Sharing the Gospel: Base Humanity

One of the questions I am often asked as a pastor is “How do I get to the gospel with my co-workers/roomates/etc…?”

There is a lot to be said about this. Some basics include knowing the gospel, knowing your testimony, praying for boldness and opportunity… But I want to share a foundational principle with you:

People’s human experience is ripe with gospel opportunities.

Here is what I mean. We can tend two view conversation with people as operating in two poles, two extremes. One the one extreme we have chit chat, and on the other extreme we have the deep things of the gospel. This is a bit of a false dichotomy. The reality is that conversation really exists on a spectrum from shallow to deep. For the sake of oversimplification, though, let me add a third category between chit chat and gospel: base humanity.

By base humanity I mean taking an interest in people’s experience as common strugglers on this planet. Every person you meet, whether or not they are a Christian, shares a ton of common experience with you. They have hopes, fears, dreams, disappointments, celebrations… To engage people on this level is really just base humanity. To love them, to get to know them, to show interest in them as humans.

Want to get to the gospel? Practice some base humanity with people. Ask them how marriage is going? What they hope for when they graduate? What they would do differently in parenting if they could? What are their greatest challenges in their roles? Why? Ask questions that lie between chit chat and the gospel.

When you do this you have tapped into the human experience which is ripe with gospel opportunities. One the one hand, you have greater insight into them as a human and how the gospel applies to their particular hopes and fears. On the other hand, when they ask you the same questions in return, as they most probably will, you have the opportunity to speak about your human experience and how you find hope and encouragement in the gospel.

Now, you will still need boldness, clarity, courage, love, and ultimately, God’s Spirit to move, but practicing some base humanity can go a long way to opening doors.

Supporting Missionaries?

The Christian context is replete with missionaries raising financial support for their mission. This is a fine and beautiful thing, and God uses this kind of financial backing to advance his kingdom all over the globe. In fact, as we continue to explore what it looks like to build a partnership with global missionaries, we will certainly have opportunities to provide financial support as a corporate body as well as individual members.

That being said, I want to provide a little direction on discerning whether or not you should support particular missionaries. In my experience, the default Christian mode of discernment when they are asked for financial support is to decide almost entirely on whether or not they “like” the person. Now, certainly some degree of relational synergy is appropriate when partnering with someone. But I would argue that there are at least two other factors that need to be considered: character and competence.

Like any other challenging endeavor (raising a family, starting a business), faithfully and successfully executing a mission strategy on the field requires more than likeability. The people entrusted to execute the mission need the godly character to thrive relationally with God and people and the competence necessary to accomplish the mission.

Consequently, I would like to give you one piece of advice that will go a long way when considering supporting a missionary; talk to your global missions pastor (or the pastor responsible for global missions at your church, though he may not carry that title).

The reason for this is that your pastor will probably be very equipped to speak into the issues of character and competence.

Regarding character, this is especially the case when the people raising support currently attend or have attended your church in the past. Your pastors have spent time shepherding these folks, getting to know their struggles and successes. But because we don’t publicize shepherding issues on Facebook or the slide show Sunday morning, there is significant risk that you, as the prospective supporter, will be making a decision with very little information about one of the greatest issues influencing mission. There are many questions to be asked: How is the marriage? How is their (especially the man’s) relationship with other leaders? Who are their current disciples now? What is their track record relationally? Have they demonstrated long term fruitfulness? Do they have a history of breaking ties and relationships?

Regarding competence, your pastors have experience in assessing and placing people in different types of roles. There are different gifts necessary for different types of missions; teaching, counseling, evangelism, hospitality, strategy, communication, etc… It would be wise to tap into this type of wisdom. After all, your pastors are the men that you have hired to ask and answer these types of questions; you have a tremendous opportunity to tap into this resource. There are many questions that need to be asked: What are the primary gifts necessary for this mission? What type of training is necessary? Is it the right time? How does this person’s gifting complement the overall strategy of the organization? Is there long term sustainability? Have they demonstrated fruitfulness in their current context?

Let me leave you with one final piece of advice. Be very wary of people in your church raising support when you haven’t heard anything from the pastors about it. Certainly, the pastors cannot strategically endorse each and every missionary effort, so it may be completely appropriate for someone to be raising support without public support and acknowledgement for the pastors. However, it very well may be the case that they have circumvented the advice of the pastors and are taking advantage of the fact that they know that Christians don’t ask these kinds of questions.

My prayer is that we subject proposals for missionary support to at least the same level of scrutiny that we would apply to renting out our home, hiring an employee, investing in a business, etc…

If these efforts are worthy of care and counsel, certainly God’s mission is.

Welfare Leeches

Today I’d like to briefly address the question, “Why should I give to my church?” There are several ways to go about addressing this question, today I will address one. The quick answer is: because it is my church.

The question is akin to asking, “Why should I pay my rent?” or “Why should I pay my dinner tab?” Because it’s yours. You church is your mission. The goals of the church in terms of ministries, facilities, staffing and missions will not be underwritten by the federal government; it is the responsibility of the members of the church to fund the mission.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to sit with a brother who, through the course of conversation, mentioned to me that he gives to missionaries outside of his church. This is a delightful and honorable thing to do, but I did notice that in his list of expenses he did not mention his church. So I asked him, for sake of clarity, “Do you give to your church as well, or just outside missionaries?” He clarified that I had heard him correctly and the he only gives to outside missionaries. At which point I asked him “Who pays for the pastoral care and leadership that you receive?” The question went unanswered explicitly, because it was answered implicitly. If I am not giving to my church for the pastoral care and leadership that I receive, someone else is subsidizing me spiritually.

Now, to be clear, there are no giving amounts stipulated in the New Testament, and there are certainly people who cannot afford to give much, if anything, and should be subsidized spiritually. I am merely making the case that if you have the means to give, you should give to your church first, because it’s your church.

To not do so is to abdicate your responsibility and lean on the generosity of others. It is at best ignorant of how the church is funded and functions, and at worst immature and selfish to depend on others to finance the benefits you receive. Ironically, many evangelical Christians get bent out of shape about people expecting to be subsidized in the political and economic arena, but don’t realize it is what they are doing at church. They are effectively welfare leeches.

The good news is that Jesus saves welfare leeches. He has enough grace for this type of abdication. The good news is also that this grace that forgives also transforms. Jesus wants to bring us to a place where we gladly imitate him in his responsibility. He paid for his church. No one subsidized it for him. As we grow in Christlikeness we delight in bearing responsibility for that which is ours.

The reality is that there will always be welfare leeches in the church. There will be those that give and those that receive. There will be those that bear responsibility and those shirk it. Jesus has revealed to us where true joy lies. It is at the cross, where we realize that to bear burden for the church is no burden at all.

Free Will and Love

It is often claimed that in order for a being to be able to love, it needs to have free will, particularly moral free will. As in the case of man's relationship to God. It is argued that if we were not free to either choose him or not, then we could not truly love him. Choice is a prerequisite to love, so the argument goes.

The problem with this argument is that when applied to God, it is seen to be blatantly false. God is unable to choose moral evil. It is impossible that he should lie, etc... This is because he is constrained by his nature. He is unable to do that which would be inconsistent with his nature.

According then to the free-will theory, God cannot love. But this is obviously false, because God is love.

The key here is to understand the distinction between Libertarian and Augustinian free will. Libertarian free will, the most common human understanding of free will, states that humans have ultimate autonomy and freedom of choice, particularly in the moral category. The problem with this view is that it ignores the fact that choices derive from desires or appetites. The choices we make do not happen in an uninfluenced, utterly free context. They occur in the context of experience, inclination, and ultimately, the very nature of the being making the choice.

Augustinian free will states that humans do in fact make choices, but that these choices are "constrained" by our nature. Thus the choices we make are actually litmus tests for our nature. To put it another way, you can choose what you want. But you can't choose what TO want.

Applied to the free will love theory above it is plain to see that God does not have libertarian free will. He CANNOT choose to lie, he is constrained by his nature. In fact, that constraint does not hamper his ability to love, but is the very foundation of it.

Humans, on the other hand, do not have the pure nature of God. Our nature is corrupted and that nature constrains our choices. So when The Ultimate Moral Beauty (God) shows up to the human soul and says, "choose me", we find ourselves unable to. It is not in our nature.

That's the bad news. We WILL NOT choose God because we are corrupt.

The good news? God changes our natures by putting his Spirit within us, thus giving us the ability to choose him, constrained by our new natures.

And I love Him for it.

Anchor In the Storm

I will continue my series on teaching my kids the Bible soon. Given the current context, I am welcoming a guest post by Christian Roth, Redeemer member and Community Group Leader. I trust it will be encouraging to you...

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I’ve always joked about Cedar Rapids, “There are no Cedars, and no rapids,” but with the Cedar  River constantly crashing over the river banks, perhaps the water is more menacing than it might seem… I have lived in Cedar Rapids since I was a child, with one exception; during 2005 to 2009 when the city flooded for the first time. I came back from Chicago for a week to do one of the most disgusting things I have ever done: mucking the basement of a house that had been flooded with sewage and black mold. I remember from that weekend, as I remember now, how much energy and affinity was in the air with the volunteers and how much chatter was floating around the city about resilience, our local identity and where we would go from there.

So here we are 8 years later and the city is flooding again. As I observe the city, ask questions to people in my community and watch social media, I see two basic responses. One is to think about infrastructure, "I can't believe we didn't build a flood wall," or, "Is FEMA going to get here this time?" or, "All the city council members here are younger than 30, they won't know what they are doing!" 

The other response is one of a flurry of activity. Millennials like me who are constantly looking for something to provide their days with meaning are now running as fast as we can to sandbag, help our neighbors and commiserate together as a community. And of course, we won't miss the opportunity to snap a photo, create a new hashtag or blog about it (irony intended). 

So how should we think and feel about disasters like this? A few biblical suggestions to take with a grain of salt: 

A stewardship of need – As those called into mission and love of neighbor, a crises moment in our community offers an opportunity to meet needs that we see around us. Sometimes we can over think it but at the end of the day when we see a need like this, we should meet a need like this. Our community stands at a point of teachability and realizing our own frailty and need. They stand watching what the Church will do and looking for answers. This is a rare opportunity to stand in the gap and serve and encourage our city with the hope of a sovereign, generous God who is not far removed from our pain and frailty, but felt the full force of it on the Cross.

A stewardship of attention – Cedar Rapids rarely gets national news coverage and more to the point, the City of Cedar Rapids is rarely looking to the Church for support and guidance. Though hashtags and blog posts may be ADHD and fleeting, they do get at something important, namely the opportunity to steward the attention certain trends and media bring. Today, there were national news teams in downtown Cedar Rapids. Additionally, there has been heightened local conversation about our downtown / emerging neighborhoods, community, politics, etc. This is an opportunity for the Church to step into the limelight and point to Christ as the source of motivation and joy in the midst of disaster.

Anchor in the storm – Lastly, when creation groans in futility like it has the past couple of days, it is an image and a reminder of our anchor that holds us fast: the Cross. It seems that everyone likes to think “religiously” in the midst of crises, but as a people of the cross we are also called to live the gospel. When trials come, the religious mind says, “Uh oh, we have upset the Forces that be, better put our prayer face on and keep our head low!” but the gospel mind says, “How can we draw closer to our good, powerful Father in this time of need?” The religious mind says, “How can I do good works to ensure that after this disaster will still get me the stuff I want from God?” The gospel mind says, “God is all that I need, so even if he takes comfort and control out of my hands, I can rest satisfied in Him.”

In disaster we see the shadow of Christ on the cross, bearing our pain, and Redeeming our pain. The more we see him, the more we will have joy and energy in Him, the true anchor of our souls to weather the storm.  

How I Teach My Kids the Bible, Pt 1

For the next few weeks I would like to share some practical direction, with detailed examples, of how I do Bible time with my kids. This is my method, it’s not for everyone. Furthermore, it may change. Though I have used quite a few methods and this really feels like something I could stick with for a long, long time.

My kids range in age – 10, 9, 7 and 5. That means that they have different levels of understanding and even ability to really focus for the duration of what we are doing, but overall they do well. We do all of life with this mix of cognitive and social maturity.

The method I am using here requires at least a couple of pre-requisites. The first is general and really applies to any type of teaching/coaching situation – my children’s ability to obey me. It’s not perfect – they can get squirmy and distracted – but in general when it’s time to sit and have a talk with their father, it can be done.

The second presumes Bible knowledge on my part, because I am just basically teaching them the Bible, directly from the text. Granted, you don’t have to be a seminary level Bible teacher to teach your kids the Bible, but you do need to know something about what you are teaching them, or at least do some prep beforehand.

In this post I would like to do two things; first, I’d like to describe the method I am using in general; second, I would like to address the biggest hurdle to Bible time with the kids – motivation. In the posts to come I will address more specifically how I prepare the kids and encourage them to participate and listen, as well as walk through 2-3 very practical examples of what this looks like for us, almost word for word.

In general, here is the method I am using – We take about 10-12 minutes discussing and praying about a verse – or part of a verse – from the Bible. We do not use a kids Bible, a study guide, a kids devotional, or anything like that. This is not because I do not think you should use these things, it is because this is what works for me. Historically, there have been two areas of struggle when trying to do Bible time with my kids: motivation (which I’ll cover below) and method. I have used various materials designed for kids (Jesus Storybook Bible, Long Story Short, etc…) and have even gone so far as to have us act out different Bible scenes. These have been fun, they have been helpful in ways, and we may still do variation of these in the future. But for now, for us, it just feels fruitful, feasible and just plain good to walk into my kids’ room with a Bible in hand and just teach it.

Which brings me to my final point in this post - walking into my kids’ room to teach the Bible. This is where I feel the pinch. When it comes time to do it, I can struggle with various temptations, and still give in to them at times. One of the temptations is to give in to being tired. Because of when we do Bible time, at bedtime, it has been a long day. I have probably been up for 16 hours, working for 10, and spending a lot of time talking with people about the Bible. It can be very tempting to just give in at this point and relax. Of course there are other times we could do this, like before, during, or after dinner. But this is the time I have chosen, and even with all the temptation and tiredness, I still think it is best.

The second temptation I struggle with is just plain spiritual warfare. Satan does not want me to disciple my children. In my flesh, I do not want to disciple my children. I just want to chill. The temptation is to tell myself that they will be ok, they get Bible at other times with their mother, we’ll get to it tomorrow, etc… Sticking my heart in the sand. It’s interesting how I can be very productive, working hours on end, booking meetings on end, and feeling pretty good about it. I stay motivated, I stay positive, I don’t tire easy, I love my work, I can go and go and go. But, when it’s time to do Bible with the kids, now I’m tired, now I’m busy, now I’m demotivated. Folks, welcome to the war against the spiritual forces of darkness. A war that I believe will never end. It may lessen, it may heighten. It will not end this side of heaven.

So now, the choice is before me. How will I live? Who will disciple my children? Who will preach the gospel to them? Who will teach them Bible? Who will pray for and with them? In this fight I have to get very clear on the options. Either I will disciple my children, or I will not. And if I will, now is the time. So I pray, I ask God for help, I discipline myself, I tell my wife I want to do this so I can be accountable, and I do it. And I can tell you this – I always come out of these Bible times encouraged and blessed. I have never regretted it. And I am hopeful that as we spend the next years doing hundreds of Bible studies together, that my children will catch a vision for the supremacy of Christ and his gospel.

So, as a pastor, I am praying for the church that God would grant us the grace to resist the evil one, and enter into the joys of washing our children with the Word. There really aren’t many more important things than this in the world - if any - and therefore, there aren’t many more rewarding things. So let’s trust God, lean into him for help, and teach these kids some Bible!

Modesty Pt 2: Mind Your Business!

In my first post on modesty I addressed the question “How do you think through your own modesty?” Today I would like to address the question “How do you think through others' modesty?” I’ll cut to the chase, give you the quick answer, and then spend a little time explaining why.

How do you think through other’s modesty? Mostly, you don’t. You mind your business.

There are at least 3 reasons for this.

1.     Other people’s sin is a splinter compared to your log. Certainly, Jesus’ teaching on the issue of addressing a brother or sister’s sin emphasizes the priority of examining yourself. Of course, there are times and places to address other people’s sin, which is part of the implication of Jesus’ teaching here. However, Jesus is saying that from your perspective, your sin should be so big and visible, that is like having a giant log jutting out of your face. In my experience, Jesus’ teaching on the log and splinter principle is a needed corrective to people who are really too quick to be concerned with others’ sin. What if others are immodest? What if they cause men to stumble? What if they_____? They. They. They.

2.     We have limited authority. The role of the Christian is not to serve as a police state in the world, and not even in the church. We mostly encourage and preach the gospel, we occasionally rebuke and challenge. And when we do rebuke and challenge, I believe we should limit that role greatly to the relationships where we have been granted clear authority. For most people, this will be a very small circle of influence – your children, your spouse, perhaps a ministry you have been granted authority over. Unless you are an elder, you haven’t been granted authority over the church as a whole. And even the elders, who do have oversight over the whole church, still need to be balanced by point 1, and especially point 3.

3.     Blatant legalism. The reality is that the issue of modesty is one that quickly plunges into legalism once we try to establish some sort of standard. Modesty is a principle that is addressed in Scripture, without any dress code established. What often happens, however, is that people establish a dress code in their own mind, usually one that is in line with how they dress, they then become the standard of modesty in their own eyes, and anyone who is seen as violating that standard is seen as obviously not taking the modesty principle seriously. This is classic, textbook, Pharisaical legalism. The girl wearing the __________ is obviously immodest, but I, because I wear ___________ obviously am not. The reality is that there is always someone to the right of you who thinks that YOU are the one that is violating THEIR obviously modest standard. You think yoga pants are immodest (lust inducing, even), the next person says the same about jeans. Then pants in general, then shoulders showing, then arms, then faces and eyes. We better cover up those lust inducing faces! Some of you might say, "That's absurd. Certainly there is a clear line that is obvious when it is crossed." Well I am certain I don't know where it is, and I would be very nervous about someone claiming to know that, not just for themselves, but for others as well.  This stinks of death, and I would rather have a church full of immodest people than a church that is so egregiously trampling grace. 

Grace is dangerous. It creates room for sin. What if people sin? What if they are immodest? What if people lust? Well, I would encourage you to rest in the fact that God knows these things are happening in the church, and you are one the prime violators. But he runs the world and the church. One day Jesus will return, we will be glorified and immodesty will be a concern of the past. Until then, by grace, through faith, mind your business.

Modesty Pt 1: Sheathe Your Weapons!

As I continue to follow up on the gender sermon series, I’d like to address modesty. This week I will address the question of how to think through your own modesty. Next week, how to think through others’ modesty.

First then, how to think through your own modesty. Let me begin by saying that modesty is not merely a female issue. Certainly men need to be conscious of they wield their sexuality in society. Historically and biblically, however, the emphasis has been on female modesty. I believe this is because this issue hits near to one of the fundamental differences between men and women. As with all subjects, there are certainly exceptions to the rule, but they are just that, exceptions.

In general, because of the way that men and women are physically designed and how they sexually relate, men tend to embrace physical prowess and strength as a way to express sexuality, and women tend to embrace physical beauty as a way to express sexuality. Practically, this means that when men and women are not securely rooted in their identity in Christ, men will tend to abuse their physical strength in an attempt to manipulate relationships, and women will seek to do the same with beauty.

When we are not secure in our intimacy with Christ, insecurity in human relationships sets in. And when people are insecure, they will reach for ways to wield power in relationships. What do we reach for to wield power? Our closest weapons.  For men this is physical strength, for women it is beauty. When a woman is insecure, beauty often becomes a weapon.

In 1st Peter 3:1-7, Peter addresses this dynamic.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

In this passage, we have a husband and a wife, called into a biblical balance of power: both submitted to Christ, the wife submitted to the husband, and the husband loving the wife. This is what they are called to, but it is not how they are living. The husband is not obeying the word and apparently is given over to attempting to manipulate the relationship through strength. This is why Peter encourages her not to be frightened and encourages him to be gentle with the weaker vessel. He is encouraging him to sheathe his weapon.

Likewise the woman is called to sheathe her weapon. Because the relationship is not rooted in the hope of Christ, and the husband is being frightening, she is attempting to manipulate him into cooperation or submission by wielding her sexual beauty as a weapon. Peter encourages her to sheathe her sexual weapon, and to hope in God, seeking to win her husband not through sexual manipulation, but rather by adorning herself with a godly spirit.

So how does this inform how to think through your own modesty? There is much more to say that can be covered here, but let me begin by saying that I believe the key approach to modesty is not to begin by looking at what you wearing physically, but rather by looking at what you are wearing spiritually. Attempting to establish a dress code for the church is problematic on two fronts. First of all, it is a plunge, not a slippery slope, directly into legalism (more on this next week). Second of all, it completely ignores the way that we are to seek holiness, not by cleaning the outside of the cup, but the inside. Or, rather, to remember that Christ has cleansed the inside of our cups.

So, very practically, what to do? Women, before you get dressed, remember you are already dressed. Christ has dressed you in his righteousness. You have been adopted by God and are co-heirs with your brothers in the Kingdom. You need not fear anything that is frightening. God is your hope. He has adorned you as his bride and is fixing all of his wisdom and power to present you in splendor. Unimaginable beauty is yours. Remind yourself of this every morning. Remind yourself of this as you shop. Sheathe your sexual weapon. Then get dressed.

 

Stay at Home, Moms? Pt 3

This will be the final installment on the SAHM issue, though I will continue to do a few more entries following up on the gender series.

Having argued that is is not a biblical command for women in general, and mothers in particular, to stay at home, though it very well might be sin, I would like to ask the question, "What about stay at home dads?"

If it is a matter of Christian liberty whether or not a woman stays at home, does the same go for men? Can she work and he stay home?

I would say two things; I don't think it is sin, but I would not recommend it in general.

There are certainly cases where I could see this being helpful, but I would not begin there. I would recommend that if the family feels led to have one parent stay home, outside of some extenuating circumstances, it should be the woman. 

Why? There a handful of principles that cause me to lean this way. Please do not read any of these as though each were a "nail in the coffin" argument. These are a number of factors that, when taken together, lead me to not recommend the man stay home.

First of all, there is the biological factor. Women are physically designed to develop babies in their bodies, birth them, and nurse them. Historically, this has been a strong determinant for women to stay home, particularly in days when the physical demands of pregnancy were not able to be mitigated with technology and medicine. Months of pregnancy, traumatic births, and years of nursing, tethered women to their children and the home. Certainly, much has changed in the past century and many of these challenges have been alleviated. Pregnancies and births are much safer, and nursing is not even necessary. Nonetheless, the biological factor has not been completely erased. Feminism has known this and therefore has been a strong proponent of abortion being legal. Why? Because they see that women's biology limits their mobility and economic freedom. Get rid of the baby, get rid of the chains.

Second of all, there is the temperament factor, which I believe is at least partly tied to the biological factor. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but experience has taught me that women are more nurturing, particularly with small children. Why is it that there is an astronomically higher number of single moms than single dads? Because women are far less prone to neglect the child they have carried. They are knit together in a special way, and this knitting provides a foundation for nurture that, in most cases, men cannot match. Again, you can find very nurturing men, and women who are horrible to their kids, but I am talking about general principles.

Last of all, there is the spiritual factor. I argued in the gender series that, according to complementarian theology, it is the role of the man to initiate flourishing through loving leadership, and the role of the woman to maximize flourishing through loving submission. As a leader, it is the responsibility of the man to carry the burden of risk. The reality is that the world is a dangerous place. Certainly the west is safer than most of the world has historically been, but the dangers are not gone. Historically, this has been another reason women tended to be more homeward oriented. Men don't stay home while the women head to the front lines. You may think I am making the world out to be more dangerous than it is, but I would challenge you to read statistics about violence, rape, trafficking, etc.. Furthermore, with the advance of globalization, multiculturalism, and the decentralization of warfare, I would argue that the Pax Americana is eroding. Again, I am not saying that because of the danger of the world, a woman should never leave the house. I am saying that given these factors all weighed together, I would lean away from the man being the stay at home parent, and would strongly encourage the woman to fill that role.

Feminists look at the historical tendency for the woman to fill the stay at home role and cry "patriarchy, control, abuse"! I look at the situation and chalk it up to wisdom. Man certainly has sin, but the entire image of God has not been erased. There are plenty of broad cultural tendencies that exist, not because of distortion and abuse, but because of common grace. I believe that cultures throughout time have intuited the factors I have outlined above. And I believe that to try to reverse the trend would not lead to human flourishing, but rather create unnatural and unhelpful patterns.

I would repeat, there are always exceptions to the rule, and perhaps you are in a situation that requires exception. God bless you, I mean no offense. 

Stay at Home, Moms? Pt 2

In last week’s post, I addressed the question of whether or not it is sin for a woman to have a job outside the home. The short answer is no, it is not sin. Not necessarily. But it may be.

In fact it may be sin for a woman to stay home with her kids.

To understand why either of these may be the case, we need to understand the concept of Christian liberty. Now, there may be contexts where the phrase “Christian liberty” is used differently than I will use it here, but I will explain my experience and understanding of it.

Christian liberty is the concept that where the law of God is unclear or silent, the Christian has the liberty to act in accordance with her conscience along with the exercise of faith. For example, the Bible does not give clear commands on whether a Christian should attend a gay wedding, smoke cigarettes, vote, or serve in the Rkids ministry. None of these issues are clearly right or wrong, and therefore the Christian has the liberty to determine what, by faith, is right for them.

A relevant text is Rom 14:1-12

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master[a] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both, of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall confess[b] to God.”

12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

(It is important to note that Paul NEVER speaks this way when addressing issues that are clearly sin, like adultery, sexual immorality, or lying. Christian liberty is not liberty to sin, it is liberty to participate in or abstain from behaviors that are NOT essentially sinful.)

 In this passage, Paul is addressing an issue of Christian liberty; whether or not someone eats meat (vs 2). He states is that it is a matter of conscience (vs 4, 12), a conscience that is concerned with honoring the Lord (vs 6).

Related to this issue of the conscience honoring God, Paul declares in vs 23:

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

I believe the main thrust of the argument here is that the Christian is to be making her decisions within the context of faithful interaction with God, His word, his gospel, and her position as his child. As Paul says elsewhere:

1 Cor 10:23 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

So what does this have to do with SAHMs? Well, last week I argued that it is not necessarily sin to work outside of the home. It is an issue of Christian liberty. So is the issue of staying home. You may work. You may stay home. Either decision may or not be sin. The issue turns on whether or not the decision is being made from faith.

Are you staying home because you have interacted with God, by faith, considered his desires for you and your family, your responsibilities, your identity in Christ, his care and love for you? Have you sought godly counsel from your husband, your elders, and your trusted Christian friends? Or are you staying home because you fear the world, because it’s what others expect, because you think it will be easier, because you are going to save your kids, because you think it’s what “real” Christian mothers do, and you certainly aren’t going to be like those “others”? Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Likewise, are you working outside of the home because you have interacted with God, by faith, considered his desires for you and your family, your responsibilities, your identity in Christ, his care and love for you? Have you sought godly counsel from your husband, your elders, and your trusted Christian friends? Or are you headed into the workplace because you despise the role of a mother, because you don’t see the glory in it, because you are seeking an identity in the eyes of men (or women), because you fear not having money, because you won’t be like “those” who you esteem as fearful? Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Woman, engage with God on this issue. Remind yourself of your primary identity in Christ. Feed off of that. Enjoy the freedom and position that has been granted to you as an heir of the kingdom. Fear no man or woman. Seek godly counsel, especially from your spouse. Then, in Christian liberty, decide and reassess as time goes by.

And I would remind you of one more thing. I assume that most of our decisions are made from a mix of faith and sin. Are you sinning by being a stay-at-home mom? Probably. Are you sinning by going to work? Probably. Our ultimate hope is not the purity of our faith and intentions, but the purity and faithfulness of our gracious and loving Father. That is another type of Christian liberty, or freedom; freedom from condemnation. Sister, you have been forgiven, and empowered by the Spirit to walk in increasing holiness, by grace through faith.

Stay at Home, Moms? Pt 1

In light of our recent series on gender, there are a few relevant issues that did not make it into the series that would like to address over the next several weeks. If I don't address something you would like me to address, let me know.

The questions for today: According to the Bible, is it sin for women to work outside the home?

In short, my answer is, "no". I do not believe that according to the Bible, it is sin for women to work outside the home

If we want to know what the Bible says about this, the best thing to do is, like, actually look at what the Bible says about this and stuff.

One of the most relevant texts is Titus 2:4-5

… train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

The key phrase, working at home is often taken to be a clear command for women to be stay at home moms.

A related text is 1 Tim 5:11-14

As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.

Here, again is an exhortation for women to have children and manage their homes.

So why would I say I don’t believe the Bible teaches that women should be stay at home moms? Can't I read?

I think I can. Let's learn a little about Bible interpretation.

There is a lot that goes into learning how to interpret the Bible correctly, including the relationship between the Old Testament and the New and the relationship of Christ to all the Scriptures. This is all too much to cover here. But one element of interpretation we can cover here is the principle that "scripture interprets scripture". 

This principle teaches, first of all, that there is a unity in Scripture, that it is truly breathed out by God, and therefore will not contradict itself. Because that is the case, when studying a particular passage or subject, it is wise to look for other relevant passages that can shed light on the subject and bring greater clarity.

So, what are the other relevant passages regarding the issue of stay at home moms?

Proverbs 31 comes to mind.

 An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.

She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.

She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.

She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household

and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it;

with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength

and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.

Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff,

and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor

and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household,

for all her household are clothed in scarlet.  She makes bed coverings for herself;

her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates

when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them;

she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing,

and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom,

and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household

and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed;

her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently,

but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands,

and let her works praise her in the gates. 

Here is a woman that is not idle, seeking the flourishing of those in her care, through hard work inside and outside the home. She is purchasing goods and fields, going to the marketplace, making a profit. She is an industrious and creative entrepreneur. Her industry certainly includes activities that are home-based, but not exclusively. One could imagine a proverb written about the industrious man, doing much of the same work; buying and selling in the marketplace, working inside the home. After all, who would encourage a man to work all day outside the home, and then just come home and sit in front of the television? 

So, do these Scriptures contradict one another? No. They cannot. All Scripture is breathed out by God. So how do we reconcile these passages?

I believe that the strength of the praise of the woman in Proverbs 31 makes it clear that her industrious nature outside of the home is not to be looked upon with suspicion. But, what do I make of the Titus and Timothy passages?

Paul is addressing the issue of idleness. It appears that in the contexts he is writing to there are some women who are idle when they are home. In the Timothy passage, the church has a program where they provide financial support to older widows who cannot provide for themselves. Their husbands have passed and it appears there are not opportunities for them to earn a living. Paul says that in the case of younger widows it would not be wise to support them in this way, because they still have industrious years ahead of them. The encouragement for them is to build a life; get married, have kids, manage a home (which, like the Proverbs 31 woman, could include entrepreneurial work outside the home). 

Be careful not to make the Bible say more than it does. I would say it would be safe to assume that when Paul exhorts a woman to manage her home, he has the rest of the Bible in mind, including Proverbs 31. Don't twist Paul's words. He said, "manage your home". He did not say, "stay at home".

Regarding the Titus passage, I would make a similar argument. Paul is addressing idleness. The point that Paul is driving home is that we have been saved by grace unto fruitful labor for the kingdom in all spheres of life. At work. At home. 

So, no, I don't believe it is sin for a woman to have a job outside the home. Not necessarily. But it may be. Find out why next week.