June 24, 2009

Equipping All Women to Be Exceptional Women

The scriptures tell many stories of unlikely women God has used to accomplish his will. I refer to them as “unlikely” not because it is unlikely God would ever use such women to accomplish his will. God will use anyone at any time. I refer to these women as unlikely because of our sinful expectations. To put it bluntly, they are not church ladies.

Two of these unlikely women are almost entirely unknown to us, except for what Paul has to say about their influence on a younger man very dear to him. We are introduced to them in Paul’s second letter written to Timothy who was a leader in the first century church and discipled by Paul. A younger man, Paul regarded him as his own spiritual "child". Timothy's grandmother Lois, and Eunice, his mother, are credited by Paul for instilling in Timothy a "sincere faith" like that of their own. (2 Timothy) In Acts 16:1, the only other biblical text where Timothy’s family background and heritage of faith are discussed, we learn that Timothy’s father is Greek and his mother, who we know to be Eunice, is a Jewish convert to Christianity. Neither Luke, the writer of Acts, nor Paul in his letter to Timothy offers any indication that Timothy’s father was also a believer, leaving the reader to assume he probably was not.

Perhaps it would not have been so important for scripture to mention anything about Timothy’s upbringing and the religious background of his parents if it were not for the significant role his mother played in the development of his faith and as the believer in an unequally yoked marriage. That Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice are acknowledged for their key role in his spiritual development should give us pause as to how we are equipping all women to grow in their knowledge of God and how their children’s spiritual heritage might be traced back to the strength of their own faith. Sunday comes too infrequently to depend upon the church as the only source for Christian education; every parent needs to be a fount of biblical truth to their children and every woman has opportunities to share the gospel and make disciples. What are we doing as a church, especially in our women’s ministries, to encourage the spiritual maturity of every woman?

June 17, 2009

Create in Me a Clean Heart

Recently, the topic of indulging in God has been central to my studies and devotions. We are so bombarded by the things of this world--physical pleasures, materialistic attraction, and intellectual autonomy--that we easily neglect our commitment to the Lord. Our hearts, wicked as they are, tend toward sin. We are called to live in a way that imitates God, walking with a consistent attitude of sacrificial love for others--an attitude of self-denial. But the battle persists.

This battle began in Eden, which translated means delight or pleasure. Eden was a place where God provided all that the Creation would need. Food, shelter, companionship, fellowship with God--they lacked for nothing. Yet Eve, confronted by the Serpent (Gen 3:1-6), was deceived into believing that eating of the tree "in the midst of the Garden" would be a good idea.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)
This wouldn't be the last time we see this form of temptation in scripture. As Eve was tempted by physical pleasure ("good for food"), materialistic attraction ("delight to the eyes") and intellectual autonomy ("make one wise"), Jesus also was confronted with these temptations, in a location neither pleasurable or delightful, but in the wilderness. (Luke 4:1-13)
The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." (4:3) (physical pleasure)

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. (4:5.6) (materialistic attraction)

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, "for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,'" and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" (4:9-11) (intellectual autonomy)
Jesus conquered sin and death with the work of the Cross, but we still live in a world where we face choices and challenges due to the condition of our own heart. As Jeremiah teaches that the heart is deceitful, the Psalmist prays "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10) We can join in that prayer.

As the Holy Spirit continues His work within each of us, we continue to pursue God by indulging in holy, obedient living, glorifying Him in self-sacrifice instead of self-indulgence. No doubt the battle is real, but the power to walk by the Spirit is greater.

(originally posted in November 2008)

June 16, 2009

O'Reilly not Factoring his own Spin

Over the last few months, prior to abortionist George Tiller’s murder, Bill O’Reilly has made it quite clear that he believes late-term abortion is repugnant. That’s a fact not in dispute and one in which pro life supporters can agree with. Where O’Reilly‘s argument is seriously flawed, and where Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief of Salon.com, caught him in his inconsistency last week during his interview of her, is in his view of life and human dignity in general. As much as I disagree with Joan Walsh, and I disagree with great passion, she is at least consistently repulsive. Her view is that no matter the stage of the unborn life, a description she would not reject, a woman’s right to have an abortion takes precedence. What O’Reilly grants is that the killing of any unborn child is acceptable up until the point of “viability.” At this point and thereafter, abortion is not an option except to save the life of the mother. To his credit, he means her literal life, not her inability to party as a result of having a child. For O’Reilly, no casual abortions should ever be permitted after this point, but in a hierarchy of values, prior to this point of “viability,” O’Reilly would rank a woman’s right to choose higher than the life of the fetus. Sadly, his position on the value of a life is not predicated on a view that regards human dignity as inherent to all human life at every stage, but on a spurious functional view of human life that provides support for cases like that of Terri Schiavo and other cases involving euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

What O’Reilly is referring to with his use of the term “viability” is the fetus’ ability to survive outside of the womb. This is probably an argument most people understand, but it is an unfortunate distinction because the value of life should never be determined by his ability or inability to survive unnatural circumstances. To take any person out of their natural environment where they thrive as a living organism would be a challenge to any person‘s survival. The viability of adult human life is dependent on oxygen, but we would never justify the murder of a person simply because they have chosen to swim under water. There is a sense in which this viability argument regards life outside of the womb the natural and the real and life in the womb as the unnatural and merely potential. This is consistent with O’Reilly in that prior to viability, he regards the unborn fetus as “potential” life. Even Walsh doesn’t make that claim, this is a concession O’Reilly has chosen to make to the pro-choice establishment.

O’Reilly continues to insist that his disgust by late-term abortion has nothing to do with Roe v. Wade, that this is an entirely separate, isolated discussion. Making a case against a certain type of abortion in this manner merely upholds the belief that a woman’s right to choose is the higher moral standard. Walsh is correct in stating that abortion is abortion, no matter the stage of the unborn life. O’Reilly’s spin on the nature of human life is inconsistent at best, but on the grand scale, his prominent voice is a danger to the cause and to all life before and after 24 weeks. If inconsistency is even-handed and consistency is extremism, then I am guilty.

Link to the O'Reilly/Walsh debate

June 10, 2009

Is Industriousness Compatible with Biblical Womanhood?

Apparently there is something inherently gender-oriented about household chores, but I’m not quite sure where to draw the line. Is it the basement door? The entrance into the garage from the back of my kitchen? Perhaps it is the lawn and the shrubbery. Maybe someone can help me to understand this…

I’ve always thought of myself as a complementarian, but typically don’t advocate strongly for biblical womanhood because of its inability to speak boldly to women on the fringes. I continue to firmly hold a view that women are not to be elders in a local church, and I believe every passage of scripture that indicates that the husband is the head and the wife is his helpmeet, but how the latter plays out is not absolutely defined in scripture. I am also very weary of needing to state these things each time I discuss the logical and practical failures of the biblical womanhood movement, but I will continue to do so as necessary.

So here I am, going out on a limb I fear will break, but I am going anyway knowing I may be fully rejected by the complementarian camp I embrace. In a blogpost by Carolyn Mahaney, she writes about the disapproval she has--and scripture has--for a world where husbands and wives share the tasks of running a household. She begins the post by talking about how she wasn’t feeling well one day and turned on the Today Show as some sort of distraction. That was her first mistake, as the Today Show is co hosted by a professional career-driven female. I would think that watching that would in some way be supportive of Ann Curry’s pursuit of a career outside of the home. But I digress.

Carolyn describes in her post what the Today Show was featuring at that moment. I will let Carolyn speak for herself:

Ann Curry was interviewing two moms who recently wrote a book entitled Getting to 50/50. The point of the book is this: A woman can have a great career, a great marriage, and be a great mother—all by getting her husband to share equally in the responsibilities in the home. Thus the title, Getting to 50/50.”

These two authors were very pleasant and gracious. They were not the militant, angry type who can easily offend many. And they weren’t men bashers; in fact, they seemed to want to pursue a loving relationship with their husbands.

And yet, the premise of their book is in direct contradiction to Scripture, which assigns men and women equally important, yet different roles (Gen. 1:26-27, 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor. 11:7-9, 1 Tim. 2:12-14).

These women believe that there is no difference or distinction in the roles men and women are assigned. They want men to take on fifty percent of the woman’s role and women to assume fifty percent of a man’s role. Their assertions fly in the face of God’s creation design and mandate—and they do it all with a smile.”

Without watching the interview that Carolyn watched, I’m forced to admit that there may have been some things stated about women and feminism that did not make it into Carolyn’s account in her blogpost. There is no fault in this. But if what Carolyn quoted is the full essence of what was communicated, I would suggest that her post demonstrates a lack of understanding of the fuller picture.

Very simply, scripture speaks of women “keeping the home” in Titus 2 and husbands as the heads in Ephesians 5, but neither passage suggests that a husband is walking outside of his role by participating in the management of the home or that she is stepping outside of her role by asking for help with household management. In fact, according to Susan Hunt, Titus 2 is not arguing necessarily that a woman never work outside of the home, but that she be “industrious” in all she does, including the home (Spiritual Mothering, Crossway Books, 1992. p. 64). A good example: The evangelical community was quick to embrace the VP nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin with the full knowledge her husband was helping at home.

One could easily come to the conclusion that 50/50 was an industrious way for these women to come alongside their husbands financially and to be a helpmeet to them in a sense other than handling the daily household chores. We live in a society where it is difficult for many families to live on a single income, and the language of “career” does not necessarily take from the priority of the family. Dependent on her personal circumstances, a woman may be wise by pursuing career-oriented employment that offers a salary structure compatible with her gifts and talents rather than a job that wears her down and makes her useless to the rest of her family because of frustration and fatigue.

If the women on the Today Show stated and believe that there is no difference or distinction in the roles men and women are assigned, I would agree that they are in error. But I disagree strongly that somehow a man and woman are abandoning those roles by sharing in the responsibilities of work and household management. To frame roles in this way places a number of families in irresolvable situations. I could cite various family scenarios that would more firmly root the husband in the home and the wife in the workplace, situations based on matters of health, job loss, and similar situations. If these were to be regarded as acceptable qualifications for how we are suppose to understand gender roles, then I would suggest that the doctrines of biblical manhood and womanhood are not as tightly wrapped up as claimed to be.

I get that the worldview of secular feminism is an assault on the Christian worldview and that it perpetrates great evils in our society. The days are, indeed, evil in this respect. But to frame the sharing of responsibilities of the home, which certainly do include financial responsibilities, within the context of secular feminism’s assault of God and the family is somewhat short-sighted.

June 1, 2009

Announcement; New blog - Et elle.com

I tend not to discuss evolution at Flash Point, but this is certainly worth noting. Be sure to check out Et elle, et al. which recently evolved from what use to be known as Intellectuelle.com. Formerly a blog of female voices, Et elle, et al is about the human voice. Be watching for the male writers who join the conversations on faith and culture from a human perspective. Yours truly will also be contributing there occasionally on topics related to women's ministry, bioethics, politics, culture, etc. No topic....well almost no topic...is off limits!

What’s Really Real about Reality TV…and the Human Condition

Within the last couple of years I wrote a piece about what was wrong with Supernanny and Wife Swap reality shows. Jon & Kate Plus 8 and even Little People, Big World have the same problem—children on these programs have no choice but to participate and have to live with any of the negative consequences in the future. Age and maturity makes them incapable of freely making the decision whether or not to participate, and they become a meal-ticket to their family’s financial liquidity. We know this is true, because for most of these programs, no children = no show. But what is very apparent is that the parents and producers and advertisers and viewers are each involved in this exploitive culture that rejects the dignity of our most vulnerable people--our children.

What we have always known and failed to admit is that there is nothing real at all about reality television. Watch one episode of the Kardashian’s, you will understand what I mean. But because this is the case, we have also avoided taking the lives of the people involved very seriously at any level. Hence, the children suffer.

An end goal of reality programming is to put on display the only thing that can be called real—the sinful human condition—so that viewers can sit back and say “I’m not that bad” or “thank goodness my kids aren’t that screwed up” or “look at that moron, what an idiot.” To take it a step further, our own depravity causes us to not see ourselves but to find humor or disgust with the failures and weaknesses of others. Susan Boyle surprised us with her artistry because our superficial sense of beauty believes no high caliber of talent could come from someone that didn’t meet our cover-girl expectations of beauty. In some sense, Susan Boyle’s story says more about us than it does about her, I’m afraid. The Apprentice was another program where we saw the human condition portrayed as it manifests in the world of business. Whatever it took to get the job done and win the task--that was the goal. Deceit was often the ploy utilized to win, no matter the cost. American Idol--how often have you heard someone say, “I only watch the first few weeks of the show so I can see the goofballs they allow on camera to embarrass themselves.” It is not just children who are being exploited by these programs, and it isn’t just the producers who are doing the exploiting. I find it difficult to hold Jon and Kate entirely responsible when the directionality of culture has indicated that this sort of programming is not only acceptable, but voyeurism is as well.

One reality show that peaked my curiosity but failed, nevertheless, was True Beauty. As a show, it utilized some sort of aesthetic calculus to determine the outward beauty of the show’s contestants. But the show also recognized that there was a “true beauty” that had nothing to do with appearance. From my perspective, the show was an utter failure because even though it recognized there was something greater than outward appearances, it still elevated physical beauty over what is ultimately good, failing to appreciate the depravity of all humankind.

As I hear the cable news reporters debate the situation with Jon and Kate and question the role of child labor laws taking effect in their particular situation, I wish that they would identify the problem of reality television as a whole and see that Jon and Kate, to some extent, are victims of a culture that is energized by human sin and weakness. Whether we are watching Wipe Out and laughing ourselves off the couch when someone is punched in the face over the mud pit, watching American Idol and asking ourselves who told them they could sing, or watching SuperNanny and believing that we are obviously much better parents than those on the show, we need to see that the problem with reality television is probably mostly with those who are willing to watch. Shows like these are on the air because advertisers are convinced this is what we want to be--voyeurs. It is our deepest insecurities that make us need to watch these shows, because our culture also believes that a high level of self-esteem is a priority. We feel pretty good about ourselves as we watch the misery of celebrity and dysfunctional families. It is our human condition, the reality of sin, that causes us not only to produce these programs, but to be entertained by this condition at the very same time.