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Producers and Consumers

For the last few months, I have been thinking about my life in terms of being a producer and a consumer. Let me explain.

Politically, Donald Trump made this idea (without using this exact language) front and center in minds and hearts. He emphasizes American businesses that produce, that manufacture new products, as he seeks to undo systems that aid those some see as consumers, those who only use resources while being unable, often physically, from producing.

Locally, I live on a farm with a lot of producers. The farm here epitomizes the concept of production. The farmer plants a seed in the ground, and it grows into a tall stalk of corn, producing food for livestock that then ends up in our grocery stores and restaurants, or a peanut plant, which ends up in the peanut butter on our grocery store shelf. Folks here drive out in their pick up trucks at 7:30 am, work a hard day tending the ground, and come back in the evenings to turn off equipment and settle in for the night. They consume resources, but they produce much more than they consume. Nations can’t survive without producers. Our government subsidizes farms in particular because, in time of war, we can not be solely dependent on a foreign nation for our food. If nothing else, in World War 3, the United States will still have some cotton to make clothes, peanuts to make peanut butter, and corn to feed the cows, in part due to the labor of folks around me at Oak Lane Farm.

I don’t know if others experiencing long term illness think about this, but I have become consumed with the producers around me as I sit on my couch into week 3 of recovery from surgery, now contemplating another 6 months of chemotherapy, which will include a lot more sitting on my couch watching the rest of the world go by. I consume resources, particularly the time of others who already have busy lives. But right now, I don’t produce anything.

In times past as a stay at home mom, I had a few things that, along with parenting my children, helped me feel … well … productive. I taught Bible studies, I wrote books, and I taught part time at the community college. If nothing else, I produced some income for my home, and that helped me feel like I was a contributing member of society (another political phrase I think about).

Being a non-producing consumer for this season has raised my awareness of others struggling with long term disability. I have one friend in particular confined to a wheel chair with multiple physical issues who still struggles to produce. He writes. He creates art. His God-given desire to create remains in his heart though his physical and financial resources are slim. He is often thwarted in his attempts to get something to market, and yet the creative, productive urge remains, and he never quits trying.

I got the news yesterday that I would have six months of chemo, with all the ins and outs that usually accompany that. I have a good prognosis long term, for which I thank God, but I wept in the doctor’s office as I contemplated six more months consumed with doctors appointments and physical struggle, six more months of being a consumer unable to produce. Despite all of the down time, I can’t even write very well. My brain remains slow and fuzzy and overwhelmed. And chemo brain is a real thing I hear. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised, but I have low expectations for productivity the next six months (other than the occasional blog article).

I am tired of consuming resources. I simply want to produce.

I want to show up with resources to help my son’s public school marching band. I want to put together a women’s Bible study for our local new PCA church plant. I want to take my dad to doctor’s appointments. I want to write another book. I want to teach at the community college. I want to learn to manage the farm.

Yesterday, after returning from my appointment with my oncologist, I sat down with the Lord to read the next passage in my Bible, John 15:1-8. I am reading from the new Christian Standard Bible. Verse 2 struck me loud and clear.

2 Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.

I noted the word produce, because that is the language that has been rattling around in my head for weeks. I want to produce more and consume less. I want to help more and need help less. But God spoke clearly to me. If I am going to produce more fruit, I have to submit to more pruning. There was something sweet and kind, though also pointed and confrontational, as God used the language in my head to remind me of this truth from Scripture. I have felt that God was far away from me at multiple points in this journey, but He again showed me that He is right here, well acquainted with my suffering and mental struggle, and indwelling me to aid me through it. He is aware of the battles in my head and spoke to me clearly to confront them. My Counselor. My Comforter. My Helper.

I got the message, Lord, and I thank You for it. I will buck it up, by God’s help, and do this thing. I will submit to more pruning, because it is necessary for producing more fruit, fruit that remains. That’s the best kind of producing and the best kind of fruit. I want it for my life, and I submit to Your process to do it. Apart from You, I can do nothing.

Is this the fruit of the Spirit? I trust I will grow in love, joy, peace, and longsuffering. I need it. Is this the fruit of discipleship? I hope I can help more women grow in a knowledge of Jesus that leads to their flourishing in His kingdom. Whatever form the fruit takes, I know that pruning is the path to it, hand in hand with the One who prunes.

If you are struggling today, I encourage you to sit down with a short passage of Scripture wherever your Bible reading has taken you. Read it slowly several times, asking God to open your eyes to behold wonderful things in His word (Psalm 119:18). Slow down, remove distractions, and give Him time to speak to you clearly through His words. Hear Him, and be comforted.

Humbled, but not Humiliated

I am one week post-op, having spent two nights in ICU after surgery and two more in a regular room. It was the worst of times – but, oh, the grace of God made plain to me through it. I get it in a new way, that supernatural grace of God that helps you through what you could never endure on your own, that enlightens your soul as you pass through the fire.

I have been brought low, ultimately humbled. Many of you have been through similar and know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not the first time I’ve been brought low physically. I have had two c-sections and several outpatient surgeries. But this was a lower low. I’ve thought a lot about how frustrating it is to be brought so low. I want to be the helper, not the one being helped. I want to be strong for another, not to need another’s strength. It’s humbling to value the strong helper God created Eve to be in perfection but to feel so far from Eden’s ideal. But there is a great difference in being humbled and being humiliated. God humbles us, but He does not humiliate us. And I had many who were His hands and feet to me demonstrating this truth to me again and again. I was humbled. I was dust. But I was not shamed.

I woke in pain to the voice of a sweet anesthesiologist helping me get comfortable. Woke a second time to my cousin putting lip balm on my lips and feeding me ice chips. Oh the ministry of grace of lip balm and feeding ice chips to ICU patients. Woke another time to my pastor’s wife and my sister sitting with me in ICU. Woke many times to see my cousin and another friend from church wide awake at 1 am, 2 am, 3 am, 4 am in the ICU, because the hospital policy was that visitors could be in the ICU with a patient, but only if the visitor stayed awake. So though I could nap, they couldn’t. They were each the hands and feet of Jesus, ministering His grace to me in tangible ways.

During a few times of lull between visitors, I hit lows as the pain spearing through my body was compounded by the pain of knowing cancer was found in a lymph node.* At one particularly painful, low moment, God whispered to me, “the fellowship of my suffering.”

Phil. 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;

The gospel hit me, overcome with pain in the ICU, in a way I had never gotten before. Jesus experienced that level of pain and worse, not to save His own life, but to save mine. I wept under the covers in ICU as the searing pain pealed layers off of my understanding of what it meant that He was wounded for our transgressions, to see the nugget of truth obscured from my vision before. I lay wounded for my own healing from cancer, for my own peace. But He received no benefit from His wounds in my place. I get the Garden of Gethsemane at a different level. I wept under the sheets in the ICU, not at the pain, but at a new awareness of His agony in the Garden. Unlike me, who really didn’t fully understand what I would be facing in recovery (a blissful ignorance I still recommend), He knew exactly what He’d be facing on the cross. And He did it, not to His benefit, but to ours. Oh, precious Savior!

I’ve also thought a lot how much I want a return to Eden. I want to be Eve as she was created in the Garden, that strong warrior helper in the great Creation Mandate. But instead of God allowing me to build my own Tower of Babel, attempting to build my own resources to do for Him what He created us for in perfection, He requires of me something completely different. I can’t build a tower, because I am flat on my face, unable to lift my head. He instead condescends to me. He comes down. He lifts my head, and He helps me up to limp along, functioning only through His lifeblood in me, incapable of producing anything on my own. The image-bearer functions best through the life-giving blood of the One who came down and was wounded in her place. Only His blood can nourish us. Only His blood can equip us to do any Kingdom good in this world.

I want to be what God created me for in perfection, and that makes sense. I cry out for an end of sickness and suffering, murder and rampage. I long for God’s kingdom to come. I cry out in my own life for an end of limping and crashing and feeling wiped out. But instead of ending my suffering, God chose to come down and enter it that one day we could be fully restored. This is a beautiful truth I seem only able to fully grasp in weakness.

I hope later to write on lessons from reading the book of Job through the last month leading up to surgery. But these are two poignant lessons pressed on my heart through this last week.

Thank you to so many who have expressed love, prayers, and concern.  Many have asked how they can support me. I have a good support system through church and family here. But I have a friend in Seattle battling later stage cancer without the same level of support. If you would like to send her a pizza, you can sign up at her Take Them a Meal website. She and her daughter love Pagliacci Pizza , which delivers to her house and request Canadian bacon, pineapple, and olives. Or you can donate to her You Caring page here.

*Pathology reports show that though the cancer was in my first lymph node, it doesn’t seem to have traveled beyond. This is very good. Verdict is still out on whether I will need chemo.



Three Books

I’ve had two books I’ve been working through that I have wanted to mention here for a while. They really go hand in hand for my burdens for ministry.

The first is The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson.  Jared writes in an earthy, accessible style. He hooked me in the early chapters as he looked at Romans 7 and 8 “spooning in a full size bed.” The good that I want to do but don’t do fits right next to the fact I have no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He teaches similar truths with illustrations that flesh them out and settle them in your brain. I highly recommend it.

The second book is Natasha Robinson’s Mentor for Life.  Natasha writes in a clear, pointed way. She lays out a simple framework for mentoring as intentional discipleship and inspires readers to get up and do it. With her practical advice, she helped me get together a plan for several relationships that I want to pursue in an intentional way.

But, then, after setting up times to mentor/disciple, inspired and directed by Scripture applied in both of these books, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Everything I thought I was going to do this semester fell apart. Every last one of my plans crashed to the ground. And I was faced, after just starting to emerge from the last storm of life, with being pushed under the waves once again.

I broke down and bought The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts.  Broke down is the right phrase for it. I did not want to read this book. I did not want to consider my own mortality. Kara, after all, got bad news after bad news with her cancer, ultimately dying in 2015. Since being diagnosed, I have become painfully aware of every person that comes across my path who has died quickly of cancer. The Hawaiian vet on one of my son’s favorite veterinarian shows. Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. The young man who sprayed our house for pests. The friend who helped build my front porch. And countless other local friends and former classmates.

I am a single mom of two middle school boys. Seriously, I can’t die right now.

But I haven’t been able to get away from my own mortality. Though it’s looking more and more like this cancer is quite treatable, thoughts of my mortality aren’t going anywhere. It was time to face them head on, and so I literally broke down and bought Kara’s book. I’m pretty sure I was crying as I bought it.

But you know what? Like so many times before this, I found that there is a lot of grace for facing the worst head on. An hour ago, I turned the last page in Kara’s book and shut it for the last time. As I put it down, I thought, “I am SO GLAD I read that.” One of the most beautiful things about suffering is that the things of this world grow a little dimmer. But that is also the thing I always resist most. I don’t want to lose my grip on this world! But whenever parts of life are pried out of my grasping hands whether I like it or not, I find that what I receive in awareness of eternity is so much better.

Kara, Nabeel, and Joey (who built my front porch) stand alongside Paul, Silas, Corrie ten Boom, Jim and Elisabeth Elliott, and a thousand other heroes of the faith, cheering us on from the sidelines in our own perseverance in the marathon of life.

Hebrews 11:32-12:2 (CSB)

32 And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

12 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I love that cloud of witnesses!  Having finished The Hardest Peace, I think of Kara among them, giving testimony of God’s faithfulness as I look to Him in my own suffering.

For my own personal growth, this mishmash of books has been important at this stage of both ministry and suffering. I want to disciple, to mentor others for life, as Jesus sent us out to do in Matthew 28. I am certainly an imperfect disciple, but my Romans 7 inadequacies are hugged tightly by my Romans 8 covering by Christ. I can face the hard of life head on, confident in the grace of God that meets us not outside the hard but in the darkest innermost recesses of pain and suffering. This message that I need at my own lowest points is the same message others I hope to disciple need in theirs.

I have a free copy of The Imperfect Disciple to give away. Comment below if you’d like to enter the drawing.

The Disconnect in Conservative Understandings of Imago Dei Part 2

See Part 1 on why the confluence of issues (abortion, Black Lives Matter, immigration, sexual abuse in the church and culture, etc.) in our political/evangelical discourse matters to our understanding of the image-bearing dignity of humankind.

I have been reading through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, the Go To theology book for the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and drafters of the Nashville Statement, which is also the one that was singularly promoted for theological training at Mars Hill Church in Seattle during my years there. I have found it helpful for understanding conservative evangelical support of Trump, dismissal of Black Lives Matter, disregard for immigrants, and tolerance of patriarchy in the church.

There is much good in Grudem’s Systematic in terms of image-bearing. Chapter 21 on the Doctrine of Man made sense to me, followed Biblical evidence, and ended well with these words on image-bearing.

Yet we must remember that even fallen, sinful man has the status of being in God’s image (see discussion of Gen. 9: 6, above). Every single human being, no matter how much the image of God is marred by sin, or illness, or weakness, or age, or any other disability, still has the status of being in God’s image and therefore must be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to God’s image-bearer. This has profound implications for our conduct toward others. It means that people of every race deserve equal dignity and rights. It means that elderly people, those seriously ill, the mentally retarded, and children yet unborn, deserve full protection and honor as human beings. If we ever deny our unique status in creation as God’s only image-bearers, we will soon begin to depreciate the value of human life, will tend to see humans as merely a higher form of animal, and will begin to treat others as such. We will also lose much of our sense of meaning in life.

Grudem, Wayne A.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 450). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

In this chapter, Grudem said the kind of things that made me want to stand up and slow clap. Yes! Yes! Yes! He explained mankind made in the image of God – mankind was made like God to represent God into the world. This fits the historic understanding of the image of God in man, at least as my low level theological study shows (I’m always open to correction). And I affirm Article 6 of the Nashville Statement that declares the image-bearing worth of those born with sexual abnormalities. These are good starting points!

But the next page of the next chapter of Grudem’s Systematic (Chapter 22: Man as Male and Female) showed me how Grudem’s understanding of biological sex and gender taints the application of the previous chapter’s closing paragraph

The creation of man as male and female shows God’s image in (1) harmonious interpersonal relationships, (2) equality in personhood and importance, and (3) difference in role and authority.    

In Grudem’s Systematic, this chapter is the caveat to the previous one. It isn’t written as a disclaimer to what it means to be an image bearer, but it seems at least to be a clarification. The previous beautiful paragraph spoke of the full dignity of all humans despite the ways they are personally marred by the Fall. Initially, Grudem presents Imago Dei as fundamentally about representation (which he also initially speaks of as the shared humanity of both genders), but when he gets into the specifics of mankind as male/female image bearers, the focus turns to role and authority.

THIS turn in Grudem’s understanding of Imago Dei gives insight into a lot of things. For several key evangelical leaders, there is a stark contradiction (it seems) on how they speak of Imago Dei versus the practical deficit in applying it revealed by their support of Trump. We gain insight when we look at WHY big leaders say they supported Trump. I’ve found MacArthur’s statements particularly telling:

But we also understand this. That God has designed human government. And Romans 13 tells us what His design is. God has designed human government and given human government ultimate authority for two purposes. To protect those who do good and punish those who do evil. That is the role of government. …

So your question is this—which party, which coalition, which collection of leaders and influencers will uphold God’s design for government?

MacArthur gives more insight in this video taken right after events in Charlottesville, which starts incredibly strong but chills me at the end.

If you don’t have six minutes to watch the video, I’ll summarize his thoughts on the three things that restrain evil in society:

  1. Man’s conscience restrains evil, but the current generation hasn’t learned God’s moral law, and now conscience doesn’t function in the masses.
  2. Family discipline also restrains evil. But the breakdown of the family has left the current generation without functional discipline in the home.
  3. That leaves police as the last institution remaining to restrain evil. But society’s disrespect of police (with no indication by MacArthur that the sinful heart of individual police men or women bear any responsibility), has undermined police’s role in restraining evil. MacArthur says at the end that all hell breaks lose when police are stripped of powers, unleashing the human heart at its worst level.

I noted that MacArthur did not speak of the good news of Jesus or the working of the Holy Spirit in ANY WAY as our hope for the restraint of evil.

MacArthur’s thought process is consistent with Grudem’s clarification on the image of God in mankind in his Systematic Theology – “The creation of man as male and female shows God’s image in … difference in role and authority.”

In this view, it seems that image bearers need to respect role and authority to actually show God’s image. Practically speaking, if you are perceived as not respecting either role or authority in life, you go down the priority list for protection as an image-bearer. Folks who see image-bearing dignity mitigated by how well you respect role and authority tend to work in and promote authoritarian systems where people know their role. They dismiss the value and dignity of those who have conflicts with authority structures.

This explains why Trump’s violations of Imago Dei dignity aren’t a deal breaker to such folks but Clinton’s are. Trump can diss undocumented immigrants, because they have not obeyed the rule of law and the authority of our land. Trump can instigate violence against minorities because the perception remains among many conservatives in this country that minorities have not remembered their role in our nation or submitted to authority in our nation. Support of Black Lives Matters is perceived as chipping away at police authority, MacArthur’s last chance restraint of human evil. Black police are valued, but black protesters are not.  The difference is their perceived adherence to authority structures.

Trump is the candidate who protects conservative views of people’s various roles in society and who has authority to constrain them. As Trump famously emphasized in his rallies, “I am the LAW and ORDER candidate.” Authoritarianism is on the rise under Trump, and that fits Grudem’s view of image-bearing and MacArthur’s view of the breakdown of society. This has helped me understand the disconnect I feel between theological words on paper regarding image-bearing and actions in real life.

This explains why many conservative male leaders have accommodated and sometimes even specifically spoken over the top criticism of Hilary Clinton. It explains why sexual deviancy is a deal breaker for the female presidential candidate (who doesn’t actually have a reputation personally for sexual deviancy) and not the male one. Trump’s husband/wife dynamic didn’t violate the perceived image bearing necessity of roles and authority in marriage, while Clinton’s did (as well as her support of transgender political positions). Clinton in particular did not submit to her gendered authority structure. This violation of role and authority threatens to upend all of American society to those who see keeping gendered roles and authority as fundamental to image bearing. If you have that view of image-bearing, Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric is much less offensive, even if he violates the rights and dignity of minorities, women, and immigrants. If you believe that image-bearing is best understood when men and women keep their appropriate gendered roles and submit to appropriate gendered authority, then you can tolerate an authoritarian man who keeps his appropriately feminine wives and equally beautiful children in line (several evangelical leaders made an issue of how well Trump’s children speak of him) in a way you can’t of a woman who doesn’t stay home and bake cookies.

The questions that form as I examine this confluence of issues are these:

Does Imago Dei transcend role and authority, or is Imago Dei mitigated by role and authority? Does Imago Dei transcend gender and biological sex? Or is Imago Dei lost when biological sex is confused or compromised?

There is a way from Scripture to embrace Grudem’s conclusion on image-bearing in Chapter 21 of his Systematic without mitigating it by how well others respect gendered roles and authority as he indicates in Chapter 22. I can still hold to a conservative understanding of the office of elder/pastor being restricted to qualified men. I can still believe in the gospel testimony in marriage of wives submitting to their husbands as the Church does to Christ. I can submit to my pastors and my government, valuing both of their roles in my life, WITHOUT mitigating the image bearing dignity of any people group without similar convictions. Image bearing dignity is based on our creation by God, not our performance of His standards, of which all of us are dependent on Jesus to keep in our place.

This actually is key to the entire point of image-bearing.  If a dog or even a gorilla seriously harms, even threatens, a human, we usually put them down. Though it’s sad for any who cared for the animal, we shouldn’t generally wrestle with this morally. But if a human harms another human, the process of proving their guilt and deciding their fate is sober and time consuming. I would argue it should be even more sober than at times it is in our criminal justice system. Even those who violate the dignity of other image-bearers are themselves still image-bearers.

In this American evangelical culture, the cries of particular groups of image-bearers are discounted and authority over them protected because they are seen as violating their God-given design concerning role and authority and are judged therefore unworthy of dignity. This, I believe, is the place doctrinally to push fellow evangelicals to examine themselves.

In contrast to evangelical Trump supporters, the discussion of this confluence of issues for many of us is about the dignity of all humans as image-bearers of God and our hope in the gospel for them. I note among evangelical leaders supporting Trump, their hope for the gospel seems singularly aimed at Trump. Perhaps God will restrain Trump’s sin.  Perhaps he has come to faith. And I pray that God will and he does. But my greater hope is in the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit for all men, women, and children.  Because of my confident hope for the gospel both to authorities and those under authority, I don’t see authoritarian measures under Trump as the last ditch effort to restrain human behavior. With gospel confidence, I don’t have to coddle the sins of authoritarian leaders as they violate the dignity of the oppressed.  In fact, my convictions of human dignity in the image of God, Grudem’s Chapter 21, compel me to a different path altogether.


Why This Confluence of Issues Matters

The Nashville Statement has caused no small amount of angst among thoughtful conservative Christians (here’s a thoughtful podcast on the subject from the guys at Mere Orthodoxy). As the days go on, I am gaining clarity to the fundamental issues it has exposed – and that issue is NOT simply that many folks want to identify as Christians without accepting the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. The Church has known that for a few decades. I have long been aware that my views on sexual ethics from Scripture went against social norms, pretty much since I first recognized that the sex outside of marriage that characterized the lives of many friends in high school was a sin against God’s character and design of humanity.

I received the most heat in my last post on the fact that I included concerns about the number of key signers of the Nashville Statement (Wayne Grudem, James Dobson, John MacArthur, etc.) who also vocally encouraged believers to vote for Trump. Seriously, folks really pushed back on that! I also received dismissive feedback on Twitter on Katelyn Beatty’s Washington Post article in which I was quoted as well.

“Trump has exacerbated real issues of immorality and injustice concerning immigration, sexual assault and white supremacy — Scripture isn’t gray about these issues,” Alsup said. She believes that when evangelicals minimize such issues, or support leaders who do, they lose some moral authority on other issues that Scripture is clear on — which to her include traditional views on sexuality and marriage.

Yesterday, I read Rod Dreher’s article on the topic, which started as mostly supportive of the Nashville Statement. But he later added a telling update at the end after a lunch meeting with some conservative evangelical pastors.

Listening to these pastors and laypeople talking about the Trump effect on younger Christians was quite sobering to me. An older pastor said that it is impossible to separate the Nashville Statement from the massive support white Evangelicals gave to Trump. Impossible to separate, I mean, in the mind of the young.

“But Russell Moore signed it, and other Trump critics among Evangelicals,” I said.

“I know, and I’ve tried to tell people that,” said this pastor, a conservative Evangelical. “It doesn’t matter to them. All they see is a bunch of leaders of a movement who voted for a sexually corrupt man like Donald Trump are now trying to take a public stand on sexual morality for gays. It’s totally hypocritical to them. I don’t know how the Nashville Statement drafters and signers didn’t see this coming.”

Why can’t young Christians let the last election go?! Why can’t we just accept that the issue of Clinton’s support of abortion pushed folks who were otherwise opposed to Trump to vote for him?

Why Black Lives Matter? Why sit down during the National Anthem? Why protest for immigrants rights? Why outrage over Trump’s statements at Charlottesville? Why continued concern over CJ Mahaney and very old allegations of protecting sexual abusers?  Why are these things still an issue?!

There are a confluence of issues swirling—black lives, police brutality, sexual abuse, misogyny, abortion, suicide among homosexual teens—and they are forming a hurricane as destructive to the American spiritual landscape as Harvey and Irma have been physically. And a group that

  1. is known for teaching an authoritarian based hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity that says that women are inherently predisposed to give male leaders trouble and were for eternity created to be subordinate to men …
  2. then releases a statement that teaches among other things that celibate gay Christians are disobedient to the faith …
  3. and is signed by those who encouraged folks to vote for a flagrantly sexually deviant president who flaunts his perversions and misuse of women.

To quote Dreher’s pastor friend, “I don’t know how the Nashville Statement drafters … didn’t see this coming.”

But they didn’t.  And maybe that is as much the issue as anything.

This post is getting too long, so I will get to the deeper thoughts of root issues in the next post. But I’ve finally figured out the confluence of issues. We are fighting now for an orthodox understanding not just of homosexuality, but of Imago Dei. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Because that is what this confluence of issues is really about. What did it mean in perfection? What did it mean after the Fall? What does it mean in redemption? What does it mean for humanity that has not yet believed in Christ? What does it mean for non-Americans to the American church?  What does it mean to those who enforce the law for those suspected of breaking them? What does it mean for women? What does it mean for the unborn? Who bears human dignity? How should they be treated?

I have thought for a while that we need a Unified Field Theory on gender. But I realize now that we first need a thoughtful clarification on what it means to be human in the image of God. Read Rachael Starke’s excellent piece on this to whet your appetite for the discussion.

The image bearing dignity of the unborn is tied to the dignity of all races and sexes. The problems of white supremacy, misogyny, and immigration are inextricably linked.

The image bearing dignity of the immigrant is tied to the dignity of the unborn and same-sex attracted. The problems of white supremacy, misogyny, and abortion are inextricably linked.

The image bearing dignity of the same-sex attracted is tied to the dignity of the unborn and all races. The problems of white supremacy, abortion, and gender are inextricably linked.

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