The Need for Women to Complete Creation

[From the archives.]

Back in college I had a particularly painful break-up.

It wasn’t painful for her. She told me we were not going out any more and then she started dating another guy. Or she started dating the other guy and then told me we were done.

I’m not really sure of the chronology.

How did I respond? Perhaps not so surprisingly, I wrote about it.

Women! Who needs them? Not me. All they do is take your heart and wad it up into a little ball and throw it on the floor and stomp on it. Well, you can try that with some other poor sap, but don’t try it around me. I’m done with women.

I was dating someone new within a month.

God’s Plan Includes Women? Who Knew?

God spent six days creating everything, and repeatedly pronounced every day’s creation to be good. At the end, he looked on all he had made and said it was very good. It’s a bit surprising to read then:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18, emphasis added.)

Something in all that was very good was not good? Odd, that. But God knew what to do.

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21-22.)

He made a companion for the man. Did you notice that God did not make another man, a buddy that Adam could pal around with? Good thing, too, because I imagine a world full of men without women would look like the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles.

All of creation needed a woman

Here’s the thing. I don’t think God created Eve solely for Adam’s benefit, that women are here just so men can marry them. I think God created them male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:27) because it takes men and women together to be the complete image bearers of God. There is something about women that reflects God in ways that men don’t and vice versa. Adam wasn’t the only one missing out before God created Eve. All of Creation was incomplete up to her arrival.

So who needs women? We all do.

Who needs men? We all do.

And most importantly, who needs the God who created both women and men?

We all do.

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Spiritual Umbrellas and the Oppression of Women

I recently posted an article encouraging women to use the talents given them by God, to be bold in growing into the person God created them to be, and not to pretend to be less than any of this in an effort to avoid offending those who think women are prohibited from doing certain things. Most commenters felt encouraged to pursue the potential God gave them and told of their own experiences in busting stereotypes.

Then I read this comment:

One of the hard things for some women to find is a man whose headship is comfortable to fit under. If you’re a visionary, finding a man with greater vision than you have takes a lot of prayer, patience, and contentment while you’re single.

The problem is if her husband’s vision is more limited than hers she cannot act upon what God has given her to do. And if an unmarried woman’s prayers, patience and contentment do not lead to a man with vision greater than hers then she will apparently have to choose to remain single. She has too much vision to get married.

Women and Their Husbands’ Potential

The commenter went on to say:

I heard a pastor once describe the family as a series of umbrellas. First God the Father with the largest umbrella. Next is the husband, then the wife and last the children.

The key is allowing everyone under the umbrella enough room to grow. … I’ve always said I want my husband’s umbrella to be really big so I have a lot of room to spread out!

This woman has been taught that her growth is limited by her husband. She might be made for more but if her husband’s headship isn’t comfortable to fit under, if his umbrella isn’t big enough, then – according to this teaching – she will never grow into the person God created her to be.

Umbrellas That Don’t Stand Up

Where does this teaching about umbrellas come from? It’s a concept popularized by Bill Gothard, who teaches legalism and authoritarian structures to churches and families through his organization Institute of Basic Life Principles. (See, Understanding “Umbrellas of Protection”: embracing the Biblical principle of authority.)

Like much problematic teaching, this article takes biblical truth and then applies it in ways not taught in the Bible. In fact, the attributes of this umbrella of protection are not found in Scripture at all. Instead, Mr. Gothard takes culturally-based patriarchy and tries to fit it with scriptural clothing.

It does not work.

The breakdown in the umbrella metaphor is illustrated clearly by attempts to draw it out graphically:

According to Mr. Gothard and others who adhere to the umbrella metaphor for family relationships, the umbrellas represent Scriptural authority put in place to be our protection (our umbrella) from ungodly influences and events. Yet while the Bible says much about authorities it never describes them in a way analogous to an umbrella covering someone. In fact, nowhere is anyone in the New Covenant life we have in Jesus told anything along the lines of “You are in authority and thus are a spiritual covering for those under your authority.”

Rather, we are told 1) that everyone is a servant to everyone else:

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35.)

2) that everyone is to submit to everyone else:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21.)

3) that the only true authority over any of us is Jesus:

… there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:6.)

Umbrellas don’t work as a metaphor for this New Covenant reality.*

A Head Is Not an Umbrella

Some might point to this passage:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24.)

The first thing to keep in mind is that those verses follow immediately after verse 21 (above) which says we are all to submit to each other, and the word “submit” is not in verse 22 except by implication. This implication carries through the end of the passage and applies to all sorts of relationships, not just marriages.

Wives are addressed first; the paragraph immediately following is on how submission plays out for husbands. Then it goes on to address this mutual submission for children and parents, and finally slaves and masters.**

But what about verse 23, which describes the husband as head of the wife? Many are misled in seeing the word “head” as a metaphor for “leadership.” It’s not, because the 1st Century Koine Greek word “kephale” (the word used in Ephesians 3:23, as well as in 1 Corinthians 11:3) doesn’t lend itself as a figure of speech for authority the way “head” does in 21st Century English.

Many Christians erroneously believe that the word kephalē conveys the meaning of authority, and they interpret Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 to mean that husbands have authority over their wives. Some elaborate on their interpretation and understanding of kephalē even further and claim that husbands and fathers are the spiritual authorities in the home, and that wives and mothers do not have spiritual authority of their own. Paul never hints at such a doctrine. (Margaret Mowczko, The Metaphorical Meanings of “Head” in Paul’s Letters: Part One.)

The bottom line is that the Bible does not teach that men are spiritual leaders – let alone spiritual covers – for their families. Which brings us back to one of the main problems of the umbrella metaphor: it puts people in a position different from the one God places them in.

The Heresy of Umbrellas

Another danger of the umbrella metaphor is that it prevents people from doing what the Bible actually says they should do – fulfill the responsibilities and potential God created in them. Jesus told his followers that when it comes to their God-given talents, their responsibility is to use them as best they can. He explained it in a story describing life in the Kingdom of God:

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. (Matthew 25:14-15.)

Each person was given vast wealth, since a single bag contained as much money as a laborer would earn in 20 years. Each person’s responsibility (five bags, two bags, one bag) was in accordance with that person’s ability. The story goes on to describe the man’s joy with those servants who had put the money to work, so much joy that he praised them and gave them promotions. One of the servants refused to take the responsibility given to put the money to work, though, which led to a harsh rebuke:

“You wicked, lazy servant!” (Matthew 25-26.)

Harsh words for someone who shirks their responsibilities.There is no refuge in saying that someone else was your spiritual covering and therefore it’s not your fault if their umbrella isn’t big enough to allow you to spread out to your full potential.

That type of blame-shifting is as old as Adam and Eve answering God’s questions about eating the forbidden fruit:

“The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12.)

It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. A woman who pleads the excuse of a small husbandly umbrella is looking to the wrong place for her spiritual authority. Jesus is the only source of authority for carrying out all God has given you to do, and he is all the covering you need to reach it fully.

Women, don’t let anyone tell you that you need a husband whose vision is greater than yours in order to reach your spiritual potential. All you need is to follow wherever Jesus leads you, for his vision is great indeed.

a-womans-vision***

* The umbrella metaphor also breaks down when you consider families without a husband/father. If a woman is a widow raising children, for example, the husband’s umbrella is missing. She must either take on protecting and providing for the family (the husband’s umbrella) or her family will live without them. Or not live. But assuming that these teachers allow her to take on those roles at least until she gets another husband, that means she is directly under Jesus’ umbrella for the time being. Yet they provide no Scripture that allows for the husband’s place to be take by his widow. I imagine they’d say it happens by necessity rather than by rule. This state of necessity which allows her to provide for and protect her family directly under Christ’s umbrella doesn’t do much to bolster their position, especially if (for whatever reason) she never remarries. They’d be forced to say that she is experiencing God’s second-best in her life without a husband, even while she enjoys all the blessings a man would receive by being directly under Christ’s umbrella. That position has no biblical – or logical – basis whatsoever.

** I’ve heard people say that the mutual submission of verse 21 carries on to apply to the later verses regarding slaves and masters mutually submitting, but then say it does not apply to the intervening verses of the relationship of husband to wife or parent to child. Not that I understand their position, but there it is.

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The Pain of Self-discovery

Self-discovery isn’t always pleasant.

Then again, perhaps I’m not truly discovering anything I don’t already know about myself when I come to grips with my shortcomings. It’s like Paul said:

Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. …

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21, 24-25.)

I know my faults, and take refuge in Paul’s conclusion: I am delivered from myself through the work of Jesus.

That is something worth discovering.

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George Washington on Civic Duty – a thought for President’s Day

Washington on citizenship and dutyIt may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it. – George Washington.

Those who belong to God have interesting instructions when it comes to civic duty:

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17.)

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ … . (Philippians 3:20.)

How does this play out for you – whether you live in the United States or elsewhere – in relation to your government?

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Men, Women, and Crying in Public

[Updated from the archives.]

Leadership Journal humorously but pointedly addressed the stereotyping of what men supposedly really want out of church in a clever comic entitled Manly Sunday School Classes.

The comic panel depicts a bulletin board headed “Men’s Class Sign-up” with a collection of classes available. The themes of the offerings range from sports and outdoor activities (e.g., Hunting for the Kingdom taught by Jerry Blastum) to those appealing to relational and emotional aspects (e.g., The Sensitive Male Soul Winner).

The five stereotypically-named manly classes are all labeled “filled” with no room for more students. The three classes appealing to sensitivity or relational issues have notes taped to them saying, in succession, “teacher needed,” “lots of room,” and (as you might expect) “cancelled” for apparent lack of interest.

It reminded me of a pastor who was telling the church of a recent family health emergency which led to a trip to the emergency room. He started to tear up a bit, stopped talking, sniffled and then apologized, saying “It’s not good to see a man cry.”

My first impulse was to call out, Yes it is. (After all, Striving For “Manliness” Is A Fool’s Game.) My second impulse was to ask, Not good? Where’s that in the Bible? I did not follow either impulse since he was in the middle of a sermon at the time.

Men Weakening Women

The issue here is that his statement was discriminatory in at least two ways: a) men aren’t allowed to cry, and b) crying is for women, not men.

Which is another way of saying that it’s all right for women to cry and not force themselves to appear strong and stoic like men have to because, well, they’re women and they aren’t supposed to be strong.

Again I ask, Where’s that in the Bible?

Someone will invariably point to 1 Peter 3:7.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

But that verse is about the marriage relationship – not how men and women are to behave generally – and the context of the surrounding verses is concerned with a wife’s cultural position, not her physical or emotional attributes. Wives at that time (as in much of the world today) were not in as strong a position as husbands; Peter told husbands not to use this to their own advantage but to remember that their wives are just as much heirs of Christ as they are. It’s not about supposed relative strength and weakness somehow inherent in men and women. In fact, whenever someone says “Men have to be strong because women are weak” it makes me wonder if they know any women in real life.

women men weak strong.jpg

The Ultimate Crying Man

As for the statement that men shouldn’t cry, we need go no further than the example Jesus set when his friend Lazarus died.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:32-36.)

It’s not good to see men cry? Jesus was deeply moved, moved to the point of tears. And he let everyone who depended on him to be strong see those tears flow down his face.

Not good?

If Jesus did it, it is very good indeed.

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Confessions of a Real Jerk – resenting the success of others

[From the archives.]

I can be a real jerk sometimes.

I acted like a jerk in elementary school, high school, college, law school, and on into adulthood. The way I’m a jerk might look different now (I’m no longer the kid who thought he was always getting picked on and then looked for someone to pick on himself), but I’m still a jerk sometimes.

What brought this dismal self-reflection to mind? Catching myself being a jerk again.

Resenting Success

I don’t handle success well. Other people’s success, that is.

It’s not everyone’s success I struggle with. If someone wins an Academy Award or scores the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, more power to them. The success I have trouble with is people who achieve something I want to achieve. Whether at work, writing or even the things I get involved in at church, I’ve seen it.

I can be petty that way.

I can be a real jerk.

The thing about this resentment is that no one sees it but me. I’ve learned to mask it. There’s no sense raining on someone else’s parade, so I congratulate them and try to be supportive. But inside I might be up to my eyeballs in resentment.

One odd thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t react this way all the time with every success. In fact, it’s more likely that I don’t react this way to someone else’s success. But it does happen.

Consider these experiences I had with a couple friends involved in the same thing I do:

  • One friend told me of recent success, and my immediate reaction was to wonder why I wasn’t achieving the same level of success. Wondering wasn’t the only thing going through my mind. I actually found myself resenting that success, thinking why her and not me as if this resentment was going to do me any good. I realized what I was doing and felt nauseous. Not a figure-of-speech type nauseous, but real sick-to-my-stomach type nauseous that kept me from sleep all night.
  • A couple of days later another friend told me of recent success in the exact same area. My immediate reaction was to be extremely pleased and proud that people recognized her talent and wanted to help her.

Two friends, two similar successes, all within the same week. One I resented and one I celebrated.

What’s Wrong with Me?

So I’m a jerk. A petty, small-minded jerk.

I’m not supposed to act this way.

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. … And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. (2 Timothy 2:22, 24, emphasis added.)

A servant of God should not be resentful; that’s easy to understand, if not always do. You know what stings in that passage, though? The earlier part that resentment is one of “the evil desire of youth”. Wow. The Bible says I’m immature when I’m acting like a petty, small-minded resentful jerk.

I think the Bible’s right.

Paul wrote that passage from a Roman prison cell in a letter to his young friend Timothy. He wrote another letter from that same cell to his friends in Philippi where he showed the right way to enjoy the success of others:

[They] preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:17-18.)

Paul looked at people who were not only achieving what he couldn’t achieve, but were doing it in order to make trouble for him. His response? To rejoice in their success.

So my prayer is that I will rejoice in the success of others who serve our Lord, that my petty resentment will be left behind as an immature remnant tossed onto the pile of other sins I need to let go of.

Because who wants to be a jerk?

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It’s Not My Only Weakness Either!

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1.)

Ouch! If taking criticism is your superpower please share in the comments, because I can use all the help I can get.

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God Can Overcome Your Best Efforts

power-in-weakness

Picture source – Wikipedia

Christ’s power is made perfect in my weakness, not in my best effort.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10.)

This doesn’t mean I can get away with never making an effort. The Bible is clear that there is much for God’s people to do.

But our efforts are not where God’s strength is perfected – that is, where it is brought to full completion in our lives. By his grace the strength he brings is found in our weakness. This truly is a gift of grace because there are times I’m not really putting in my best effort. That’s part of my weakness, too.

I am glad God is not looking for me to muster up my best efforts before he accomplishes things through me but uses my weaknesses – including my weak efforts – to accomplish his perfect purposes. In fact, sometimes my best of efforts get in the way.

Yes, I hope to keep trying my best for him. But I put even more hope in his grace to bring his strength through every weakness in me to accomplish his purposes.

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My Own Personal Sell-by/Use-by Dates

sell-by-use-by***

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I’m Surprised That I Think There Is No God

The fact that Jesus lived never leaves me. I believe in his life and that he died a criminal’s death on a Roman cross. I believe in his resurrection from the dead too. I believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be: God.

Then why do I doubt God’s existence at times?

Why do I look around me and wonder if there really is a God? This isn’t a philosophical type of wondering. I’m not thinking on problems such as how evil can exist if God is good and loving.

I’m thinking at times that maybe God doesn’t exist at all.

Yet I never doubt Jesus’ existence: his life, death and resurrection. How do these two mindsets square with each other: assurance of Jesus’ existence and occasional doubt of God’s existence?

I have no idea.

Presence Is Powerful

This is where the wisdom of the Incarnation comes in. God knows that we believe more easily what we can see, hear and touch. Separation, rather than making the heart grow fonder, tends to lead to disaffection.

In the early days of God’s relationship with people he walked with them. Adam and Eve spoke to God as they spoke to one another, experiencing his presence in the Garden of Eden as they experienced each other’s company.

The relationship becomes more and more attenuated as time goes on. Cain speaks to God directly, as does Noah. By the time of Abraham and Sarah, God speaks but for them and their family he is described as a visitor or Angel of the Lord. This trend toward separation continues with Moses, who speaks to God but does not see him plainly as he appeared in the Garden to Eve and Adam nor as an Angelic visitor as Sarah and Abraham did.

And so it goes through the history of God’s interactions with his people until some Israelites act as if God doesn’t exist at all since they’ve never seen or heard him.

Whom have you so dreaded and feared
    that you have not been true to me,
and have neither remembered me
    nor taken this to heart?
Is it not because I have long been silent
    that you do not fear me? (Isaiah 57:11.)

God promised to reverse this trend, and the long slide toward forgetting God ended with a return to the original relationship: God walking with his people. It ended with Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. …

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14.)

Jesus – the Word who is Creator God – spent a lifetime on earth as a human. He had family, made friends, worked with his hands, and taught people what it means to have a relationship with God again. John, one of those who knew Jesus best, wrote a letter emphasizing that his relationship with Jesus was real:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1.)

It is this testimony from John and others who knew Jesus in the flesh – Peter and James and the rest – that convinces me he existed and did what the Bible says he did. It all rings true. And if these people who knew Jesus and wrote about him are correct in what they say they heard and saw, then what Jesus said about having a relationship with God is correct too.

And that means God is true.

Rising and Melting Doubt

So when I doubt God’s existence, it doesn’t stop at mere wondering doubt; I go all the way to thinking it isn’t true. The surprising thing about this denial of God is that when I think about Jesus there is never a doubt that he existed, and that he always has and always will. As John recorded in yet another book, this is what Jesus says about himself:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8.)

When the doubting failure to believe in God’s existence comes, the answer isn’t to reason myself back to believing in him. It’s to focus on Jesus and the fact that he really lived and lives.

I have no doubt.

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