Author Archive | Wendy

On the Nashville Statement

I wonder what would have happened if there had been social media in 1987 when the original Danvers Statement was written and released. Could some early push back from others who shared signers convictions on male-only eldership and wives submitting to husbands have helped correct misinterpretations of Genesis 3:16 and convoluted teaching on the eternal subordination of the Son that flowed from it before they became part of the DNA of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? I don’t know, but we have a chance now with the newly released Nashville Statement on gender, and I hope pushback received now will result in course correction that benefits the entire Church, whether you identify with CBMW or not.

I believe there is life giving benefit in an orthodox understanding of sexuality and marriage, particularly since the Bible’s presentation of sex and marriage between a man and a woman is about reflections of the gospel to our culture. Though I am not married, other faithful Christian marriages remind me of the gospel, and all faithful believers, single or married, benefit from that testimony, including those who struggle with same-sex attraction. I have several believing friends who identify as gay and submit to Scripture’s teaching on sex outside of heterosexual marriage. They have spoken to the harm they feel from those who encourage them to define themselves by their sexual desires and give themselves over to it even if it violates their convictions from Scripture. Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle Melton, and a number of other leaders coming out with modern views on sexuality and the Christian faith have placed an additional weight around the necks of these friends, who long for encouragement to persevere in the marathon, not folks yelling at them to quit it altogether. In that sense, affirmation of the historic understanding of God’s sexual ethic is helpful, not harmful.

If we truly agree on the trustworthiness of Scripture on its plain statements on sex and sexuality, then we each have a vested interest in the precision of the arguments that we make about it. A friend shared this valuable quote from G. K. Chesterton:

“I strongly object to wrong arguments on the right side. I think I object to them more than to the wrong arguments on the wrong side.”

Others critics have gone before me. Matthew Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy offered a critique, as did Aimee Byrd at Mortification of Spin. Aimee spoke of the need to better address the effects of years of wrong teaching on the eternal subordination of the Son. Matthew spoke of the church’s need to judge themselves.

… the spectacles of obvious disagreement happen precisely because we have not been more focused on ordering our own houses. … Jesus’s demand that those who seek to correct others examine the planks in their own eye is framed in an interpersonal context, to be sure. But the same principle is given ecclesiastical form when Peter suggests that “judgment begins at the house of God.”

My concerns interact with both Matthew’s and Aimee’s, but at a more pedestrian level. Matthew in particular is very heady.

The topic at hand in the Nashville Statement involves homosexuality and transgenderism. But those who have espoused and followed CBMW dogmatically over the years should confess their own complicity, at times, in gender confusion, in pushing conservative followers to not trust their own body’s revelation of their biological sex. I ministered at Mars Hill Church for years and witnessed for more years after I left the harm done to individuals’ understanding of their God-given sex by the hyper masculinity and hyper femininity that were taught through CBMW literature and leaders (along with Doug and Nancy Wilson and Martha Peace) who “discipled” Mark Driscoll and our congregation. Though many attendees certainly entered Mars Hill with a misunderstanding of sexuality, the teaching they received there often contributed to GREATER sexual confusion. I can not tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with folks wrestling with their sexuality in light of the ways they didn’t fit Mark’s caricature of the manly man. And all this happened under the discipleship and influence of the former leaders of CBMW, many who remain on its council and whose names are on this new document.

The mere fact we even have phrases like “manly man” or “effeminate men” in our churches is a travesty that adds to confusion. Biblically, a man is a man because he has male sexual organs. A woman is a woman for the same reason.  Hannah Anderson, Bekah Mason, and Rachael Starke have sharpened my thinking on this.

It was the false teaching of gnosticism in Bible times that separated the realities of the human body from the spirit. Though one may feel they don’t fit uber conservative perceptions of gender, our material bodies matter. I am a woman, not because I feel super feminine or perceive myself as a girly girl, but because my material body has the female genetic makeup and physical features that go with it. I am a godly Christian woman because, despite my overly logical mind that doesn’t particularly enjoy teaching young children, planning weekly family meals, or wearing feminine colors, I submit to Christ and God’s Word. In my circles at Mars Hill, Driscoll and Owen Strachan’s teaching in particular compounded this disconnect between what our bodies say we are (man or woman) and what we feel we are (for instance, Driscoll’s caricature of a “real” man). Oh the damage we have done in the Church, the ways we have contributed to gender confusion by our language of “real” men and “true” women. We went beyond Scripture for years in our teaching on what it means to be a man or a woman, and we must own our part in the confusion this created within our own churches and repent, otherwise we hamstring any new discussions and statements on the subject.

For the future, I believe that CBMW would greatly benefit from receiving feedback at the council level from women who feel free to disagree with them. Currently, you have to fit a certain restrictive mold as a woman to receive official entry into CBMW circles, even if you share their conviction of male-only elders. Though I have had many charitable conversations on points of disagreements with leaders, it was made clear to me in my early days coming out of Mars Hill that my disagreements marked me as one to keep outside of their trusted circles. I’m not lobbying for a speaking engagement, but I think it would benefit the council in general to welcome in more women (and men) who don’t fall in line 100% with them on all points. They need to communicate to women the freedom to sharpen the council through disagreements without fear of being put on their blacklist. Charitable debate across the genders is one of the most often overlooked tools for Christian growth.

There are other issues with the document, not the least of which are the names on it that have vocally supported Trump and been silent on the racial issues he has exposed in this country. But to be fair, several signers have spoken against Trump and led on race issues, so that’s a mixed bag.

Theologically, a biblical understanding of gender gets warped quickly when separated from a holistic understanding of the image of God in humanity. The issues of race and misogyny exposed by Trump to which many signers seem blind are part of the exact same foundation from which we understand biological sex. I’m afraid that a statement that highlights one without the same energy for the other sets itself up for failure.

Thoughts on Physical Suffering Part 1

I received a diagnosis last week many of you have received before me, one none of us want. I have early stage breast cancer. I also am a type 1 diabetic who was just finding relief from a flare up of juvenile arthritis. While recovering from a divorce and family upheaval not of my choosing.

It all seems a bit much.

After a few days of wandering around in a “You’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” type of stupor, I’m starting to emerge with a little more sense of resolution, and by God’s grace, faith. Here are a few random thoughts.


I bought Kara Tippetts’ book, The Hardest Peace. Most of you know that Kara died. Thankfully, so far, my diagnosis is not late stage as hers was. I resisted buying the book at first. But I decided that though I only wanted to hear from those with positive outcomes, I NEEDED to hear from someone who faced the worst and whose faith was steadfast through it.

I appreciate encouragement that centers around resolution and healing. But when divorce loomed over me, there came a point when encouragement from those who had resolved difficulties in marriage didn’t actually encourage me anymore. I had used up all the things I knew to do or pray, but the pending divorce still hung over my head like an anvil. I was encouraged by those, like Dee Brestin and Wesley Hill, who had persevering faith in terminal trials – trials that won’t go away until your physical body does. Between diabetes, arthritis, divorce, and now cancer, my life and body will be riddled with scars until they lay me in a grave, even if that is another 40 years away. I want to hear from folks with persevering faith in long term suffering that isn’t going away.

I’ve been thinking of Elisabeth Elliott who lost her second husband to cancer after losing her first to a spear.  And my friend from Seattle who lost her daughter to cancer and her husband to unbelief.  I remember the godly Christian college teacher with Lou Gehrig’s disease, who lost his daughter and primary care giver in a car accident.  And I think of Joni Eareckson Tada, who was diagnosed with breast cancer as a quadriplegic.  Trial isn’t uniformly measured out in equal portions.  But there is a strong cloud of witnesses around us, living and dead, who have persevered in faith in multiple long term trials.  They encourage us to do so as well. We need them, even though we often would rather hear from those whose trials lasted a year or so and then went away permanently.


One of my biggest struggles currently is coming to terms with, once again, needing to be helped when I would much rather be the helper. I loved Wonder Woman. I want to be the strong, warrior helper coming alongside those struggling in life and faith. I want to finish a book on Jesus’s interactions with women from the book of Luke. I want to write a book that is helpful to those coming out of the spiritual abuse and confusion of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I want to mentor/disciple women as strong helpers in the image of God. I want to shepherd my children, volunteer at our public school, and so on. I don’t want to need someone to clean my house, bring me meals, or pick up my kids from school. And I really don’t want to say no to opportunities to teach women. But here I am, and I must accept it. I am humbled. I must receive more than I am able to give. I’m not Wonder Woman in this scenario. Instead, I’m hoping she’ll show up at my door from time to time with lasagna and a vacuum cleaner.


I wish I were as tethered to prayer and the Scriptures when I am released from the pressure of trials as I am when trial hangs over my head. I want to be faithful in prosperity. But again and again, it takes the pressure of trial to bind my wandering heart to Scripture. At first, I could only read Psalm 88, that powerful psalm of lament that never resolves. I’ve felt for some time now that psalm in particular was a gift from God for those of us facing the type of situation that causes many to turn away from Him. What if I only had dark, scary things to say to God but thought He’d strike me down if I voiced them?! Instead, He recorded in His eternal Scripture just such a prayer, so that when I am most tempted to turn away from God I instead have language HE HAS GIVEN ME to turn toward Him in despair and fear.

Psalm 88:13-18

But I call to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer meets you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?
From my youth,
I have been suffering and near death.
I suffer your horrors; I am desperate.
Your wrath sweeps over me;
your terrors destroy me.
They surround me like water all day long;
they close in on me from every side.
You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me;
darkness is my only friend.

In dark moments, I need grace and mercy that only God can provide. What sweet care of His children that God invites us in those moments to come to Him boldly and confidently, bringing our burden to Him until we experience the peace that passes understanding, the peace that doesn’t make sense in our circumstances, that only He can provide.

Psalm 88 is in the middle of a bunch of other verses well underlined and marked up in my favorite Bible. It’s nestled between Psalm 87, about the joys of life in Zion that makes even the best moments of Israel’s earthly kingdom pale in comparison, and Psalm 89, which is super happy and encouraging, the kind of chapter you read with the dawning of hope in the morning after a long and frustrating night. I have walked around with that favorite Bible in my hand, reading regularly from Psalms, noting phrases that have sustained me in past trial and adding new dates to them as new things hit me now. I hope that the pressure of this trial eases soon, but may I stay as tethered to the Word in good times as I am in bad.


Last but not least, I have received great help by way of my “ebenezer” stone at the foot of my newly remodeled farmhouse. I can’t put into words the deep stress I’ve felt over the last three years trying to figure out how to establish and pay for a home for my boys and I after the loss of our life in Seattle. But God did it! He sold my house in Seattle (through the help of friends) and worked out the details to turn my grandparents’ moldy 1930s farmhouse (with original windows and rat infested walls) into a truly lovely home. I know it has been God’s kindness and watchful care of my family that established this home. So I inscribed “Ebenezer” and “I Samuel 7:12” on a fake stone and put it at my front steps to remind me every day. I don’t want to forget both my anxiety during that season and God’s great care to work out details I could not imagine on my own. And now I get the point of “ebenezer” stones. That marker of God’s past faithfulness has helped my heart find confidence in this new trial. Instead of my previous suffering making me question God in this new round, reminders of His past faithfulness make me watchful for it anew. This is a gift of His grace! 

I appreciate your prayers for healing, but I also really appreciate your prayers for confident faith, for myself and my loved ones, that expects to see the goodness of God in the land of the living as He has shown Himself before.

Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

John Newton

The Powerful Peace of Prayer

When I was 36 weeks pregnant with my first son, I went in for a regular checkup only to find out my baby was in fetal distress. Within a half hour, I was being prepped for an emergency c-section. Any who have experienced a similar situation know that you lose autonomy over your body as hospital folks start their process of prepping you for surgery that doesn’t end until they cut your baby out of your stomach. There’s certainly no time to ask everyone to step back and give you a breather so you can collect yourself.

As they strapped me down flat in the operating room, with my arms spread wide in the crucifixion position, I was filled with anxiety and bubbling nausea. I looked up at the anesthesiologist and whispered, “I don’t think I can do this.” He said, “Ok,” and proceeded to inject something into my IV. In about thirty seconds, it seemed that I could do it after all. Nothing had changed in my circumstances or position on the table, and yet, it seemed everything had changed with the calming of my anxiety. At the birth of my second, I asked for that magic injection right off the bat, and I never encountered the same feeling of acute distress.

Last week, I was faced with a bubbling up of overwhelming anxiety that reminded me of what I felt at that first c-section. “I don’t think I can do this,” I said to myself, trying to not run screaming from the room. I have learned in those moments, though, the amazing power of prayer. I sent out a text message to a few friends I knew would pray fervently for me. I prayed as well, though it was mostly incoherent mutterings, the type Paul mentions in Romans 8. Sure enough, in a while, I felt less anxious. It wasn’t that my circumstance changed but that God lowered my anxiety level so that I could deal with it.

This is not Christian rocket science.

Phil. 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.

We often look to prayer to change circumstances, but I’m becoming daily more convinced that the incredible power of prayer is how it changes us to be able to faithfully walk hard paths God has for us. I often want my circumstances to change, but, wow, it is truly amazing to find a peace and confidence that, though no circumstance has changed, you won’t be destroyed by things you once thought would tear you apart.

 

 

Wonder Woman as an Apologetic Tool

It is generally the man who is not ready to argue, who is ready to sneer.” –G.K. Chesterton

Wonder Woman opened last month with the highest box office opening weekend ever for a female director, beating out the openings of the first Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man movies according to The Hollywood Reporter.  It did so despite the fact that “the movie skewed female (52 percent), while most superhero films rely on 60 percent or more of the audience being male.” Though Wonder Woman attracted a lot of women, it wasn’t the usual chick flick. It’s interesting that this movie is the one that put women on the map for their ability to tell a story that competes so well in a male-dominated industry.

Back in the day at Mars Hill Seattle, Pastor James Harleman led Film and Theology, a ministry that looked at well written movies to investigate their creative themes in light of the first Author and Creator. He now runs a website called Cinemagogue, which he defines as “the recognition that the creative impulse for storytelling and cinematic expression is a reflection of our Creator’s passion, as well as a progressive wrestling with life’s ultimate meta-narrative.” As a deacon at Mars Hill, I led a Film and Theology night on The Matrix Reloaded, looking at the impact of chaos theory on its story and imagery, an intersection of math and theology I still find fascinating. I am now working on a manuscript on the story of Mars Hill Seattle and the lessons, for good and bad, we can learn through its years in existence. As I rehash old memories long tucked away, I can’t get away from Mars Hill’s vision of cultural engagement like the Apostle Paul’s in Acts 17. For all the harm done by the ministry of Mars Hill Seattle, that initial vision of cultural engagement was good and right, and I have been blessed to reexamine it.

I am burdened for the culture revealed by both Wonder Woman and the Women’s March. Both give insight into our cultural moment and should prompt us to engage concerns and longings of a large group of women revealed by both. In this post, I will focus on the apologetic insights and tools in this year’s modern retelling of Wonder Woman.

Rumor has it that Joss Whedon, whose storytelling I often love (Firefly, anyone?!), wrote a sexist screenplay for Wonder Woman back in 2006 that never saw the light of day. In contrast, many consider 2017’s Wonder Woman a feminist dream come true. And there is great insight to be gained by understanding why Wonder Woman fits modern feminist sensibilities. Here are some general themes I noticed. There are spoilers below. You are forewarned.

  1. This superhero woman is kick-ass.

Pardon that language, but I’ve always resonated with women who value strength, physically and emotionally. I call them “kick-ass babes,” and I have a number of godly Christian friends in my life who fit that descriptor. They don’t have to be physically strong, but strength and perseverance characterize them in some way. It isn’t that Wonder Woman “kicked ass” in terms of beating up others. She did beat up others, but it wasn’t a gratuitous focus of the movie. Instead, she generally is “kick ass” herself, in pop culture slang meaning she is powerful, strong, and persevering. She and the Amazonian women in early scenes reminded me very much of Beyonce’s Superbowl halftime show. That was an in-your-face, strong-woman, all-woman performance, and I bet anything that the director of Wonder Woman loved it. Beyonce, like Wonder Woman, was surrounded by other strong, talented women, including an all-woman band that rocked the stands. Feminists in Hollywood and elsewhere value strong women.

  1. But this superhero woman is also compassionate.

This is a noteworthy fact in this Wonder Woman screenplay that distinguishes her from the majority of other comic superheroes, male and female. Interestingly, Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow exhibits no compassion at all. Most women I know find Black Widow in recent Avenger movies simply a sexist, female foil to an all male superhero team as written by misogynist men who don’t realize how out of touch they are with a female audience.

In contrast, Wonder Woman is feminine in ways Black Widow is not, beyond a stereotypical sexy feminine physique. She is deeply troubled by suffering, stepping into it to stop it without thought. She runs to a crying infant, a small but significant scene in this version of Wonder Woman. This superhero woman is drawn to children.

The interplay of points 1 and 2 point well to our longing, even in secular society, for womanhood as God created it to be in perfection. This strong but feminine warrior woman mentality is so BIBLICAL at its root. She wants to help! Others have written about Wonder Woman as ezer, so I won’t rehash all of that. But it’s worth reading through the Bible’s language around God’s example as ezer which is quite often in the context of battle and distress.

Deuteronomy 33: 29. Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD ? He is your shield and ezer and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.

  1. Finally, superhero woman is both god and god killer.

This is where we get helpful cultural insight into the idols of our heart. Wonder Woman in the end is an unbeatable goddess, designed to be the killer of the god of war, Ares. Instead of being a strong woman in the image of the one true God that the Bible presents, Diana of the Amazons IS the god. She was made by Zeus, but not as a mere mortal. Of course, Wonder Woman is just a story, and there are limits to the parallels we can draw. But I am willing to ask if this points to a feminist desire to be one’s own god? Maybe. Maybe not.

It does remind me of the great coping mechanism for the gulf between the strong, compassionate womanhood that many clearly value and the realities of our fallen lives—female autonomy. Men become superfluous. The men needed Diana, but she didn’t really need them. The Amazonians didn’t need men. They didn’t need them in battle. They didn’t need them in bed. And though Diana said men were necessary for procreation but not pleasure, in today’s world we don’t even need them for that. A jar of semen in a sterile clinic will suffice.

This autonomous coping mechanism fails humanity in reality. It fails women, and it fails men. Though there is great conflict between the biological sexes after the Fall of Man, the hope of Jesus includes our reconciliation to God’s vision for both manhood and womanhood. In the gospel, men like Paul or Peter rely on the strong help of Phoebe and Priscilla. But Phoebe and Priscilla stay engaged with Paul and Peter, Aquila and Apollos, as well. Why?

While I try again and again in the household of faith to remind men that they need women, let me also remind women that we really do need men. While women need to be strong, we need also to value the strength of the men in our lives. Though men need our compassion, we can learn from their concerns as well. Though fallen man might only want a woman’s body, the answer is not to require only man’s sperm in a sterile jar for procreation.

Though men need women’s help in most every context, women too need men’s, particularly in leadership in the home and church.

And in that statement comes a fork in the road for many women. In our fallen world, male leadership is often not good for women. In Is the Bible Good for Women? I spent an entire chapter on a Biblical manhood that is good for women. I have been fortunate to experience positive Christian masculinity by way of my father and my Presbyterian pastors in Seattle and South Carolina. But I know many women have not. I encourage you to first know how the Bible portrays a man after God’s own heart, which is often a bit different than manly man caricatures among some Christians. Then, second, look for those kind of men around you. We need such men, as they need us. The interplay of Christian relationship between the sexes, brothers and sisters, sons and mothers, and fathers and daughters, are good and right and necessary for the full flourishing of humanity in the kingdom of God.

Eden was better than Amazon. And Eden is where we are heading again in Christ.

If you have a friend who cried when Wonder Woman took all the fire during the scene in No Man’s Land, ask her why. Don’t dismiss her. Don’t mock her. Don’t sneer. If she’s not a believer, be ready to point her to the one true God who created her in His image. He is the One who gives purpose to her created longings. He is the One who reconciles the sexes, so that Amazon isn’t utopia, but Eden is. Like The Matrix years ago, Wonder Woman is an apologetic tool, friend, a springboard for understanding the deep longings in our culture in many women’s hearts instilled by our Creator.

On Lament, Hope, and Divorce

Lament and hope have become a theme in my life. I began to wrestle with the already, but not yet, nature of the kingdom of God in the aftermath of the destruction at Mars Hill back in 2007 and again in 2014. What happens when something good, of kingdom value, falls apart by the sin of others, and you are powerless to stop it? It can actually be easier to come to terms with such destruction when our personal sin is the cause of or major contributor to the destruction. The good news of Jesus equips us to wrestle with our own sin and destruction in its wake. It’s not easy, mind you, but if you can see the clear mistake you made, it is a help at times when you want to avoid the same in the future. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes by my own ignorance and selfishness. But I’ve also lost some things because of the sin of others, despite my best efforts to obey God in working to avoid the loss. Most reading this post have experienced some form of similar loss. A church, a marriage, a friendship, a ministry. Because we love God and His word, we grieve and wrestle with God deeply when the sin of others disrupts our relationships, our churches, or our homes.

We are all imperfect disciples of the kingdom of God, but I think most readers here truly love that kingdom and truly love our God. We sin. But the Spirit also convicts, and we submit to Him. And, yet, we can not hold God’s kingdom together on our own, and at times, things fall apart that we thought God would hold together. These have been the places that I have most deeply wrestled in my soul—when I’ve lost something despite obedience to God. Why does this happen, God?! What’s the point of following you and obeying you in hard places if it leads to such destruction anyway? Such wrestling takes us to a deep, dark place. Thankfully, we have passage after passage in Scripture, a whole book even, on lament. We are not left without guidance on mourning sin and its destruction. Yet we are not left without hope either. Love hopes all things, and any earnest lover of God and neighbor holds on to hope. Always.

Lament and hope. These have guided me as I’ve walked my own path, one I desperately sought to avoid, through divorce. I don’t speak of it publicly much, because it involves more people than just me, more stories than just mine. I have done my best to reach out to ministry leaders privately that I have worked with publicly and have shared similarly with numerous readers, many of whom have become personal friends. I am now divorced, which precipitated my move back to South Carolina to live on our family farm with my parents and sisters close by. God has blessed me deeply, in ways I can not fully express, through elders at my church in both Seattle and now South Carolina who truly pastored me through it, in every sense of the meaning of pastor/shepherd. God did not leave me an orphan to walk this road, and my faith has increased big time as a result. Interestingly, my convictions around manhood, womanhood, marriage, and divorce have only grown stronger as a result too. Also, convictions about Christian community, the authority of the Word, the incredibly important role of pastor/elders in a believer’s life, and well, a boatload of other things, many of which I write about here, have been clarified and solidified in the wake of my divorce.

I feel compelled to say something publicly here because for the third or fourth time, someone has approached me with a ministry opportunity and seemed blindsided when I shared details privately of my life, as I always make sure to do before engaging in some type of public ministry outreach with them. My best efforts to handle this off social media have still left some holes in communication.

I find two interesting reactions. There are many others, so I don’t mean to paint these as the only two options. Instead, think of them as two primary ones. You don’t have to choose between just these two.

1) Fear

The fear reaction is one I well understand, because I experienced it strongly when a dear friend went through a divorce not of her own doing about ten years before I did. In my head, at some level, she had to be at fault, though I now recognize that her marriage failed in the end simply because her husband didn’t value covenant commitment in marriage the way she did. He wasn’t willing to work on things the way she was. This fear, at least for me, came from a place of lack of trust in God’s sovereignty over all of life. It is the prosperity gospel that lingers over a lot of evangelicals that don’t know they hold to a prosperity gospel. Surely, if I obey God, I won’t have these types of struggles in my life. Surely, if I make the right decisions in youth group and Christian college, my children will turn out right, and I’ll have a happy marriage until “death doth us part.” One friend, before I went through my divorce, spoke to me of this fearful reaction she experienced from others when she went through her own. “It’s not catching, you know,” she said. She said others would hold her at a distance, like if they got too close to her their marriages and those at their church might catch “divorce.” It was sad to me, because I have found her and others like her friends with the most clear convictions against the kind of things that lead to divorce. Few have an understanding of covenant commitment quite like someone whose life was devastated because their partner did not.

2) Solidarity

Thankfully, what I have found most among serious believers as I’ve shared with them my story is solidarity, not over divorce but over suffering in general. I, too, when I was watching the slow moving train of destruction approach my family, unable to figure out a way to get us out of its path, found solidarity in stories of others’ suffering, but interestingly, they were not stories of divorce. Dee Brestin wrote The God of All Comfort about the lead up to her husband’s death from cancer and the time after as she mourned the loss. That book blessed me greatly, and I have recommended it again and again, a friend to walk with anyone during any kind of suffering. Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting had a similar effect on me as did Elisabeth Elliott’s These Strange Ashes. Both wrote about a totally different struggle than the one I was walking, yet I found solidarity with each and great comfort in the truths that comforted them.

I have found similar solidarity with parents of struggling teenagers. I’ve found it with wives withering in marriages in which divorce is not on the table yet the estrangement from their husband still runs deep. I’ve found it with friends who wrestle with same-sex attraction and others struggling to come to terms with the mental illness of a child or parent. I’ve found it with foster parents longing to minister grace to broken kids and with ministry leaders seeking racial justice in broken communities. It’s simply the solidarity or fellowship found in any kind of suffering, something dear and precious in the Body of Christ.

Though I wrestled for a long time with the path God allowed for me and my children, I have emerged from that season, broken yet confident, lamenting yet hopeful. I feel better braced for the hardships that face our world, globally and locally. I have no shiny vision of the good life I need to protect now. But instead of feeling cynical and jaded, I feel free and hopeful. I mean, when you are sitting in jail for attempted rape that you did not actually do, why not offer to translate a dream for the king’s taster? What have you got to lose?! Though my story is very different from both Joseph’s and Ruth’s, I have nevertheless found a lot of comfort and direction from them both.

If my story feels scary for you, remember what my friend said, “It’s not catching.” Divorce not of your choosing, or children who walk away from the faith, or cancer, or whatever the trial, isn’t a communicable disease. And it won’t manifest in your home just because you walk with someone else who experiences it. If you find yourself with that kind of gut reaction, I encourage you to examine your theology.

I have a book I recommend for that by the way, one I wrote at a very different stage of life, yet whose truths continue to sustain me.  It’s an odd, full circle kind of thing.  And, yet, in the walk of faith, that’s exactly as it should be.

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

 

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.