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A road trip might not seem wise right now. But one was necessary if my husband and I were to return to the fields of Iowa from the desert and mountains of Arizona. We socially-distanced at motels, picked up food for our room, and sanitized before and after fueling the car.

One morning we knew we could go no further until an unscheduled stop was made. We pulled off the interstate and into the small town where a dear, widowed friend lives. I called her. “Rubie, if you stand at your front door, we’ll come visit you!” And that we did. No, it wasn’t the same as giving her a hug, or sitting next to her on the sofa, but for a few minutes we were able to let her know that she matters to us. We sat curbside in our car and she stood on her porch. We exchanged news, shared a laugh or two, and told her we love her without placing her at risk. Pulling away, I’m quite sure I saw her wipe away a tear.

It is all quite surreal. Gazing out the car window at the beauty of Utah and Colorado, we could see that nothing had changed. It is still possible to love our neighbor. It is still possible because God first loved us. He loves us through His Son, our Savior and Lord Jesus. He loves us by holding His world together and sustaining it. He sends rain and then the sun. He sprouts leaves from bare and seemingly dead trees.

The Lord has not turned His face from us. He is asking us to turn our face toward Him.

 

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Peace at the end of my day does not come in being a wife. It does not come in being a mom.

It comes in being a daughter.

There is peace in knowing that I have an inheritance that is imperishable and kept for me by my Father in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). There is nothing I do to earn that inheritance. It is a gift. I must wait to receive its full richness, but even now the Lord reveals a bit of that gift in His forgiveness and mercies that are poured out every morning.

My identity as the Father’s daughter affects my character. Remembering who I am affects my words, behaviors, and self-restraint. If God has mercy on me, shouldn’t I also have mercy on others? Every day is really an opportunity to act more like His forgiven daughter.

Every day, however, comes with temptations. One of them is to confuse my identity with being a “wife” or a “mother” or a “grandmother.” Those are vocations. Vocations are awesome callings and privileges, but they are for this life only. My identity is for this life and the next. I won’t be a wife and mother and grandmother forever because Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven. Individual family units will no longer exist and, instead, there will be one visible family of God. My place in His family will be then as it is now… only perfect in body and soul. No longer will I disappoint my Father, nor will I frustrate my brothers in Christ.

A vocation is what God calls me to do on this earth and in ways that honor Him. I can be a better child to my parents, wife to my husband, mother to my children, sister, aunt, and friend when I act like His forgiven daughter.

A vocation is a way for me to love God by serving my neighbor. I sin in my vocations, but that doesn’t change my identity. I can feel like a failure in my vocation, but that doesn’t change my identity.

No one can alter my identity. Nothing will cause the Father to stop calling me His daughter. My sinful choices and selfish behavior do not make me less God’s child, but they can change my attitude toward Him. Being unrepentant of my sins dangerously leads me to becoming my own little god. To prevent that, God the Father stirs my conscience and uses emotions of shame and guilt to rescue me from myself.

It is in humbling moments of rescue that the eyes of God’s children are turned to the Cross of Christ. His sacrificial outpouring of mercy is a love the world can’t understand. It is the kind of love that my neighbors need.

My children are my neighbors. The father of my children and grandfather of my grandchildren is my neighbor. In a world bent by sin—in a world that tells me to think of myself first, the neighbors I love most can be the most challenging and painful to love.

At the end of the day, there is peace. There is peace because my identity does something else. It helps me endure and live through the circumstances and consequences of a sinful, messed up life.

The circumstances of life—age, abilities, health, successes or failures—are always changing. Vocations change. But the identity given to me by God never changes. It cannot change. I will always be God’s daughter.

And that’s the reason why Satan hates me. It’s why he prowls around stirring things up. He does to me what he did to Eve. He deceived her into forgetting who she was. And then he tempted her to doubt God, fear vulnerability and desire control. Satan wants me to stop acting like I am God’s child so that I can’t show children and grandchildren how to act like His child.

The battle isn’t me against my neighbor. It’s me against the devil and this world. It’s me against my own fearful and selfish nature. In this spiritual war against evil, it’s me united with my closest neighbor—my husband—for the sake of generations.

When Satan targets me, he is really attacking my Lord. When he targets my marriage and children, he is attacking what the Lord has made. When he targets my home, he is attacking the place where my Lord has promised to dwell. Satan attacks the Lord by targeting His children.

Satan wants me to forget my identity so that my words, attitudes and behaviors cause division between me, my neighbor, and God.

The whole “love your neighbor” thing takes on a deeper meaning for the Christian when we remember that Jesus lives in us. So, what I do to my neighbor, I do to Him. Saul hurt his neighbors. He stoned Stephen. When he was blinded on the road, Jesus asked, “Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

Oh. My. Goodness. How many times have I wounded the Lord who gave His life for me? The number should burden me to such despair that I no longer want to live. But wait! God doesn’t measure or judge me by my failures and sins. When He looks at His daughter, He sees Christ in me and as my Father opens His arms to me.

God doesn’t love me because I’m loveable. He doesn’t love me because I make Him happy. He loves me because I am incomplete and lost without Him. He chooses to be merciful and forgiving even when I’ve betrayed Him. He pursues me with His Spirit.

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16). Jesus suffered on this earth. I can expect suffering in my vocations and relationships, too. But at the end of the day there is peace in crying, “Abba Father.” And…

He answers, saying, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27a).

   Linda Bartlett
10-30-19

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How odd, observed G.K. Chesterton, that many women consider it slavery to be the master of their own home, but working under a man in a place of business to be freedom.

Deception is a foul thing. But it is necessary for the destruction of the family. And so the world uses words like trivial, drudgery, and slavery to describe the work of a homemaker. With one question, the hissing serpent tempts women to doubt the goodness of domestic privilege. “Did God really say that you must be confined?”

Leaving home for a while can be the most wonderful adventure, but not necessarily freeing. Volunteering or working for pay can be rewarding, but not necessarily freeing. Being given a title may be flattering, but not necessarily freeing.

When I leave home to accept a job or assume a public position, I am obliged to work under the expectations and ideologies of someone else who sets the conditions for my labor. My talents and abilities are metered to the tune of an employer or board of directors. In my home, however, I labor not to grow a business or a corporation but to grow hearts and minds.

Never once did I think of my father’s mother or my own mother as being confined to the drudgery of their homes. My grandmother and mom were not free from day-to-day difficulties, but neither were they captive to slavery. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, they were blessed to find contentment in doing their best work from and for their households. They did their husbands good, not harm; they looked to the ways of their children; their lamps burned at night. They made time for hobbies and served in the church and community. Their tables welcomed family and friends. Relationships were strengthened. Neighborhoods were richer for it.

Within my home I am free not to compete with men or other women, but with myself. I am free to create, design, rearrange, make use of culinary skills, practice hospitality, organize, correspond, buy and sell, study, teach, train, mentor, read books, write books, engage through websites and blogs, supplement family finances, welcome neighbors, keep my lamp burning at night, and tell children and grandchildren what God has done.

The home where men and women complement one another in their roles as fathers and mothers is the foundation of a thriving society. A man may build and protect the house, but the woman makes and keeps the home. When chaos threatens, a woman can nurture a calming environment. By way of her quiet and gentle spirit, a woman can win an unbelieving husband for Christ. With grandchildren in mind, a mother in the home sets the moral compass for her children.

The way of the world makes no sense to me. Nor to Anthony Esolen who writes, “We must rid ourselves of the feminist spite that pretends to despise the woman of many talents and many tasks in the home, preferring the specialist who … does one thing well.” Esolen continues:

To do fifty things in one day for which you alone are responsible, for the immediate good of the people you love, is deemed easy, trivial, beneath the dignity of a rational person, but to push memoranda written in legal patois from one bureaucratic office to another, at great public expense and for no clear benefit to the common good, now that is the life. Chesterton put it well when he said that the work of a mother is not small but vast. A teacher would bring to fifty children the arithmetical rule of three, and though that is an interesting thing, it is but small and limited. The mother brings to one child the whole universe. That is no sentimentality. It is exactly true.

It is true that a woman may be needed by her family to temporarily leave the home to help provide for the home. But, writes Esolen, the “home is not a flophouse where we stay and recuperate so that we can go back out and earn money, much of which we burn in the very earning of it.” There is a difference between “money you make for yourself” and money made for the health and well-being of the family.

The world asks: Shouldn’t we save women from the drudgery of home and family? A civilization with eyes on the future asks: Shouldn’t we save home and family by holding in high esteem the home-making vocation of women?

There is hope! There is always hope! The Proverbs 31 woman, wrote St Bernard of Clairvaux, was not praised because she was so magnificent. She was praised for “not being deceived” by the world.

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My dear niece,

In our communications, you have expressed the desire to see the “bigger picture.” I understand what you’re saying. You believe it would be helpful to know what God is doing through you and for what purpose.

Two people come to mind who most likely had this same desire. My mom–your grandmother–didn’t talk about her cancer very much, not even to her family. Instead, she lived. While she had strength, she kept doing the things she had always done. She kept working from home, stayed involved at church, kept up with her friends, and encouraged family activities. Your grandmother corresponded regularly with a man sentenced to life imprisonment. Every morning at 8:00, your grandmother called her recently widowed friend, Gladys, to help her start her new day. Gladys told me many times how important those calls were; calls from someone who put aside her own discomfort and fears to reach out to a grieving friend.

Edwin is the father of my close friend, Mary. When Edwin was 34, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He lived a faithful life into his 60s. Everyone who knew Edwin agreed that he was a humble, always cheerful, helpful, and encouraging man. He chose to live each day as he always had: working on the farm, raising his son and daughter, volunteering at church, and being a good neighbor. Edwin turned conversations to the matters of life that are most important. He seemed to realize that he had a window of opportunity, not to do something for himself, but to become more bold in directing people’s attention to the Word and work of Christ. Edwin was well-studied by medical students. He impacted lives with his “it’s not all about me” attitude. Even when Edwin’s vision and speech were impaired, he continued teaching Sunday school. He would laugh and explain to the children why he talked differently. He would ask them to be patient whenever he mispronounced a blurry word. Those children still remember him. Edwin didn’t just pass the Christian faith on to his son and daughter. He showed how it can be lived out. Mary remembers her dad saying, “Be kind to your mother. Support her. Be the family she needs you to be.”

Dear niece, I could speak to you like Job’s friends Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad spoke to him. They came to sit with Job in the ashes, but their words provided little comfort. Job asked: “Where is my hope?” I cannot come and sit with you, but I can be like Job’s friend Elihu who faithfully reminded his suffering friend of God’s Word and work. Elihu understood that he didn’t have any great wisdom or advice for Job. All he had was love for his friend and reverence for God.

“God is greater than man,” Elihu said.

“God does no wrong.”

“God is mighty in strength and understanding.”

“God delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.”

Elihu was faithful to his friend, not by showing him all the things Job could do but reminding Job of all that God does.

The Pharisees wanted to know why the man had been born blind. “Who sinned,” they asked, “the blind man or his parents?” Jesus replied that it was not because of a particular sin that the man was blind. Instead, he was blind so “that the work of God might be displayed in him.” God’s strength “is made perfect in weakness” (1 Cor. 12:9). Elihu seemed to understand this, assuring Job that God often uses affliction not for punishment but for deliverance. Affliction opens ears to learn the Lord’s purposes and opens mouths in praises.

Elihu never presumed to speak for God. Nor do I. (Eve did that and regretted it the rest of her life.) But, Elihu was faithful in reminding Job to fear and love God; to be humbled and in awe of His power. I, too, want to be faithful in reminding you to fear and love God. Why? Because the best thing you and I can do for each other is to help one another be ready for God’s visitation. On the day that the Lord visits us, all that will matter is our confidence in the mercy and saving work of Jesus Christ.

My dear niece, I continue to pray that you have peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

A letter to my niece who bears the cross of brain cancer.

Photo credit: celebbabylaundry.com

 

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“People have trigger warnings and safe zones because they feel powerless against the ideas they’re facing, but when students grasp reality through a biblical worldview they don’t feel powerless.” (Jeff Myers, President of Summit Ministries).

When I was a young woman, I don’t remember being “triggered” or needing to seek a “safe zone.” But then, I wasn’t nurtured by parents, teachers, pastors, or the culture to think that an emotional gut reaction to a problem or alternate way of thinking is acceptable and healthy.

Ok. I get it. The times have changed.

But people have not. Women and men have always had–and on this earth will continue to have–emotions triggered by sights, sounds, smells and, yes, those ideas that oppose our own.

Whenever given the opportunity, we ought to engage not a whole crowd of “triggered” people, but one triggered person at a time. For example, when someone rants against Christianity, we can ask, “Why are you angry? What has caused you to respond in this way? What barriers stop you from living the Christian life?”

When we talk about the things we haven’t done right, we give others liberty to talk more freely about things they haven’t done right. Carrying the burden of guilt can prevent someone from living a life that’s wholesomely committed to Jesus. Holding on to guilt, pride, or fear puts us all in the position of being taken captive by some deception, myth, or dangerous ideology.

So perhaps, when we encounter a “triggered” person, we can be an example of how to confess sin. We can explain the mercy and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ and, in this way, lead from despair to hope. We can make use of the fruit of the Spirit which includes patience and kindness as opposed to emotional outbursts and harsh rhetoric.

We can profess with confidence, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Source: “Generational Guidance,” WORLD, 9-1-18

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Maura is “hooked,” but she has faith in the Savior of her life. His Word is real to her. It will speak to her conscience. Maura also has a friend who will be honest with her and always remind her why setting boundaries and guarding body, mind and soul is healthy and hopeful.

But, Nichole has faith in the things of the world. She doesn’t have a friend who will be honest with her. She, too, is “hooked,” but doesn’t realize it. Nichole, like Maura and most every other young (or older) woman, doesn’t know about neurochemicals.

Oxytocin is a neurochemical. It is present in both male and female, but is primarily active in females. The female body releases oxytocin at four different times. Take note! Each has to do with procreation and the care of children. Oxytocin is released:

During meaningful or intimate touching with another person (Action: bonding and trust)
During sexual intercourse (Action: bonding and trust)
During the onset of labor in a pregnant woman (Action: causes uterine contractions, results in birth)
After baby’s delivery (Action: stimulates nipples and produces flow of milk from mom for nursing)

How does the human race continue? God said that husband and wife would become “one flesh.” Sexual intimacy results not only in the bonding of two people, but in procreation. Oxytocin plays a vital role in the continuation of the human race. With sexual touch, the woman’s brain is flooded with oxytocin. She wants to be with the man she has bonded to. Long-term connectedness often results in healthy male-female relationships. It is actually rare for an American woman in an intact marriage to have sexual intercourse with anyone except her husband. Such stability is affected by oxytocin. Think of the significance. The bonding of father and mother greatly increases the chance for a child to be raised in a healthy, two-parent home. Such a child is blessed, not necessarily with a perfect home (do they exist?), but with a hopeful environment for becoming all God desires them to be.

The world speaks about the emotions of love. The emotions of connectedness. In reality, the desire to connect is more than an emotional feeling. Bonding is like glue. And it can’t be undone or ripped apart without great emotional pain.

Whether Maura or Nichole realize it, they are “hooked” to the men with whom they are sexually intimate. The flow of oxytocin serves to promote trust. Oxytocin will trigger the bonding process even if a girl hasn’t “gone all the way,” but has kissed and hugged a boy. For this reason, if he wants to “do more,” it will become increasingly difficult for her to say “no.” Parents! Do you know this? When you allow your thirteen-year-old daughter to spend long periods of time with a boy, you are placing her in serious jeopardy. Her protective boundary of modesty and inhibition will gradually break down with each kiss, each touch, each pledge of love… even though the boy she’s with has no intention of marrying her or having children with her.

Maura’s confession to me said it all. “. . . It’s so very strange. The more time I spend with my boyfriend, the more I need to be with him.” Does Nichole find herself in the same circumstance? Before a well-meaning counselor, Planned Parenthood clinic, or parent gets her on The Pill (or whatever), do they tell her about oxytocin? Do they explain that she’s going to be “hooked” because neurochemicals are doing what they’re supposed to do?

The cruelty is this. Our culture removes all the boundaries. It encourages sexual activity among boys and girls. Then it washes its hands by saying, “We explained how to do this safely.” But, who turns off the oxytocin? Maura has difficulty breaking with the boyfriend who isn’t good for her because she has bonded with him. Nichole has been in several intimate relationships. She has “hooked up.” Has “friends with benefits.” All seems so casual. So harmless. So sophisticated. But, oxytocin is at work. Every time that Nichole and her “friend” break up and she moves on to a new sexual partner, a bond is being broken. This is emotional. Painful. Sometimes paralyzing.

In truth, being sexually intimate with one person, breaking up, and being sexually intimate with another is like a divorce. Repeating this cycle again and again places a girl in danger of negative emotional consequences. Nichole doesn’t realize it, but she is acting against — actually fighting — her own body and the way she was designed to function. Eventually, damage is done to her brain’s natural connecting or bonding mechanism.

Sexual intimacy, as Maura has discovered, is addictive. But, she has the hope for change in God’s Word and the honesty of a friend. What does Nichole have? Who will speak on her behalf? Who will guard her body? Mind? Soul?

(Source: Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children by Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., M.D., and Freda McKissic Bush, M.D.) Recommended reading: The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity by Linda Bartlett)

Note: This blog was first posted on May 18, 2011. Since that time, Maura separated herself from an unbelieving and verbally abusive man to begin a new life. Today, Maura cares for others as a nurse and has stepped in to rescue her youngest sister from a mom addicted to meth. Maura, who sees what is good and right, has undertaken the huge responsibility of raising a sister, yet she herself is still “hooked” to sexual intimacy outside of marriage. There is someone special in Maura’s life, and she hopes to marry. But while the neurochemicals of her female body tell her that she should become the wife of a loving and protective man, her fears seem to have paralyzed her. My prayer is that Maura will trust the One Man, Jesus Christ, who knows her body, mind, and soul.

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Maura, a young and spirited woman, invited me into her life. She seems to welcome the experience of age and expresses the need for a “mother” figure. Maura is intelligent. More mature than most her age. She has a tangible dream and works hard in college. Maura displays all the normal feelings and emotions that come with being female. But, there is more. Wisdom speaks to Maura through her conscience. The answers to my questions consistently reveal that Maura delights in all things of God… but, she is “hooked” to her boyfriend.

Her boyfriend’s words of love cause Maura to feel special. He has demands. She tries to please. The warmth of his embrace encourages her loyalty. But, his lack of commitment makes her vulnerable. She isn’t sure how he really feels about her because his attention is easily distracted away from her. She hopes the relationship will change.

Time passes between our visits. We have talked at length about our identity as creations of God, so every now and then, I remind her of her value by mail or text. Maura almost always responds with a request: “Can we get together?” At lunch or on a walk, she brings me up to date. She is busy with work and studies. When the conversation turns to relationships, Maura smiles when she talks about her dad. “I’m happy when I’m with him. I feel safe at home.” But, when I inquire about her boyfriend, Maura’s smile always fades.

During our last visit, Maura seemed less confident. More sad. She uttered not one positive or hopeful word about her boyfriend. “So,” I asked, “why do you stay with him?” Her shoulders drooped. She stared past me for a few seconds. Sighed. Then shuttered. “He isn’t good for me,” she confessed. “But, it’s so very strange. The more time I spend with my boyfriend, the more I need to be with him.”

The honesty of our friendship compelled me to take a deep breath… then look into her eyes. “Maura, you’ve fallen into a bad habit. You’re hooked.” Tears that flowed were evidence of the tug-of-war for Maura’s heart. Mind. And soul.

Maura is “hooked” not because she is uneducated, but because she is wrongly educated. The culture has told her: “We are sexual from birth.” (What does this mean?) Maura is “hooked” not because she missed out on “Sex 101” but because she was encouraged at a young age to “be comfortable with” her “sexuality.” Maura is “hooked” not because she is rebellious, but because she followed the rule: “Be responsible by practicing safe sex.”

Planned Parenthood-style sex education instructs in the act of sex, sexual fantasy, contraception, abortion, self-pleasure, gender role stereotypes, sexual diversity, HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases. Maura’s well-meaning school, counselors, and adult mentors probably followed SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.) guidelines, thus believing they had provided everything Maura and her peers needed to know.

Sex education seems comprehensive, doesn’t it? Would appear to reveal all the facts, right? Then why is Maura, like countless other young women, in conflict with herself? Why is her soul troubled? Does her heart ache? Are her thoughts confused? Because, observe physicians, psychologists, and biologists, some vital information has been kept from Maura and her generation. I agree. Truth has been withheld. That truth is: Male and female are different.

Militant feminists deny this difference. They’ve been working feverishly to repress this difference so that women can shed their role of “helper” and, instead, compete with men. So, everything girlish and womanly is minimized, managed, and sadly misguided. No one informed Maura that her female brain predisposes her to yearn for love, understanding, connection, and communication. No one informed Maura that her chemistry promotes attachment and trust of her boyfriend. No one told Maura that her female wiring causes her to take risks by overlooking her boyfriend’s shortcomings. Maura’s unique physiological vulnerability to intimate behavior was never explained because that would be a “gender stereotype.”

Maura knows her relationship isn’t what it should be. As a Christian, she knows it isn’t what God desires for her. But, even if she wasn’t a Christian, she would sense that something was wrong. What is wrong is that educators in “sexuality” have failed girls and boys.

As a “helper,” I have promised not to fail my young friend by fooling her. Or manipulating her. There is one truth for Maura… and all the rest of us. It is the truth of our design. Divine design. This design by God is evidenced by our anatomy. Pure biology and scientific study.

Sure. This messed up world complicates everything. We may be “hooked” into harmful relationships. But, Maura matters. So, we are discussing a new life — unhooked and set free. Set free to be the woman she was created to be. Set free, because of Jesus Christ, to be a daughter and heir of God.

Continue to Unhooked and Set Free: Part II

(Note: Maura is one of the young women in my life who doesn’t realize how much she encouraged me to write The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity by Linda Bartlett (Amazon). I also recommend You’re Teaching My Child What? by Miriam Grossman, M.D. This blog was first posted on May 17, 2011.

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One of our grandchildren recently stayed with us for the first time alone without his parents or siblings.  As I was packing his bag for the return to his own home, this three-year-old looked at me and said, “I want to stay.”  Those are words that warm a grandmother’s heart.

But why did he want to stay?  Was it because everything he did was fun?  Was it because he received my complete and undivided attention?

And why, after he left, did I wander through the house in such a melancholy mood?    

I began to question myself as a grandmother.  Had I given my grandson enough of my attention?  Did I play with him enough?  Did I do all the things he wanted to do?

No, I had not.  In struggling with this, my thoughts were turned to my own childhood and memories of overnight stays with my grandparents.  What do I remember most about those visits?  Why were they so special?  Did my grandmothers sit down and read to me every time I asked?  Did they get on the floor with me to play games?  Did they take me to the park or give me ice cream when I asked?  No.  Those things are not etched in my memory. 

When staying a week with my grandfather and grandmother who lived in another town, I often entertained myself.  I created my own “house,” prepared meals in my own “kitchen,” took care of my baby dolls, played dress-up; in other words, I did all the things I watched my grandmother doing.  I wasn’t getting all her attention, but I was in her presence.  I was near enough to hear her, watch her, imitate her.  I remember going with her to the garden where she picked the lettuce for the salad she made for my lunch.  She was working, and I was in her presence… either attempting to pick leaves of lettuce, too, or content that she was caring for my needs while I ran around the yard chasing butterflies.  

I spent even more time with the grandparents who lived only a mile from me.  I do not remember my grandma sitting down to play with me or taking me to the park.  What I remember is how she talked with me while she baked bread or cookies and how she invited me to help by asking me to set the table.  I listened to her speak with kindness as I watched her labor with her hands.  I remember that she was never idle.  When she wasn’t attending to the affairs of her household, she was volunteering at church, singing in the choir, or nurturing relationships by opening her home to family and friends.  At the end of a long day, my grandma settled into her chair and took up her crocheting.  She was making someone a birthday present or perhaps a blanket for a new baby.  Grandma wasn’t ignoring me.  She was mentoring me.  She was welcoming me into her life and teaching me how to do the things she did, most of them for others.

In my grandma’s presence, I felt respected and somehow older than I really was.  I knew she cared enough to have me in her home and help me discern right from wrong.  Whether I was in the same room with her or in another room pretending to be a grown up like her, I was blessed being in her presence.  In this way, my grandma was focused on me.  She was preparing me to be an adult. 

These memories are a great comfort as I think about my grandson’s visit.  I remember him swiffing the floor while I prepared dinner, planting a pretend field of corn with his John Deere tractor while I finished writing a letter to a friend, and building a fort while I organized last minute details for a community “Life Fair.”  I wasn’t on the floor with him, but we shared a companionship in our “work.”  These activities of our day made into good bedtime stories before praying that God would give us restful sleep and the promise of new morning.

Why was I in a melancholy mood after my grandson’s departure?  The house was empty of his presence.

And when my grandson said, “I want to stay,” I think he was telling me that being in my presence mattered to him, too.

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I am in need of Good Friday.  That’s because I’m in need of love.  Not the love that people “fall into” or “out of,” nor the kind too commonly used in place of “like” when fawning over a friend’s dress, sparkly ring, or new shoes.

Love, as shown by God, is compassion.  Compassion is “com,” meaning “with,” and “passion,” as shown on Good Friday by the passion of Christ.  God’s passion for me means that He desired something on my behalf so intensely that it caused His suffering.  Compassion means to suffer with.

Since childhood, I have sung “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  His love is not a mere hug and kiss.  It is not getting what I want.  It is not Jesus thinking happy thoughts about me.  Jesus’ love for me involved His persecution, sorrow, pain, abandonment, and death.  This love cannot be expressed in a romantic way, nor can it be summed up in the modern phrase, “I just want to be with the one I love.”  Defined in this way, love is more about how the one I love makes me feel.

God loves me, but it’s not because I make Him “feel good” or “happy.”  In fact, He is angered by my rebellious sins.  His love, therefore, takes me by surprise.  He does not declare me unlovable!  He does not turn His face from me as I deserve, but comes to suffer with me!  “God loved the world so that He gave His only Son.”  The word “so” is not used here for emphasis; therefore, I really shouldn’t paraphrase John 3:16 as “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.”  This verse more accurately reads: “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His only-begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”

Good Friday doesn’t seem like a “good” day for Jesus.  But, it is a good day for me.  Yes, there is His tortured body on a cross that I would prefer to look past so that I can experience the joy of Easter.  But there cannot be a Resurrection Sunday without a suffering Friday.  On this Friday, the love of God is shown to me!  God so intensely desired my rescue from sin that He suffered with and for me.  He laid the burden of my sins upon His only Son who did what I could not do for myself.

What wondrous love is this?  It is the suffering Servant Jesus.  It is His submission, humiliation, and death.  This Love could not be kept in a grave.  Love is risen… and abides forever with me.  With you.  With all who call Him Savior and Lord.

Even when we’re feeling unlovable.

 

(With appreciation to Rev. David H. Petersen)

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man standing reading BibleThe Word is true: “… Male and female He created them.”  But in hastily skipping ahead to “and they shall become one flesh,” we miss God’s description of what it means to be a man or a woman.  This is a costly omission for us all; most certainly for our unmarried sons and daughters.  But there is someone else who has been harmed by withholding God’s word on manhood and womanhood.  That person is our neighbor who struggles in a fallen world with the reality of same-sex attraction.

My neighbor (I shall call him David) is humbled by what he knows is an unnatural attraction.  Although “gay,” he does not want to parade with pride.  David was catechized by Christian parents who offer unconditional love.  He believes God’s Word that places sex within the boundaries of one man, one woman marriage.  But, David wonders, where does a person like me fit?  What does being “gay” mean for my future?  What about marriage and a family?  To me, however, the most heart-piercing of David’s questions is this: What about friendships with other men?

“Sometimes,” David explains, “I look at another man and am attracted to an attribute of his that I wish I had.  I don’t know, perhaps I am jealous.  But here’s the thing.  My self-centeredness and envy of that guy’s admirable qualities tempt me to imagine a sexual bond, but might my feelings actually be those of brotherly love and admiration?”

David is exposing a vulnerability.  He is pointing out how vulnerable any of us can be when we focus exclusively on human sexuality but remain awkwardly silent about biblical manhood and womanhood.

David is one of the compelling reasons why I authored The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity.  Too many in the church insist that we talk early and long about the wonders of sexual intimacy between a husband and wife in the faithfulness of marriage.  This, I’ve been told, will help remedy the problems of premarital sex, teen pregnancy, and divorce.  But it has not!  Nor has it made a place at the family table for our brothers like David who struggle with unwanted desires.

If David had his prayer answered the way he’d like, his same-sex attraction would be cured and his burden lifted.  He does not embrace unnatural inclinations.  He knows he cannot act on his feelings and be at peace with God.  But how, then, can David live… with himself, in relationship with the Man Jesus Christ, and in relationship with other men?  How can we help?

First, we welcome David to the table of the human family where the Body of Christ can remind David that he is so much more than a sexual being.  He is created to be a man: steward of all that God has made, bearer of the Word of life, and leader away from death.  How do we know this?

Before God created Eve and brought her to Adam as his wife, He “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Although the work is made more difficult outside the Garden in a sinful world, man is still called to be the good steward over God’s creation.  The “Lord God also commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (2:16-17). Adam’s failure to remember and obey brought sin into the world.  In this fallen world, God’s perfect design and rhythm of life are distorted; nevertheless, God’s order of creation stands.  Man is still entrusted with the responsibility of bringing order out of chaos by speaking the Word of life and leading away from destruction and death.  This is David’s call from God.  It is his first vocation.

We can help David focus on the identity bestowed upon him at Baptism.  God does not identify him as “gay,” “homosexual,” or even “heterosexual.”  We all struggle with sinful desires, but because of our Baptism, they do not define us nor do they have to enslave us.  We were “far off” from God, but in Baptism, we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).  We are “washed … sanctified …  justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (1 Co. 6:11).  We can cry “Abba!  Father!” because “you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:6-7; Ti. 3:5-8).

At Baptism, the sign of the cross is made over us to indicate that we are redeemed by Christ the crucified.  We have His mark on us.  We are baptized, not in the water of sexuality, but in the water of pure Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit.  We are called not to ways of weak flesh, but to holy and noble purpose.  We are encouraged not to glorify self, but to glorify Jesus Christ who makes us children of God.

We can remind David that his Baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).  Even as Baptism cleans the sinner, it gives strength to be different from the world and restrain our own fickle desires.  Through daily contrition and repentance, the Old Adam in us is drowned and dies with all wrong thoughts and desires.  A new person in Christ rises up to live before God in righteousness and purity (Rm. 6:4).

We can remind David that sons and heirs of God are not promised an easy life.  Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  We are promised the Holy Spirit who helps (Jn. 14:26) and intercedes for us (Rm. 8:26).

We can grieve with David.  The mistaken identity of “sexual being” and exaggerated place of sexuality misleads and often destroys the godly relationships of men with women, men with men, and women with women.  What is to become of us if we find a friend of the same sex—someone who is patient, kind, and selfless—but confuse lust with brotherly affection?  It is a dystopian world when boys and girls are mentored in all things sexual, but actually grow up fearing masculinity and femininity because they are untrained in biblical manhood and womanhood.

We can rejoice with David.   God created us to be relational people but, because He did not make sexuality central to being human, we can relate to one another in non-sexual ways.  Yes, my friend David!  You can admire the attributes of another man without sensual implications.  That’s because mature manhood (and womanhood) is about relating to one another in light of our baptismal identity.  As brothers and sisters, God wants us to be what He created us to be: holy people who live our daily lives as male or female not just in marriage, but in familial and social relationships, in school, at work, and in worship.  We do not need sexual intimacy to be a man or a woman, but men and women do need to be relational.

We can assure David that the Tenth Commandment has something to say to single men and women.  We are not supposed to covet “anything that is your neighbor’s.”  This includes our neighbor’s sexuality.  Marriage is the sacred place for all things sexual, but being a husband or a wife in this fallen world is a vocation for some and not for others.  It is important for the Body of Christ to see each member as fully human as opposed to sexual and, therefore—whether young or old, married or single—“a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim 2:21).

We can encourage David to practice self-control which, evidenced by the Apostle Paul (1 Co. 7:7), is a gift.  With the gift of self-control comes order and strength for life.  Mature manhood and womanhood receive the gift of self-control and are not dependent upon sexual intimacy.  Chaste singleness is not an affliction nor is it lessening of personhood; rather it, too, is a vocation and way to serve God and our neighbor in a way different from marriage.

We can point David to the Man Jesus Christ.  Jesus was fully human.  He was true man.  Yet, only in error would we identify Jesus as a “sexual being.”

We can assure David that Jesus has something to say about human identity being far more than sexual.  Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven (Mt. 22:30).  Therefore being sexual, that is, capable of sexual activity, is not part of what it means to be human after the resurrection.   If it is not part of our divinely created human identity in the resurrection where everything will be made perfect, then it is not the central part of our divinely-created identity here and now.

God tells His beloved human creation to abstain from sensuality.  But He does not tell us to abstain from being male or female.  We don’t do battle with the attributes of manhood or womanhood, but with “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry …” (Gal. 5:16-24). To be lovers, that is, to share sexual intimacy and literally fit together as “one flesh,” is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. But to be male or female is not bound by marriage.  Each is a vocation or calling for daily use in glorifying God.

In Christ, we can fully engage in our vocations of manhood and womanhood in ways that will not bring shame on the Day of the Lord (1 Jn. 2:28).  We can think, work, create, serve, communicate, encourage, problem-solve, mentor, build relationships, and practice agape love.  This is truth with promise for those who bear the cross of same-sex attraction but don’t want to parade with pride.

The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity

is available from Amazon.com
(image credit: westminpca)

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