On the Gospel According to Glennon

The Gospel According to Glennon. That’s the title of an article I read about Glennon Doyle Melton in Elle Magazine last week, and I haven’t been able to shake the deep grief, the soul lament, I have felt in its aftermath. Glennon began her public platform as a Christian blogger at Momastery. Her blog turned into a best seller book, then into a second best seller that detailed her fight for love with her husband who had previously cheated on her in what was, at times, a highly dysfunctional relationship. It ended with them renewing their vows on a beach, each having put in the work to save their marriage, but by the time the book hit bookshelves, Glennon was on her way to breaking up with her husband and entering a gay marriage with soccer star, Abby Wambach, with whom she seemed to fall in love at first sight.

Glennon has connected with many women I know and love—many to whom I’ve ministered, and many who have ministered to me. She teaches a gospel, a type of news that feels good, to a staggering number of thirty to forty year old wives and moms. They are our sisters and our friends. I imagine a number are readers here too.

I mourn because I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ really is the best kind of news, even though this good news of Jesus is precipitated by the bad news of our destruction when we follow our own way. I mourn because though the path is narrow through belief in Christ, the destination is incredibly good for all who are in Christ. I mourn because I know SO MANY WOMEN struggling to persevere in overcoming faith in hard situations who found Glennon an encouragement to do so. I mourn because Glennon seems now to encourage women toward the very opposite of the hard path to which God calls us.  To cheers and accolades, she has walked away from the hard thing, followed her heart, and rejected an orthodox understanding of Scripture.  I’m unable to fully articulate the weight of discouragement put on the backs of those I know and love fighting for faith in hard situations when a former encourager heads in such a way.

After days of sadness in the wake of reading the article, I woke up yesterday, not sad, but angry. I wasn’t angry at Glennon, but at Satan who again … and again … and again … and again, at every generation throughout all time, figures out a way to sell us the same old lie. That God doesn’t mean what He said. That what He said isn’t really the best for us. That trusting what God says in the Bible will actually destroy our souls. Satan wants you to trust yourself, or Glennon Doyle Melton. But whatever you do, don’t trust God. Don’t trust the Word He sent us. Don’t trust His revelation of Himself to us through the Bible. There is good news to be had, but it is not found by trusting God’s words. It is a very old lie, and none with any awareness of Scripture should be surprised to see it surface yet anew. Satan may be persistent, but he is not very original.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.

We see the first iteration of this lie of Satan in Genesis 3.

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan first temps a human with this lie to distrust God’s explicit instructions in Genesis 3, but it has been his Go To Lie ever since, generation after generation, culture to culture.

That thing you thought God was saying? That’s not what God really meant. Those dire consequences He warned you about if you disobeyed? They aren’t real consequences at all. In fact, instead of killing you, disobeying God will bring you new life. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Follow your heart.

For thousands of years since creation, THIS has been Satan’s lie. And this is the lie that Glennon Doyle Melton and what Elle Magazine calls a “roving wolf pack of acclaimed authors turned motivational speakers and ‘aspirational spirituality’ practitioners” are teaching a generation of disillusioned Christians.

From Elle

Melton’s fans took the news in stride; the bloodbath never came. “You deserve it, you Love Warrior, you!” wrote a reader from South Dakota. Another wrote: “I just don’t have a ‘Love’ emoji big enough for this.” In the two days following Melton’s coming-out post, her hug line only grew.

You deserve it. You deserve to make some choices to serve yourself, even if they contradict the Bible. You deserve to do what’s good for you, even if the Bible specifically says, “That’s not good for you!”  But God is jealous for His glory and adamant on the righteousness of His standard, not because He wants us to be cosmically miserable, but because He and His kingdom are GOOD.  My friend Anne Kennedy has well diagnosed the root discrepancy between Glennon’s aspirational gospel and the actual good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus isn’t about your personal self actualizing, self fulfilling, self focused love. Love doesn’t win when it’s you that you love the most. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Glennon, for all her ‘in loveness’ with Wambach, is most devoted to herself. She is the pearl, and she has sold everything to keep it.

It makes initial sense for us as individuals to centralize ourselves in our own story with our aspirations as its central theme.  But God’s Word teaches us that the true path to self-fulfillment is exactly the opposite.  “They that lose their lives will find them,” Jesus taught us.

Even secular Elle Magazine seems to understand aspects of the problems in Glennon’s gospel of self:

All of this has led to a new charge against her: that she is sugarcoating divorce and its aftermath. “As someone who actually walked that, it’s bullshit,” says one of my divorced friends. “It just seems reckless and irresponsible, because there are so many women following her like sheep.”

“She puts a knot in my stomach,” says couples therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, whose latest book is called Healing From Infidelity. “I can’t count how many times I hear women quoting her when they come into my office. On the positive side, she wants to empower women. But the fact is, most people don’t do divorce all that well, especially when children are involved. She’s strengthening their conviction that they need to get away from their husbands, instead of learning to work through challenging issues. Sometimes you have to be a warrior to stay.”

Sometimes, dear sisters, you have to be a warrior to stay. And I’m not talking just about a hard marriage recovering from a husband’s unfaithfulness. [We must note that Glennon had biblical grounds for divorce in that situation.  But she consciously renewed her vows after his infidelity, which puts her in a different category.  She made a covenant commitment to her husband TWICE.]  I am talking about the thousand different ways we are called to live out our created purpose as ezer daughters of our ezer God, strong warrior helpers of THE STRONG WARRIOR HELPER GOD. We women were made in God’s image in a particular way, created to persevere, protect, advocate for, and suffer with others in hard things, particularly in our covenant relationships, things that Glennon at first seemed to champion. The really beautiful thing is that God didn’t just create us as women in His image to do hard things, but through the true gospel, through Christ IN us, who died FOR us, we are equipped to do these hard things – hard things that Scripture teaches us we need to obey.

Persevering in covenant relationship.

Treating others the way we want to be treated.

Obeying the limitations God puts on who we can have sex with.

We can do hard, self-sacrificing things because God did it first for us.  It’s His self-sacrificing warrior love that cost His own life that we might gain ours. And He also does it with us. We aren’t out there self-sacrificing as warriors for our families, our friends, our communities, and our churches alone. We have One who comes along side us in aid, called our paraclete in the Greek, our Comforter/Counselor/Helper in the English. The Ezer of all Ezers indwells us and equips us, that we may stick with the hard things in our lives and persevere through them.

I understand why women resonate with Glennon. I really, really do. She tapped into true concerns in many women’s lives, and for a season, encouraged them to stay in the hard things, mourn what was wrong, and fight for what was good. It would be a mistake for any Christian leader to discount that. But understand that the solution she chose in the end, to “follow her heart” even as it lead away from the Bible not towards it, doesn’t actually solve any of the heart problems. What we need is the grace that only God can minister to our hearts to do the hard things to which He has called us.  We need to avail ourselves of the means of grace through which He promises to minister it – the preaching and reading of His Word, prayer, baptism, and so forth. Dear sister, walk with the Spirit. Read and trust God’s Word. Press into Him as He convicts you from it. Believe God. Trust His revelation of Himself to us. And let our Ezer God equip us to be ezer women, fighting for all that is right and good as He has revealed to us in Scripture.

Satan seeks to devour our generation as he has every one before us, but the Spirit is strong and our eternal end secure. We can trust our God, and we can trust His Word to us.

** Here are a few resources that have meant a lot to me when I have been struggling to persevere in hard things.

The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson

Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

A Chance to Die (on the life of Amy Carmichael) by Elisabeth Elliott

These Strange Ashes by Elisabeth Elliott

 

13

Giving Gifts the Receiver Wants

I am reading through the Bible with my local church, and we are just starting Leviticus. It is not an engaging read, but I was struck this morning reading from Leviticus 2.

11 “No grain offering that you present to the Lord is to be made with yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey as a fire offering to the Lord. 12 You may present them to the Lord as an offering of firstfruits, but they are not to be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma.

This struck me today as I also contemplate the gift I am giving my mother for Mother’s Day. I bought her a purple plant for her porch, but the next day she told me (without knowing I had already bought her one) that she prefers red plants to attract hummingbirds. I thought too of my sons who want to know what I want for Mother’s Day. I told them how I like candles, and I’ll probably go a step further and tell them specific scents I like as well. Givers generally want receivers to like the gift they are given. We avoid giving breads to celiac sufferers, perfumes to those with scent allergies, Baskin Robbins gift cards to diabetics, and even purple plants to those we know prefer red.

I have, at times, received a gift that I knew a giver liked but which I didn’t like at all. When I receive such a gift, it makes me feel distant from the giver. Maybe they just don’t know me. But sometimes, they do know me, and their gift that is something they like, not me, sends the message that they don’t think my personal desires are good enough. They want to expand my borders, push me to like what they like. In the end, it often feels narcissistic and self-absorbed. Don’t bother giving me a gift if you know what I prefer and give me the opposite anyway.

Of course, if my children give me a candle, I’ll receive it thankfully no matter what the scent. Unless it is poop. If they give me a candle filled with poop, I would discipline them for their disrespect. Some gifts are off the mark by accident. Some gifts are off the mark because of the selfishness of the giver. But some gifts are blatantly offensive and disrespectful.

These categories help me think through the opening chapters of Leviticus. Here, God gives His children extensive instructions for the gifts they should bring Him in relationship to Him. In chapters 1 and 2, Moses refers again and again to offerings that are “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” “These aromas from these meats and grains prepared this way smell good to me,” God instructs Moses. I think of my father on his birthday, as I prepared a meal of the foods I knew he most enjoyed. He opened the oven to smell his favorite baked beans, and the aroma made him happy. The smell of food he enjoyed was part of the love of relationship he received on that day.

It blesses me to think of God finding pleasure in the aromas of the offerings He prescribed in Leviticus 1 and 2. It also saddens me to think of the ways God’s children walked away from God’s clear instructions of what pleased Him again and again. But, now, God’s pleasure is fulfilled in Jesus, the One through whom He was well-pleased (Mt 17:5). And through Him, God transforms us too to please Him.

I Thessalonians 4 gives a helpful look at God’s sanctification of us to please Him.

1 Additionally then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received instruction from us on how you should live and please God—as you are doing—do this even more. 2 For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

I am struck how much of these instructions on living as children of God who please Him is then tied in the following verses to the sexual ethics God first taught in the Old Testament Law.

3 For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, 4 that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles, who don’t know God. 6 This means one must not transgress against and take advantage of a brother or sister in this manner, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. 7 For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness. 8 Consequently, anyone who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

When I started studying this passage and writing this post, I didn’t realize it would lead me back to sexual abuse and misuse in the Church. But it did, and I can’t ignore that. Every day our sexually deviant president remains supported by evangelicals (he is giving the commencement address at Liberty University today), we do not please the Lord. Every day that we pretend God doesn’t speak against sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, we do not please the Lord. Every day that we excuse those who take advantage of others sexually in our churches, we do not please the Lord. Praise God that Christ has fully pleased God on our behalf. But never forget that God will sanctify His church on this issue, and we must submit to Him as He does. The warning of I Thessalonians 4:8 is sober, and may we all reflect on it for ourselves, submitting to what we know pleases the Lord, because we love Him.

On Blogging and Church Authority

There’s been a major internet controversy this last week after Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest who writes at Christianity Today, launched a series at CT around amplifying the voices of women in the church. Tish pointed out the problem (and yes I believe it is a problem) of the growing platform of Christian women teaching as Christian authorities without simultaneously being under authority themselves. Her point is that this is often a result of two things. One, women are not always valued, trained, and used in their own churches so that they are looking for a way to be used outside of their church and gravitate toward parachurch ministry. Two, women often don’t have trusted resources in their own churches/denominations so that they go outside of their traditions and identify with generic Christian women writers who are not attached to their denomination or tradition and don’t share their values or convictions.

Tish brought up the name of Jen Hatmaker in her article, to great consternation in the evangelical twitterverse. But Jen Hatmaker is actually a seminal case study in this because she wrote for and was promoted by conservative Lifeway while simultaneously (it appears in retrospect) being a female pastor who affirms gay marriage (both of which are against Lifeway’s values). Great grief could have been spared both her and the churches/women who used her books if she had been promoted instead in a tradition consistent with her beliefs or if those using her books of different doctrines/values than her had been better trained themselves within their own churches to note the differences. To folks that hate that anyone mentions Jen Hatmaker in this discussion, I will point out that she herself has brought attention to how she has been harmed by this phenomenon. Like it or not, this discussion was brought to a head by Jen herself, something we all must take into account when we start publishing personal things on blogs that are open to anyone to read, particularly when we start making an income from others interest in our lives and beliefs.

My own journey to blogging and (small) platform is informative to this general discussion. I was under the authority of the elders at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mark Driscoll promoted me to Crossway and approved the manuscript of my first book, Practical Theology for Women, which was printed under his Re:Lit imprint at Crossway. But around the time of its publication, Mark fired elders who were in theory part of his accountability structure. I left Mars Hill at that time and began my own blog. For a season, I had little church accountability.

As many of my friends did post-Mars Hill, I eventually moved into a church and denomination with a stronger accountability structure than the one at Mars Hill. I no longer willingly submit to someone as pastor who isn’t under submission to his own spiritual authority structure. Though my denomination is far from perfect, I love that even in matters of church discipline, my own pastors are held accountable by their presbytery who is held accountable by the larger denomination who conforms to the orthodox confessions that have bounded our denomination for many years. In the last few years as my tiny platform grew to being a medium size platform, I have seen my own need for accountability. I submit to my church elders, and it has helped me to start meeting with my pastor every few weeks to discuss ministry opportunities I have both in the church and outside of it through blogging and writing. I see my public ministry as initiating in my church and moving out from it, attached to it.

The interesting thing to me is the outcry in the wake of  Tish’s article that has taken several forms.

1) How dare you mention Jen Hatmaker?!

This is the loudest outcry, and I don’t have a ton of sympathy for it. How could you not mention Jen Hatmaker?! She is the case study in a woman being used and promoted in churches and denominations of which she was neither submitted or accountable. The personal cost not just to the readers and churches who used her materials but to HERSELF should make us all pause to consider how it came to be that way and what each of us can do as both readers and writers to plow a different path.

2) Why didn’t Tish mention male bloggers?

I do have sympathy for this concern. But I think Tish likely does as well. And to be fair to Christianity Today, they have written on major male figures who have said concerning things (see this post for example) over the years. I can say with clarity that I have been concerned about the Matt Walsh’s and Mark Driscoll’s of the internet world and have written accordingly when I thought appropriate.

3) Where are the women of color in the platform discussion?

The discussions about platform and authority that I have been having personally involve women of color who speak into this with clarity and conviction, who mutually share my burden for women writers being attached to an authority that is bigger than themselves. I think Christianity Today’s editorial team is sensitive to their need to listen to voices of color as well and is actively pursuing diverse voices to speak into their series. BUT I was reminded by Jemar Tisby’s op-ed in The Washington Post how inadequate pursuing black voices after the fact can be when they are not equipped to speak authoritatively on the front end. Soliciting black authors is important, but they can’t make up for not having people of color who hold positions of authority in an organization. May all of us strive toward racial diversity at all levels of authority in churches and parachurch organizations, reflecting the reconciliation we experience to both God and others through the gospel.

In conclusion, there is great blessing in attaching ourselves individually to something bigger than ourselves in terms of spiritual speaking and teaching. But I also note that spiritual authority structures (denominations in particular) who hold orthodox beliefs as outlined in the old creeds and confessions have certainly not been perfect. Great abuse, particularly in American denominations in regard to race and slavery, has taken place. But, here’s the thing. The blessing of the modern Church will not be when it moves away from Scripture (such as away from the explicit sexual ethic concerning marriage between a man and a woman taught throughout both the Old and New Testament) but as it moves closer to it (such as the explicit commands on the sanctity of all human life, including the care of the poor and immigrant). I am intrigued by the African Anglican church, which stood against both apartheid and normalizing homosexuality in the church, as an example of this. The American church doesn’t need less church authority. It needs more, but more tied to the authority of Scripture itself. As Dr. Christina Edmonson, Dean of Intercultural Student Development at Calvin College, said on a recent podcast about why the church matters, “It should not have taken a war to end slavery. It should have taken church discipline.” I believe the same about the care of the poor and the rights of immigrants. Greater fidelity TO Scripture not away from it is the answer to these ills in society. And it is to the benefit of both bloggers and readers, publishing houses and authors, when we examine ourselves in light of old truths and seek to conform ourselves and other church authority to its supreme authority.

The CS Bible and She Reads Truth

My concern with the most recent changes to the ESV Bible regarding Genesis 3:16 is no secret. The ESV has become the standard in my reformed circles. I have a number of copies myself. But I was suspicious of my reaction to the change in Genesis 3:16 in light of my own baggage/experience with Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill concerning that verse. So I asked other leaders without similar baggage about it. Pretty much all of them had similar concerns to mine, and several mentioned plans to switch their churches or ministries over to the Christian Standard Bible when it was released. I have been interested since then to read the new CSB, and at this year’s Gospel Coalition conference, I finally got my hands on one.

The really neat thing about this Bible is the LACK of agenda regarding translating gendered language beyond 1) accuracy and 2) readability.

Printed inside the cover–

The Gender Language Use in Bible Translation

The goal of the translators of the Christian Standard Bible has not been to promote a cultural ideology but to translate the Bible faithfully. …

From their website

Translating Gender Language into English

The Christian Standard Bible retains a traditional approach to translating gender language into English. Masculine terms (Father, Son, King, etc.) and pronouns (he, him, his) are retained whenever they refer to God. To improve accuracy, the Translation Oversight Committee chose to avoid being unnecessarily specific in passages where the original context did not exclude females. When Scripture presents principles or generic examples that are not restricted to males, the CSB does not use “man,” “he,” or other masculine terms. At the same time, the translators did not make third person masculine pronouns inclusive by rendering them as plurals (they, them), because they believed it was important to retain the individual and personal sense of these expressions.

 

Here are a few examples of this difference.

1 John 3:16 (CSB)
16 This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

1 John 3:16 (ESV)
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

1 John 3:16 (NASB)
16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

The NASB, a Bible I have always considered the most accurate of our day (though not the most readable), uses brothers only to refer to the plural form of male siblings. Here is an example from the NASB that uses brothers.

1 Timothy 5:1 (NASB)  Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,

Brothers here in I Tim 5:1 is limited to male siblings. When the mention of siblings is without respect to gender, the NASB uses brethren, the CSB generally uses brothers and sisters, and the ESV uses brothers.

Often times, the ESV will footnote “brothers” at the bottom of the page with the clarification “brothers and sisters.” But though the same word in James is used multiple times and footnoted multiple times in the ESV that way, in James 3:1, the ESV limits brothers only to men (the context is teaching in the church) without footnoting the addition of women. Here’s a comparison of all three translations, the NASB being most consistent of all.

James 3:1 (CSB)
3 Not many should become teachers, my brothers,[a] because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.(A)

Footnotes:

  1. 3:1 Or brothers and sisters

James 3:1 (ESV)
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

(There is no footnote at the bottom of the page for this verse in the ESV for brother and sisters, despite footnotes for the same word elsewhere in James.)

James 3:1 (NASB)
3 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

To some that may be a big deal, to others it may not.  It was a big deal to me, reflective of an agenda to limit references to women in ways that the Bible does not.  I believe that agenda has harmed the very cause that ESV translators were hoping to aid, a conservative understanding of women in Scripture.

But the new Christian Standard Bible is now widely available, and I feel relieved of this conundrum I found myself in for a bit. I recently received their women’s study Bible, She Reads Truth. I initially wasn’t interested in checking it out, but someone whispered to me that it was actually better than average, so I gave it a look. I was pleasantly surprised. It has some pretty, feminine script that doesn’t do much for me, and the pages are thin in the hardcover version. Also, the font is tiny, which is a problem for many women.

The good of this study Bible makes up for thin pages and small font though (get some reading glasses). I particularly appreciate the clean look overall and key features – genre indicators, key verses, cultural context, timelines, and so forth. They are factual and helpful resources for biblical literacy, as Jen Wilkin calls it. Every day older I grow in the faith, I realize the singular thing women need in the church is this BIBLICAL LITERACY. I spent a long chapter early in Is the Bible Good for Women? for this reason. How can women know if the Bible is good for them if they don’t understand the basics of the Bible?! The She Reads Truth Study Bible gets this, and I hope it will become a best selling women’s study Bible for the long haul in the church.

Check it out for yourself here.  I also have one to give away on Friday, so comment below if you are interested, and share this post with friends that you think might benefit.

The Tangled Way of Religious Social Media

A few years ago, I read a post by a popular Christian blogger that seemed to be a negative response to something I had written shortly before that (which I’ll call issue A). I wrote up my response to his post, refuting his points. But before I posted it, I sent it to him, because I knew him. We had corresponded about other issues, and though we disagreed on some things, we agreed on others. I couldn’t post something publicly when I knew good and well I had the opportunity to say it privately to him first.

So I sent him my response post, and he replied. He actually wasn’t familiar with Issue A. He was writing about Issue G, of which I was unfamiliar in part because he ministered in a different denomination and region than I did. Once he told me the context, his words in his post took on an entirely different meaning to me.

And so is the tangled way of Christian social media. Sometimes, we write specific criticism. Sometimes we write general praise. These types of posts or tweets, specific bad news or general good news, tend to work OK in social media settings. Donald Trump’s sexual sins. Jen Hatmaker’s change of views on homosexuality. Mark Driscoll’s misogynist language. If you read a post or tweet with specific criticism of those, at least you know exactly what they are talking about. But there is a type of general negative post or tweet that can unleash can after can of worms, and I am learning if you have a negative thing to criticize (that is truly worth criticizing publicly), then be very careful how you do it. Also, if you read a general negative thing, don’t be so sure that you know exactly what the author is trying to criticize.

Here are a few practical suggestions:

1. If you are going to criticize, first make sure that it is needed. Are you just jumping onto a bandwagon? Will your post or tweet add to the edification of the Church? (I’m not so good at this.)

2. Are you sure the thing you think is at play is actually the issue at hand? It is ALWAYS a good idea to do a little research before you speak into something (see point 1). I feel pressured a good bit to speak up on things I don’t yet understand. And, at times, I’ve conceded to that pressure, which I have always regretted after the fact. Stop. Observe. Listen. Research. Be swift to listen and slow to speak. (I’m getting better at this one.)

3. If you’ve satisfied numbers 1 and 2, then check to see if you have avenues to reach out privately with criticism first. I’ve never regretted when I’ve done that, and as the opening story illustrates, sometimes it is enormously helpful.

4. Once you’ve satisfied 1, 2, and 3, make sure your criticism is written carefully and specifically. If you are writing about Issue A, spell out Issue A so that others don’t mistake you as talking about Issue G. If you are writing about a general principle that can be applied in a number of settings, state that clearly too so that others don’t misread what you are or are not trying to say.

I can’t say dogmatically that the greater onus is on the author to write well rather than the reader to read carefully. Probably more is on the author, but the reader needs to take note as well (ever ready to believe the best of the author). Social media is like open mike night in a very large religious establishment with a lot of unbelievers or others on the fringe mulling about within hearing distance. It is a great tool if you are thoughtful and measured. And it is a great trap if you are not. May writers and readers use it well.

God’s Definition of Good

This excerpt is adapted from Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence through a Jesus-centered Understanding of Scripture. It’s available now at Amazon. If you have read it, please consider leaving a review at Amazon, CBD, or Goodreads.

Most considering faith in Jesus want to know if God is good. Even those of us who have long since come to faith wrestle at times to believe our God and His Word are good when our circumstances, in contrast, seem so bad. God promises to work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). The magic question then is what does God mean when He uses that word, good?

Consider the interaction in the Gospels between Jesus and the rich young ruler, a seeker wrestling with His claims. This exchange gives us insight into God’s version of good. One might think Jesus would have eased the tone of His message to draw to faith this young man who was clearly seeking truth—that Jesus would have lured him in with some promise of earthly goodness. But He took a different tactic, painting in stark terms what following Him would mean for this man.

As he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17–22)

Jesus didn’t give an easy answer to this young man, but He did give one that was consistent with His message throughout the New Testament: if you want to find your life, you must first lose it. He spoke to this man of loss, and it seemed a weight this man could not endure. He left Jesus sorrowful; God’s call was too heavy to bear. Yet Jesus always called His disciples through loss to a reward. To this young man, Jesus promised treasure in heaven. Jesus’s call was very much a good call with a good outcome, but this young man was too bound to his earthly possessions to perceive it. God’s good is a counterintuitive good from our earthly perspective, but it is the best kind of good.

When I first read this interaction between Jesus and the young ruler, I was struck by the juxtaposition of Jesus’s love for this man and the message He spoke to him. But Jesus did not tell him an unloving thing. Jesus told him a true thing, and we fool ourselves regarding the nature of genuine love when we believe that it would be better served with a lie. A lying love is a shortsighted love.

Out of love for him, Jesus told him, in essence, that he must value following Jesus above his possessions, that faith in Jesus would mean choices that don’t fit an earthly ideal of security or responsible behavior. In Jesus’s service, he would have to deny himself and take up his cross. This sounds like a very hard path! But this man would not be left to do this on his own. Consider the description of Jesus in Hebrews 12:2: “The founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

When I read this verse, I envision Jesus looking through a door into a room filled with the worst kind of pain and shame: what He experienced on the cross. Yet through a door on the other side of the room, He can see through the pain and shame of the cross to the purest kind of joy and goodness. He walked through that room of pain and shame, enduring the worst evil, and then through the door on the other side, where He now sits in peace and joy at the right hand of His Father. And according to Hebrews 12:2, we are to look to Him. He is our inspiration for and example of something God calls us to here on earth.

God’s Version of Good

Joy is available. The best kind of goodness exists at God’s feet in His throne room. There we can find joy, and peace, and satisfaction. But God’s version of good is not like the temporary earthly joy of money and nice houses that some religious figures offer their followers. It is not self-actualization (“the achievement of one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world”) in the present. It’s not an earthly “Be all you can be.”

No, God’s version of good sets such a view of the fulfillment of our potential on its side.

Jesus loved this young ruler He said this hard thing to. The description of Jesus’s interaction with this man has the language of goodness—of a desire for the best for someone. But we clearly see that Jesus’s idea of the loving, best direction for this young man challenged the man’s own view of good. He left disappointed, unable to comprehend such an invitation from Jesus being worth the cost.

Jesus’s invitation was not to self-actualization, but it was not to self-flagellation, either. We are not simply to deny ourselves or beat ourselves up. Those who lose their lives will find them, and the implication is that what they find is very much worth the pursuit (see Matthew 10:39). God’s good is the kind of sustaining, life-giving good that feeds our souls. Ultimately, God’s call to this young man, and to us, is about finding the best kind of good. It is about finding true life, not restricting it.

Understanding the goodness of the God of the Bible (and the Bible itself) requires a long view through the dark room Jesus endured to the joy and goodness on the far side. In the end, God’s kingdom is fully realized and there is a new heaven and a new earth where we live in peace and joy with God as He first created us to do. This eternal good story must be the stream that feeds the reservoir that is our understanding of our earthly temporary good.

As a practical note, I suggest Kathleen Nielsen’s study of Joshua as a great look at our faithful God who puts plans into place over hundreds of years that He beautifully brings to fruition.  It’s a low stress study that leads readers right through Scripture, appropriate for individuals or groups.

Early Intervention and the Good News of Jesus

A friend visited me this weekend and reminded me of a post I’ve been wanting to write for years that keeps getting pushed to the back burner. This friend teaches in an elementary school, and we talked about several students she has had over the years who have had some form of learning disability or special need. Every time we talk about this, I am reminded of my own son’s early issues, and my own inner turmoil that went along with it.

I had my eldest when I was 34. At the time, I felt accomplished in a lot of ways. I had a masters degree in math education and taught at the local community college. I was deacon of women’s theology and teaching at a megachurch in Seattle. But parenting my little guy challenged my view of myself in profound ways.

We brought our tiny little guy home from the hospital (5 lbs 10 oz), did our best to gently get him into a routine, and began the long marathon of parenting. He reached all of his early milestones slowly. He didn’t walk until he was nearly two, utter discernible words until well after two, or potty train until nearly 4. Though those things do not bother me AT ALL now, they bothered me greatly early on as a young, inexperienced mother. Consistently, when with peers his age, my son was behind them in development. He cried and threw things. And if we were ever in a group setting with other parents and kids his age, he consistently disrupted the group or entertained himself away from the group.

At age 2 ½, we started a hippie neighborhood preschool. At the time, I was hoping to build relationships to minister in my community. But the Lord instead used the preschool to minister to me as I struggled to understand and parent my son. One thing was clear from the first weeks of preschool – my son was not like other kids in his class. But his teachers were kind and compassionate. They talked with me about having him tested for learning disabilities, something that at first seemed terrifying. They knew this would initially feel threatening to me and worked to show me the value of early intervention in children with learning disabilities. I got him tested, and we began speech and occupational therapy. And, sure enough, a decade later, I can clearly see how this intervention helped him. He is delightfully quirky, but he is also loving and lovable. His developmental issues no longer hold him back or disrupt our family.

If this story sounds familiar to you and your family is still in the early stages of struggle, here are some things I learned the hard way.

1. It is not your fault that your child has some kind of disability or learning issue.

During my early years of parenting, I lived in Seattle, home base of the granola mom. Though I did more natural, healthy things than some moms, I did a great deal fewer than the best natural moms in my area. I felt a lot of guilt over this, concerned by the constant influx of information on types of diets and baby foods. But more than the food my son ate, I felt great guilt in particular for not teaching him baby sign language. For some reason, I became convinced that was the source of his language struggles. At least, it was something I could latch onto that I could have done that I didn’t. He did eventually learn to talk and is quite the conversationalist now. He also reads and writes well. But even if he didn’t, I no longer believe things like baby sign language make or break verbal development. In general, the amount of moralistic information pushed on moms of young kids is overwhelming. Lots of things are moderately helpful, but that does not make them absolutely necessary.

In both secular and religious mommy circles, there is always some way we can drop the ball, starting with the first feedings after birth. From the first moments my two were born, I started down the path of mommy guilt. I am a type 1 diabetic, and I could not get my newborns started on my breast right after birth because of their dropping blood sugar (which according to some was key to starting my newborns off right). Which led to guilt that I didn’t better control my blood sugars during my pregnancy. Which led to guilt that I developed type 1 diabetes in the first place. Which is IRRATIONAL. From the first moments my boys were born, I was on the irrational spinning wheel of guilt in which many, many moms like myself have existed. Praise God that the good news of Jesus gives us another way of thinking about such information, which leads to number 2.

2. Come what may, your identity is secure in Christ. And so is your child’s.

When I say your identity, I’m talking about the qualities that distinguish your value as a person. What makes you valuable? What makes your child valuable? How do you define your own worth to humanity? How do you define your child’s? The world projects onto us the need as parents to give our children every opportunity to be great in all of the things. But when we take that responsibility on ourselves, we project it onto our children as well. In that paradigm, their self-worth and self-identity will come from how well they measure up and move past classmates and peers. Trained by the pressures from their parents, they find their identity by how they COMPARE to others. But the Bible gives a sobering assessment of that mentality – “they that compare themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12).

Self-worth by peer comparison IS NOT WISE. It’s not wise for parents, and it’s not wise for kids. This isn’t the hope Christ offers or the peace in which He equips us to live. Just as we are saved from condemnation for our failures by grace through faith in Christ (Romans 8:1), we are equipped for the good works God has prepared in advance for us the same way – by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Your identity—your value—rests in Christ in you. And your good works (or your kids’) will only be good when they are the ones God prepared in advance for you that you accomplish by His grace at work in you.

Be at peace, stressed mother of an out-of-sync child. In Christ, you can rest from your attempts at good works, including trying to be the best mom of well rounded kids in your neighborhood, church, or school (Hebrews 4:10). Such peace through Christ enables us for point 3.

3. Do not feel threatened by a friend, family member, or educator suggesting intervention for your child.

I did feel threatened when the preschool teachers first mentioned testing to me. I wanted them to make me feel better by saying something like, “Oh, he will catch up quickly on his own. Just you wait.” Or, “Don’t worry about what you are seeing. You don’t need to do anything extra.” But instead, they told me about studies on early intervention, particularly around ages 0 to 5. They told me of the value of facing the developmental issues head on and doing what I could to support my son in these early years so he would be better adjusted for elementary school. It meant going in for a barrage of testing and then sifting through what I could and could not do in terms of recommended interventions. I opted for speech therapy and some occupational therapy. Then we got an IEP (individualized education plan) once my son hit elementary school. God was gracious to give us an elementary school with an awesome special education teacher. And after a few years, his teachers and I decided he no longer needed the IEP. In many ways, he remains out-of-sync with other kids, but it is no longer debilitating. His weaknesses are also his strengths, and I am learning to redirect them with an eye on how these quirks are part of his giftedness for the good works God has prepared for him.

The gospel equipped me to face my son’s difficulties head on without either he or I being defined by them. If I did drop the ball in his early years, there was no condemnation in Christ. And that freed me to help him in the ways that worked for our family and his teachers. I was not earning my righteousness by producing the ultimate well-adjusted child. I was freed from the mentality of having to try all the good things. Instead, I could prayerfully take the opportunities given to me that I could do and let go of the ones I couldn’t do.

Jesus says over the woman anointing his feet with oil in Mark 14, “She has done what she could.” At multiple points in my life, Jesus’ affirmation in those words has been a lighthouse beacon for me. I don’t have to do all the things. But prayerfully, in His name, I will do what I can according to how He leads me. The good news of Jesus changes everything, including our responses when our kids need help.