my guilty pleasures to this day.

There is one song from that album though that runs through my head without fail every single time I think about cutting my hair. It's hypnotic. It's addicting. It's an anthem. (Click here for the lyrics).

Obviously, this is a song about rebellion, a favorite of every long-haired hippy and flower child of the Woodstock generation. Ironically, it also appeals to me as a "Reformed SHEologian." For me, growing my hair is an act of counter-rebellion. The Bible says:

Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:14-16, ESV.)

Now before anyone accuses me of legalism, let me just make it clear that having long hair or short hair does not affect one's status in the Kingdom of God. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, period. But even as Christians, there are certain practices that are familiar to us which symbolize our regeneration. Baptism is one. The Lord's Supper is another. And I happen to believe that another way we demonstrate that we have embraced God's order in creation is that we present ourselves as male or female by our physical appearance. Our physical appearance is an outward symbol of what's going on in our hearts.

Historically, cutting off one's hair has been a symbol of feminine rebellion for years. Countless movies and television shows will always show a woman cutting her hair after some falling out with a man. For example, the man leaves her for someone half her age, and what is the very next thing we see? The woman going out on the town, charging up all the man's credit cards to get a new wardrobe, a manicure, and of course a drastic haircut. Cutting the hair, especially in an act of "revenge" against a man communicates "I am taking charge of my life!" It is such a powerful image because the woman is taking control of something that she feels belongs to her and her alone: her body.

You might be saying, "So? What's the big deal? It's only hair." Well, here is why I think this is a very subtle, but crucial offense to a Holy God. In a prior post, I wrote the following:

We are in rebellion when we make any decree for ourselves that is against God's design. We are saying that we are in control of our situation, not God. We deny Him of His sovereignty and usurp His place as Most High . . . Whenever we make statements that disagree with Scripture, we are in rebellion. At best, we are insinuating that God's decree could use some fine-tuning. At worst, we allow ourselves to alter God's design completely to suit our own needs. This manifests itself in a wide spectrum of ways, from a simple matter of shirking responsibility or refusing to submit, to declaring oneself to be homosexual or a transgender individual. All of these attitudes are equally sinful because they all stem from the same argument of "I can't help it . . . that's how I was created".
In the above article, I draw a parallel between a simple refusal to submit and a homosexual lifestyle. Both come from the same mindset. If I insist that I have an outspoken personality and "that's how I was created," I will naturally toss aside any commands in God's Word which require me to submit. This is the same argument many homosexuals use to justify their lifestyle: "That's just how I was created." Likewise, when our drastic haircut is accompanied by the phrase, "This is my body and I'll do what I want with it," where is the boundary? Truly an attitude such as this is really no different from the woman who says, "This is my body and I'll fornicate with whomever I want to," or, "This is my body and I have a right to an abortion."

Again, please do not misunderstand where I am coming from. I am not saying cutting one's hair is a sin on par with fornication and murder. I am not saying that cutting one's hair is a sin at all. What I am saying is that the mentality behind some of our motives for cutting our hair is what displeases God. Cutting one's hair is often simply a matter of better hygiene. If your hair is dry or has tattered ends, it can look quite beautiful if it is shorter. In fact, many women wear their hair short and are absolutely stunning.

But cutting one's hair can be construed as sinful when it is done in an effort to undermine, rebel against, or equate oneself with male leadership or God's design. For example, in Splendor in the Grass, our film of the month, Deenie Loomis (Natalie Wood) is seen cutting off her hair after the infamous "bathtub scene." (See it here at 6:50.) Deenie has chosen to preserve her virginity as her mother advises. But when her boyfriend fornicates with another girl, she rages at her mother, saying, "I'm not spoiled! I'm just as fresh and as virginal as the day I was born! I'm a good little girl, mom! A good little, good little, good little girl! I always did everything daddy and mommy told me! I obeyed every word!" In the next scene we see Deenie hacking away at her hair with a pair of scissors. Deenie cuts her hair in a fit of anger, pain, and desperation. She tries to drop her "good girl" image in an effort to win back her boyfriend. This is the type of mentality that rejects God's prescription for holiness.

Although not every woman cuts her hair for these reasons, an overwhelming majority of us have cut our hair at least once in our lifetimes in an effort to "shed" our femininity. Cutting one's hair has become so synonymous with rebellion against traditional womanhood, I have chosen to counter-rebel against this practice by growing mine.


Truly, the only reason I cut my hair short was because I didn't have time to take care of it. I always said that I was too busy to worry about something as trivial as my hair. I wanted my morning routine to be easy, and eliminating an extra twenty minutes on my hair seemed like a good idea. But I thought to myself, if growing my hair is something that would show God that I have fully submitted to Him, shouldn't I make time for it? If the only reason I am not wearing my hair long is because it's a nuisance, what else will I cut short? Will I also sacrifice my daily study of God's Word, assuming I don't have time for that either? I know God doesn't love me any more with longer hair than with shorter hair. But this Jesus Freak feels like letting her freak flag fly. Let's just say, "I feel like I owe it to Someone."

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Pain of Rejection

My first job was at a local neighborhood bagel shop. Three times a week I would work from 2:30-6pm after school in a privately owned, delicatessen-type establishment that was run by a very arrogant and pompous man. I was only fourteen years old, so I was paid under the books, below minimum wage. I was always on time. I always went above and beyond the call of duty. And when I had finished any task I was given, I’d report back to my boss. He’d look at me and say, “Now you can scrub the tables,” or, “Go dump out the old bagels.” On occasion, he’d just stare at me and say nothing.

I worked there for eight months, which in high school years is like a golden anniversary. One day, I announced to my boss that I had not only cleaned the bathroom, but I had also taken the liberty of fixing the paper towel dispenser that was falling off the wall. He looked at me and said, “Do you want a medal?” His wife quietly replied in my defense, “Sometimes it’s nice to hear a thank you.” He looked at me as though I was the biggest nuisance in the world and in a sharp, staccato tone said, "Thank you, Jen!" Clearly he was mocking my desire for a word of approval. I nodded and walked away, wondering why nothing I ever did seemed to please this man.

Two weeks later, the baker robbed the store. He grabbed a bunch of money from the cash register and ran. I was not even there when it happened. But I got fired. That’s right – I got fired! I was supposed to work until 6pm and I left at 6pm. The man who normally came every night to lock up was running late, so a coworker agreed to stay behind and wait. Since I was not there to “defend” the register when this grown man decided to come in and rob the place, my boss took his revenge out on me.For months I internalized feelings of shame as I drove myself nearly insane trying to figure out what I had done wrong, and what, if anything, I could have done better to have prevented the loss of my job.

After eight months of showing this man complete loyalty, faithfulness, and dedication, he fired me for something that I had no control over. And he wasn't nice about it, either. He called me unexpectedly on a very quiet evening and proceeded to yell at me in his big, bad "man" voice. He cursed and screamed, and posed questions to me like, "What is wrong with you?" and, "What are you, an idiot?" I did not even know the store had been robbed. He never told me. He just open fired. It was nothing short of devastating. The rejection I suffered was painful, confusing, and unfair. For months I internalized feelings of shame as I drove myself nearly insane trying to figure out what I had done wrong, and what, if anything, I could have done better to have prevented the loss of my job.

Ironically, my drastic reaction to being rejected stemmed from biblical truth. The Bible says that woman was created for man (1 Corinthians 11:9). Our whole entire reason for existing is to support the men around us. I am not a man, and I do not know what kind of painful feelings men go through when they are rejected. But I am convinced that the single worst feeling that a woman experiences when she is rejected by a man is the feeling that her entire reason for existing has been utterly dismissed. When a man no longer has any use for us, we feel as though we have been rendered completely unnecessary. It can feel as though we no longer have a function. Depression sets in quickly because not only are we grieving the loss of a man’s company and the security of our regular routine as dictated by him, we are coming to grips with the idea that we are no longer valued. It makes sense why God would command men to love us. If our entire reason for existing is to devote ourselves to them, what we want in return more than anything else in the world is the assurance that we are loved, or at least appreciated. But what do we do when we feel we are not loved or appreciated?

The first thing we must do is to assess our motives for serving. If in fact we are only serving the men around us in order to gain a sense of approval from them, we are really seeking our own need to be liked, appreciated, or even admired. Underneath it all, some of us may simply be fishing for a compliment. If that compliment doesn't come, it doesn't automatically mean that we are not appreciated. It simply means that the appreciation was not expressed in the manner we had hoped. When we feel rejected, we must always examine our motives in the context of that relationship. If we find our motives are not pure, then we repent of that selfishness and the feeling of rejection goes away.

But because men are sinners just like we are, there are those times when the rejection we experience is real. In this case, we must still be careful to guard our hearts. For example, when my boss fired me, the first reaction I had was one of terror. But once the initial shock wore off, the fear gave way to pride. At the tender age of fifteen, I uttered for the very first time the words of disbelief spoken by every woman who has ever been rejected without warning: “After all I’ve done for him!”

When we are rejected, we must be careful not to compensate for our feelings of low self-worth by becoming puffed up. Saying desparaging things about the man, or over-inflating our own good qualities in an effort to make us feel better is sin on both ends. The only cure for the hurt and pain is to turn to the cross. The cross has a wonderful way of leveling the playing field on both sides. It enables us to forgive the person who rejected us when we put ourselves in his shoes, remembering the many times we have rejected The Lord. It also helps us to forgive that person when we consider the way that God has forgiven us over and over and over again.

Finally, when we are rejected, we must be strong in our duty to continue serving. The Bible says "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9). Because every person we come in contact is a sinner, we can rest assured we will be rejected again and again. We cannot just shut down and avoid having relationships in an effort to avoid rejection. We must continue serving others, but we must also use discretion. "Continuing to serve" does not necessarily mean we continue to serve the individual who hurt us. Forgiveness is required of us always, but reconciliation is not mandatory. There may be good reason to separate yourself from someone who is abusive or cannot be trusted. But we cannot allow ourselves to grow weary of doing good to those who are blameless. We cannot go on in the present punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty committed against us in the past. If you are suffering from the bondage of rejection, know that you can break those chains and be free to serve others in Christ. Here is a wonderful message by Charles Stanley called, "Release from the Bondage of Rejection." It runs approximately 50 minutes in length, or you can also skim the sermon outline by clicking here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Splendor in the Grass

As a theatre major in college, I learned all too well how art imitates life. Sometimes the angst and sorrow we face in life can best be expressed by fictitious characters. We laugh with them, cry with them, and learn from their mistakes. In April I attempted to dissect the film Now Voyager in accordance with a "theme" I had designated for the month. This didn't work for several reasons, the primary one being that are just too many themes inherent in a good story that one can't really give them all the proper attention they deserve in a weekly blog post. That being said, I will instead simply recommend a film every month, and encourage the readers to apply the themes discussed on this site to the characters in the story. Sometimes, viewing ourselves in the plight of the characters can give us an introspective look at the consequences of our own sinful behavior.

This month's featured film is Splendor in the Grass, the story of two young lovers whose relationship is destroyed by sin. It is for this reason one of the most heartbreaking stories of all time. As you watch the mistakes made on both sides, consider how your own behavior in your courtship or marriage is affected by sin.

STATS
Year: 1961 (Not Rated)
William Inge (writer), Elia Kazan (director)
Starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in his first film role
Setting: Southern Kansas, 1928 (just prior to the Great Depression)
Won 1962 Oscar for best screenplay and best actress (Natalie Wood)
Content warning: Some scenes contain intense kissing and several references to fornication. One scene features showgirls in revealing costumes.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Dating without accountability. Even when two people are sincerely in love, emotions that are not kept under control can result in heartbreak should the spoken intentions never come to fruition. Bud and Deenie's hearts were so emotionally intertwined, the pain resulting from the end of their relationship could be comparable to that of a divorce.

2. The goodness of marriage. If God brings someone special into your life and there is no good reason to postpone the union, the Bible encourages you to marry (1 Corinthians 7). Had Bud not postponed his desire to marry Deenie, the hope and promise of being able to eventually consummate the relationship with Deenie may have helped him resist temptation.

3. The pain of sin. This story is about two single people, however married viewers can see how important it is to remain faithful to their sexual commitment, else they be tempted outside the marriage. Sexual desire leads to sexual sin. Sin is a threat to relationships.

4. The power of love. The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins. In spite of the pain Bud caused her, Deenie still loves him. In spite of his pride, and in spite of the fear that he no longer deserves her, Bud still loves Deenie and is heartbroken over having hurt her.

5. The plans of man. The Bible says that in his heart, man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9). Sometimes we can do everything according to God's laws, but that doesn't guarantee things will always go the way we want them to. We can become confused and question God's goodness when our choice to do the right thing results in pain and heartbreak. (The bathtub scene where Deenie says, "I'm a good little, good little, good little girl!" is gut-wrenching.) But it is important to remember that God is always good, no matter what happens.

TRIVIA
The film's title comes from William Wordsworth's poem "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood":

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind...


Want a preview? Here is the original trailer of this classic film: