All posts from "May 2012"May 29, 2012
I’m getting more than I bargained for—but I’m learning even that seems to be okay.
My husband and I joined an established group, and in five months we’ve helped birth a new group (the apprentice leader left the group to start a new group of his own), thrown a housewarming party for a previously homeless woman, and attended a baby shower for a refugee family. On top of that, several of us served together at a homeless shelter during our church-wide community service day. We got to know one another at a deeper level as we served burgers and talked with the residents.
The people in our group live missional lives. They look for opportunities to bless and serve people around them. They’re extremely generous with their possessions, time, and money. They are incredibly hospitable—not just opening their homes, but also opening their hearts. Even the leader shares authentically, sharing vulnerably about his life and struggles. My husband and I have been welcomed with open arms, and it feels good to have a place to belong. Even more, though, it feels good to have a place to make a difference.
With each experience, though, I’ve been challenged. I thought I was generous, but then I saw how generous one couple is with their possessions, and I realized how attached I get to my things. I thought I was comfortable with uncomfortable situations until I had to stand in a tiny overheated apartment with no furniture for the housewarming party. I’ll admit that part of me wondered why we hadn’t gathered somewhere with more space. And I’ve always thought I was flexible. But when the baby shower got delayed a few hours, and we had to sit and wait for it to begin, I realized how much I like schedules.
As I’ve recognized these growth-potential areas, I’ve wrestled over them with God. I’ve asked him to help me remain in the discomfort, allowing him to transform me. And I’ve seen him work. I’ve learned to take a breath, remember that presence can really minister to people, and share my feelings honestly with God. In the past I’d try to bear through an awkward situation and later talk to God about it. Now I’m learning to bring those feelings and anxieties to him in the midst of the situation, asking him to give me new perspective and allowing him to use the situation to grow me.
The best part of these learning experiences, though, is that I’m not in them alone. Instead, we’re all in them together. We all have felt discomfort at different things we’ve experienced, and we’re learning to bring those things to God and ask why it caused us discomfort. And when we debrief in our group meetings after these experiences, I’m reminded that God is growing each of us. As we grow, we have the support and encouragement of the other group members, and we have comfort in knowing we’ve experienced these things together.
I now understand in a new way why Christians are supposed to live life in community. It’s easy to say you’re generous or flexible or kind if you don’t actually interact with other people! When we gather together, we have the incredible opportunity to both encourage and exhort our Christian brothers and sisters. In community we have the opportunity to see truth and love interwoven beautifully.
What does this mean for us when moms across the country start reading erotic fiction?
It sounds like what it is: soft-core, “safe” porn for suburban mothers and bored New York housewives alike. The culprit of this prototype is the creation of E. L. James’ Twilight-based fan-fiction trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a New York Times #1 bestselling story about a young, sadomasochistic billionaire, Christian Grey, who hires a recent college graduate, Anastasia Steele, to work for him. The catch? She has to give him complete control of her life, including (and especially) sexually. This becomes more complicated when the reader finds out that Grey has intensely painful sexual preferences, which find their roots in abuse he suffered as a child.
These books explore sexual dominance, BDSM (bondage, discipline/dominance, sadism, masochism), and kink in a way that leaves feminists all over the world scratching their heads, wondering how the women’s rights movement of our foremothers has led to women across the United States running out to buy books that use the term, “Red Room of Pain.”
The market for Fifty Shades of Grey skyrocketed with the sales of Kindles and Nooks. Women are able to download and read these types of books in privacy.
What troubles me most deeply about this recent development is that the women who are reading this book are often doing so in line at the grocery store, at the gym, or in the elementary school carpool pickup line. The primary demographic is mothers who are over 30 years of age—women who only put down their bondage erotica “literature” because they need to do things like tuck their children into bed, or make them an afterschool snack. They’re living the lives they are “required” to live while fantasizing about something completely different—something they’d never want for their daughters or friends, but something they themselves find enthralling.
Last week a friend informed me that she’d read the entire trilogy—twice. She’s a sweet, loving mother of three.
“And just so you know,” she informed me, “Christian feels bad about what he does to Anastasia, but he can’t help it. He even gives her healing creams for her cuts and welts. He’s so tortured. But they’re in love.”
My stomach churned.
While I love my friend, I find myself fearful for her and the millions of American women who feel the need to fantasize about a different story from their own in order to live out their own stories happily. They’re mentally substituting a story of pain and abuse, told in an attractive way, for the marriage relationship that God created for them. I can’t see this leading anywhere good.
A recent Newsweek article discussing this recent cultural phenomenon explains, “[There is] something more basically liberating about being overcome or overpowered. The thrill here is irrational, untouched by who one is in life, immune to the critical or sensible voice, the fine education, or good job. . . . [There is a] continuing investment in this fantasy, the residual desire to be controlled or dominated in the romantic sphere.”
I see a lot of truth in this statement.
Humans are constantly looking for something to worship—to idolize. Without a life based in Christ, perversions like sadomasochism can become outlets for this worship. It causes women to contemplate what it would be like to worship men—to give them complete control, to trust them, to let them do anything, because of the intense love they feel.
But the crack in this illusion is this: The idolization of a man is only possible if that man is worthy of worship. Although that man doesn’t exist in real life, the development of the female fantasy continues to grow.
As women, we battled against pornography, calling it degrading, protesting it as setting impossible standards for real women. We’ve witnessed marriages torn apart because of a husband’s online addiction. But suddenly the tables have turned, and instead of being concerned, women are slapping each other on the backs, applauding one another for their sexual independence. Instead of dealing with the flaws in their actual marriages, women are delving into fantasy as an escape. And isn’t that what it’s all about these days, anyways?
The demographic for these books means something. It’s no fluke that these books are being read most widely among married, child-rearing women. Women are struggling with a supreme feeling of emptiness these days. They are successful, financially savvy, family-oriented and well educated—but they’re trying more desperately than ever to fill the void that only Christ can fill. This turn toward an outright disregard for traditional morality is jarring at first. But as odd as it may seem, I’m actually relieved that women are no longer trying to hide behind the image of their “innate moral goodness.” Once the charade ends, we as Christians are reminded that women need Jesus just as much as their male counterparts.
The grace of Christ is greater than any social phenomenon, and more comforting than any overwhelming void. Maybe this best-seller is just the kick in the pants we need to remember that we cannot be selfish with the gospel. We have to share it, because without Christ, our friends are, first and foremost, completely lost.
What do you think?
Ashley Moore is the editorial coordinator for Kyria.com and Discipleship Resources for Christianity Today. You can view her blog, where she writes and rants about God and life, here.
Staff and readers weigh in.
We asked staff and advisers from Christianity Today’s discipleship resources to share some of the wisdom their fathers have given them through the years.
“My blue-collar dad wasn’t a man of eloquent speech, to say the least. But he always got his point across. He often told my older brother and me, ‘Be good and work hard.’ He lived those words, and he died saying them, too. As my brother and I stood at his bedside, just before he passed away, Dad asked with a raspy gasp, ‘What did I always tell you boys?’ Without missing a beat, my older brother responded, ‘Be good and work hard.’ My dad, too incoherent even to understand what my brother had said, answered his own question, ‘Be good and work hard.’ He died shortly thereafter.”—Chris Lutes, Men of Integrity
“Be honest, even if it costs you both money and pride.”—JoHannah Reardon, ChristianBibleStudies.com
“My dad always used to tell me, ‘You’re a sinner like your Daddy.’ This used to frustrate me because he’d remind me of this while telling me I needed to apologize and ask forgiveness for something. But ultimately it also taught me that everyone makes mistakes; everyone sins. We all have things we need to repent for, and we all need to be thankful for God’s forgiveness.”—Sloan Skinner, SmallGroups.com
“Seek first the kingdom of God. You might not want to all the time, and you might want to chase after your own wants instead, but God knows your needs better than you ever will. He wants to meet those needs. Seek him first...I heart my dad.”—Ashley Moore, Kyria.com
“Do your best and then be done with it.” When I was younger, I was ruled by perfectionism and anxiety, particularly with regard to schoolwork. This was my dad’s gentle way of encouraging me to keep work in proper perspective.—Jonathan Sprowl, Men of Integrity
“I’m most grateful for what I learned about finances from my dad. Growing up I perceived him to be cheap, but now I see how his frugality and his words of wisdom around finances helped me to budget effectively, save and spend wisely, give generously, and stay away from credit card debt that so many of peers have fallen into.”—Cory Whitehead, Christianity Today
“I hated it growing up, but now I understand, ‘Soldier on.’”—Lesa Engelthaler, Writer
Here are some responses from our readers that were shared on Facebook.
“You can fall in love with anyone if you hang around them long enough . . . so be careful who you hang around with.”—Kelly
“Don’t sleep in on Saturday if you have to take your car in for service. Be the first one there and you will not have to waste your whole day.”—Kris
“Listen to your mother.”—Jane
“The past is the past. Be done with it. Focus on today!”—Robin
“Don’t sweat the small stuff!”—Mendy
Facing the unique challenges in the death of a marriage
When her world fell apart, the rest of ours kept moving on.
There’s no funeral for the death of a marriage, no “obituary” in which Lori can publicly acknowledge all the pain she’d privately carried and dealt with for years in a difficult marriage, no “shower” of gifts to restock her home now that half of her possessions have left with her husband.
In a day, Lori’s life was redefined. She moved from wife to single-mom status. And now she’s supposed to just pick up and continue with life in this new, strange normal.
The quiet, yet searingly painful “normalcy” of a divorce is just one of its many challenges.
There are the holidays to navigate. There’s child custody to arrange. The ex-in-law relationships to redefine. The friends who aren’t sure how to act, what to say, or which “side” to pick. There’s also the loneliness. The regret. The bitterness. And the mourning.
“I’ve been surprised by how many things I keep having to mourn the loss of,” another recently divorced friend, “Sarah,” told me. “I’ll be having a great day, when suddenly a thought or a memory pops up and I’m overwhelmed with feelings of extreme loss—loss of my family; loss of a 50th anniversary party, loss of my kids having a dad at home, loss of sitting by my husband’s side at my children’s weddings someday.”
How can someone survive the upheaval of a life? The shattering of dreams? Though a relationship with God certainly doesn’t make it all better or whitewash divorce’s painful realities, it can be a life-giving constant to keep one afloat through the storms. “I can think of no other life experience that has brought me closer to God than my divorce,” Lori explains. “I have never been so completely and utterly dependent on him. He has blessed me and provided for me in more ways than I could have asked or imagined. So many times I would cry out to him in my despair—and he would soothe and comfort me.”
Similarly, for Sarah the darkness of divorce has brought the surprising blessing of a flourishing intimacy with God. “God has somehow turned what was ugly and destructive into something beautiful in my life—my relationship with God has never been stronger than it is now,” Sarah explains. “God has shown me daily that he will never leave me, and that he is protecting me and my kids. He leads me, listens to my whining and questions, and answers my prayers vividly. His faithfulness is truly never-ending.”
No matter where you are in the divorce recovery process—whether you’re raw with fresh pain and the shock of it all, or if you’ve navigated through several years and are moving forward—there are unique challenges you’ll face, and also unique spiritual opportunities. The opportunity to courageously choose forgiveness over bitterness. The opportunity to trust God more deeply and depend on him more than you ever needed to before. The opportunity to be miraculously content in the present and future he has for you, even if it’s different from what you’d envisioned years ago.
If you’re wading through divorce-recovery, like Lori and Sarah, you can cling to God during this time. You can experience him as the true soul-light in your current darkness, and as the ultimate companion who will never leave you or forsake you.
Kelli B. Trujillo is an author and contributing editor for Kyria.com. She and her husband, along with their three children, live in Indianapolis.
Figuring out our responsibility to care for and serve others
It’s not the jealousy or the murder that I connect with; rather it’s that self-justifying question he tosses back to God that jumps off the page and often echoes in my own thoughts: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9, NIV).
Cain’s motivations in this defiant interchange with the Almighty are as complicated as any twisting and turning modern-day crime novel.
When I have this attitude, on the other hand, my motivation is pretty simple: I’m aiming to justify a self-focused life.
Let me be honest: There are plenty of days when just “keeping” my own life running—and “keeping” my beloved family—are about all I feel I can handle!
And yet, though God doesn’t directly answer Cain’s question, God does provide you and me with an answer that resonates throughout the entire Bible: yes. From laws about caring for strangers and aliens in the Pentateuch (Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34) to strident calls for justice for the vulnerable in the Prophets (Isaiah 58; Amos 5; Micah 6:8); to Jesus’ challenge to love our neighbors—even our enemies—as we love ourselves (Matthew 5:43–48; Luke 10:25–37; to Paul’s teachings about hospitality (Romans 12:10–13); to John’s vision of the just, peaceful kingdom of God come to earth (Revelation 21), the answer is yes, yes, yes.
I am called to be my brother’s . . . my neighbor’s . . . even my enemy’s keeper.
God invites us to love, stand up for, and kneel down in humility to serve others in our lives. And that call challenges us to step out of tight-knit circles of loved ones and out of our comfortable routines to see life through the lens of the kingdom.
Does this mean God wants you or me to serve in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen (as often comes to mind for me when I hear the word service)? Perhaps yes. But also the answer may be no or not now. God may have other avenues of service in mind: ways to love, sacrifice, extend compassion, and minister that are incorporated into our everyday lives. In other words, service may not be so much about clearing off a space on the calendar as it is clearing out an open, welcoming space in our hearts.
Who is your “brother”? Who is your “neighbor”? . . . Will you keep? Will you love? Will you serve?
Should four of the Ten Commandments be eliminated?
“If indeed this issue is not about God, why wouldn’t it make sense for Giles County to say, ‘Let’s go back and just post the bottom six?’” Urbanski asked during a motions hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke. “But if it’s really about God, then they wouldn’t be willing to do that.”
Removing the Ten Commandments from schools and other public buildings is nothing new. Courts have only allowed them to remain under very limited circumstances, so the precedence is set. But the press loves to bring it to the fore because it makes great headlines. Robert Knight, of the Washington Times, began his article, “Taking a chisel to the Ten Commandments” (subtitled: Obama judge wants to delete the four rules that mention God) by stating, “God Almighty needs an editor, according to a federal judge in Virginia.” Pretty inflammatory beginning!
Of course, the judge wasn’t really suggesting we remove the first four commandments—it was just an illustration to make his point that it was a religious display and not a merely secular one. And I find his argument convincing—public reaction has certainly confirmed that this is a religious issue. So if that’s the determining factor, I have to admit the judge is right.
So what recourse does this leave for Christians as we live in a society that wants to be completely secular? We look at those around us as an unreached people group. We assume they know nothing about Christ and look for creative ways to introduce him. Rather than clinging to a wish that we were still a mostly Christian population, we instead must understand that we are now on a foreign mission field. We see those around us who need Christ. We study them, seek to understand them, and reach out to them, hoping and praying we can communicate who Christ is so that they can know him too.
As to eliminating the first four commandments? I’m perversely pleased the judge knew that they had to do with God. Most people wouldn’t. Maybe, just maybe, this whole discussion will make some people dust off their Bibles or at least Google the Ten Commandments to read them. And ultimately, it really doesn’t matter what the rest of the world does, but we need to cling to those commandments like glue so that others can see them lived out. We need to make sure we have no other god but the true God, forsake idols (or anything we put before him), make sure we don’t misuse God’s name, and practice a Sabbath to honor him.
What do you think?
Too often I forget that the kingdom of God starts here and now, among people I don’t actually like that much.
I now spend most of my time grounded in reality, but when my right brain is left to its own devices, I still enjoy indulging my idealism and constructing ideas, visions, and plans that don’t actually stand much of a chance in the real world.
Because of this thing called reality, like a lot of idealists, I actually spend a lot of my time feeling cynical. It’s one of the hazards of being an idealist. Ideals are fragile in a world like this one—so when reality comes crashing through another of my pretty glass walls, it’s hard to keep my spirits up while I’m cleaning up the shards.
While it’s easy to dismiss failed experiments like Prohibition and Biosphere 2, I have to admit that without the benefit of history, I probably would have thought they were pretty good ideas. Also, communes? Yeah, great idea. Christian communities, where everyone works together on a farm and shares everything in common? I love the idea.
But when I put more thought into these ideas in the light of reality, I realize I’m the last person who should be indulging such dreams. Because I have way too many problems with other people. Sadly, it’s true.
I feel generous toward others when I’m not sitting in the same room with them. When I think about what heaven will be like, I love the idea of people from every point on the globe, and every point in history, gathering before Almighty God and falling in awe before him. Standing and singing our hearts out. Holding hands and smiling at one another, welcoming one another to the kingdom for which we have all longed—and that dramatically blows away all our imaginary and idealistic dreams of what it would be like. I am inspired by such a vision, and one of the things I most look forward to is the change in heart that I’m expecting God to work in me, finally overcoming my hang-ups that keep me from extending the kind of emotional generosity to others that, in an ideal world, I would like to give.
While I love the idea of people from all over the world, and all throughout history, praising God together in heaven, I tend to forget that this beautiful image of the kingdom of God starts here and now, among people I don’t actually like that much. When I experience a small taste of this now, a gathering of people in the kingdom of God, brought together by our mutual love for him, my first reaction is usually not one of generosity. Or even enjoyment. It’s something closer to tolerance at best, aversion at worst.
I recently flew to another state for a women’s conference and plopped myself down in a crowd of women from another region of the country, where I felt a little out of place. I had never been to that city before, and while still a home-country experience, the local culture was different from what I was used to.
I felt out of place for a few other reasons too. Because I was there in a professional capacity, I dressed up a little more than most of the people in the audience. The event itself was not quite what I would have chosen to do with my weekend if I’d been on my own. And I wasn’t at the center of the target audience for the event. If I’d been a spy at a convention of bad guys (or bad ladies, I guess it would be), they would have caught and executed me for sure because my clothes, my accent, my hair were all wrong. Basically, I didn’t blend well. I felt uncomfortable, focused on the ways the people around me were different. And I’m ashamed to admit, I was feeling snobby about the whole thing.
Then suddenly, like that awful brain-charging zap you get when you accidentally jab a fork into your metal filling, God challenged my mindset. Thousands of women stood and raised their voices and their hands in worship. And God reminded me that I’d better get used to this feeling—this is the kingdom of God.
This was a very small reach for me—a gathering of Christian women who speak the same language with a different accent and might spend their weekends a little differently. Big deal. If I can’t find joy in common spirit with people who live in another state, how will I find it with people who live on the other side of the world, who will one day join me in heaven? I like the idea of people from all over the world praising God together, yet I can’t enjoy praising him with people I found a two-hour plane ride away?
Some of these women were awkward, some hurting, some struggling, some annoying. I saw women with babies, some with their own aging moms, women of different races and age groups and socio-economic status. Women who would like me if they knew me, and women who definitely wouldn’t. Some who had walked with Jesus for 60 years, and some who might be on the cusp of meeting him that night for the first time.
God is here, I realized. How many stories of God’s mind-blowing, personal work were in that arena? Thousands of women were praising God out of the joy those ongoing stories wrote on their hearts. That is the kingdom of God on this earth, and thank God I don’t get to choose who’s in and who’s out. Thank God his heart and his vision are much bigger than mine.
The beauty of the kingdom of God is in his generous grace and his outrageous capacity for redemption. My heart-stirring image of the kingdom of God starts here and now, and my change of heart can start here and now too.
Amy Simpson is managing editor of Gifted for Leadership, a freelance writer, and author of numerous resources for Christian ministry, including Into the Word: How to Get the Most from Your Bible (NavPress). www.AmySimpsonOnline.com
Looking for authentic spiritual friends
In Facebook-land, as in real life, it can be difficult to pin down what a friend really is. Among my Facebook “friends” are summer camp buddies, elementary-school playground pals, college gospel choir friends, former and current coworkers, and even a few people I honestly don’t like very much (but who I didn’t have the heart to reject when they “friended” me!). Yet in the crowd of all these “friends,” there are only a few real soul sisters.
There are friends...and then there are friends: the women in our lives who walk with us on our spiritual journey and help us grow closer to Christ.
Spiritual friendship can take many different forms, such as mentoring, prayer partnership, spiritual direction, accountability pairs, or a small group. Outside of these structured types of friendship, a spiritual friend could simply be the person you naturally go to with prayer requests, the one you love to stand next to and sing along with during a worship service, the person you tag along with on service projects or missions trips, or the friend whose emails you can’t wait to read because of her insights about God’s activity in your life.
Close and intimate friendship can feel elusive for many of us, even if Facebook tells us we’ve got a whopping 397 friends! While it can take focus and effort, authentic and intimate spiritual friendship is worth cultivating and celebrating.
Who have been the true spiritual friends in your life? How has God used those relationships to draw you closer to him? How have you overcome the challenges and risks that can get in the way of deepening a friendship?