Thoughts on Convictions – 3

 

In the first post in this series I explained that while the Bible speaks clearly about how we should live, there is often freedom to apply its commands in various ways. In these second two posts I hope to give some examples of how this works. These ideas can be applied to many different biblical commands, but my intent here is to examine some of the bigger issues in conservative Christianity.

Emotional Purity.
“Emotional purity” is a term often found alongside discussions of guarding your heart. It takes the clear commands of the Bible for physical purity a few steps farther. This isn’t necessarily wrong, especially as Jesus Himself said that lusting after a woman is the same sin as adultery.
However, as brought up in the Botkin’s “It’s (Not That) Complicated” the term emotional purity is one we’ve made up instead of calling things sin. It can help us to categorize certain sins and explain how purity is ultimately about the heart, but I feel that it often miscategorizes the problem and thus makes fighting for purity more difficult.
Lusting after a man or a woman isn’t wrong primarily because of your or their future spouse, as emotional purity proponents often make it to be. It’s about dishonoring God, specifically in His design for marriage, just like physical purity is. From what I have studied, the ideas behind emotional purity are wisdom and application of principles of sin and selfishness more than scripture pointing to a need to be emotionally pure.

There are a lot of other terms that are thrown around, like talking about “giving away pieces of your heart.” But we don’t lose parts of our heart or give sections of it to this person or that person. We do, however, form attachments, and sometimes those attachments are hard to break and can cause difficulties and pain.
I’ve also found that it’s easy to become so focused on being “pure” and careful with our thoughts and actions that our attention is on that and not on God and loving one another. Being pure is not a biblical focus of our relationships, especially when all we can think about is not thinking about that girl or whether or not what we did could have come across as flirtatious. There’s a time for those thoughts. They just shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be the commands God has given to serve, encourage, and love one another.
And yes, I did just say love one another. The commands of God to love one another aren’t just girl-girl and guy-guy. They’re for all believers. That doesn’t mean you can excuse applying them to dashing Johnny and not to the elderly woman or little boy. It means you help and share your life with all of them, though it will look different for them all. Loving the opposite gender may sometimes mean holding back and not saying or doing certain things to help them keep Christ the focus. But there are also times and places to share something more personal to encourage someone, even of the opposite gender. In fact, most of the time, we can and should engage in conversation that builds up with everyone – not avoiding the opposite gender but interacting with them to encourage and build them up. This will probably look different in same-gender company than in mixed, however, mostly because it’s hard to know another person’s heart and when too much time together may becoming a distraction for either guy or girl.

One final term before we move onto courtship: guard your heart. I saved this for last, because I do believe it to be a biblical phrase. However, we often apply it just to male/female relationships and not to all of life! When “guard your heart” is used in Proverbs, it’s not “guard your heart when around women,” but “guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” All of our affections need guarding and checking to bring them in line with honoring God! Our hearts stray to think too highly of hobbies, jobs, possessions, and, yes, the handsome new genius at church.

 

Courtship
                Courtship is another term that gets thrown around a lot, often without clear definition, although most people have some idea in their mind of what it is. To some, courtship is practically arranged marriage. To others, it is a phase that assumes you will get married unless something comes up (almost a pre-engagement). To others it is a time of seeking God and the counsel of others to determine whether or not you should marry.

We see courtship as a way to consider the possibility of marriage in a way that keeps the focus on God and not on romance. We also think that Proverbs stresses the importance of having wise counsel, and so our parents, other older adults, and friends who knew us well were involved in our relationship. We did not assume we were going to get married but knew it was a possibility if after months of talking and praying it seemed wise and desirable. One person described the pre-marriage relationship as “more than friends, less than lovers.”
Courtship is not seeking a sign from God, but weighing character and godliness, equal yoking, and confirming interest. Emotions DO play a part! In all of life, emotions should not control us but they should not be totally disregarded, either! There may or may not be any physical contact. We chose not to have any but that doesn’t mean it’s not “courtship” if there is physical contact.
Courtship does not mean there will be no heart break. The goal isn’t no pain or that we’ll have the best marriage, but to live in a way that brings God glory. The success of a courtship isn’t measured by marriage, but by a conclusion of whether or not marriage is wise being reached in a godly way.
We don’t see it as the only way to do godly guy-girl relationships. It was the best course for us, and a course we felt was built on biblical wisdom. But we believe that someone else can take that same wisdom of having counselors, honoring one another, and taking marriage seriously and apply it differently and still be totally honoring to God.
                However, there are areas that the ultra-conservatives get right and our culture just has an issue with. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us when we’re following Christ. We will stand out, and people won’t understand what we do or why we do it, no matter how much we explain it. But that said, we shouldn’t be different for the sake of being different, but because we’re obeying God.

An example of Christians “just being different” from our culture is that our culture says that believing/thinking same way as your parents is immature or that you’ve been brainwashed. But Proverbs makes it clear that listening to your parents is wise![1] Likewise, giving your heart to your father is a concept that is often used in Proverbs, but it’s not just for daughters – Solomon often wrote “my son, give me your heart!” Exactly what that means and looks like is not so clear, but I see it as a child going to his parents to share what’s on his mind and seek and accept their counsel.
                Serving others is a similar area. The idea of giving your life for someone else’s is scoffed at by our culture, but lauded in the Bible. I often hear people criticizing older daughters of large families for being stuck as a maid, etc. and while I think families should be careful to make sure their children are free to pursue their callings and interests, as Christians we can see the worth of laying one’s life down for others, exemplified by Christ, who we are to be like.

In conclusion, the Bible speaks to how we should live in every area of life. Sometimes this is in the form of very specific commands, but other times in more general teaching that we have freedom to apply in different ways as we interact with the world around us. When we take a general teaching (parents discipling their children) and turn it into a specific command beyond that (Christians must homeschool), it often leads to legalism and a lack of grace for others. Understanding this changes how we apply God’s word to our own lives, how we explain our convictions to others, and how we live in community with people who disagree.
Ultimately, however, it should be our goal to glorify God in how we live as we rest in our justification through Christ. While our lives will look different from the world around us, we should strive to be known not for being “that big homeschooling family,” but for Christ.

For further, and in many ways more important, thoughts on this subject, read Ezra’s post from last year here.

 

 

[1] I think sometimes it can go too far, and can lead to immaturity if children don’t decide convictions for themselves (even though they may be the same convictions their parents have). While we can and should refer to our parents’ wisdom, I think we have to be careful to not be constantly saying “my dad says…” but make sure it’s really what we think, too – especially in controversial convictions, otherwise people think that you don’t think for yourself and would get in trouble for taking a different position than your parents.

I’m also not sure about the use of Numbers 30 to emphasize a father’s particular authority over daughters. Yes, it says that if she makes a rash vow the father can overturn it like her husband would, which does emphasize the idea of daughters being under their fathers or their husband – but I think it is often taken a bit far, mostly because it is extrapolated beyond vows to become daughters helping their fathers with businesses, etc. in the same way they might help a husband (nothing specifically wrong with that, just the way it’s talked about or put as an across the board more-than-just-a-recommendation).

 

Thoughts on Convictions – 2

In the first post in this series I explained that while the Bible speaks clearly about how we should live, there is often freedom to apply its commands in various ways. In these second two posts I hope to give some examples of how this works. These ideas can be applied to many different biblical commands, but my intent here is to examine some of the bigger issues in conservative Christianity.

Education
                There is a clear command in Ephesians 6 for parents to raise their children in the Lord. Many take this to mean that the only form of education is homeschooling. This is supported by Deuteronomy 6, where parents are told to speak to their children of God’s laws when you rise up, when you lie down, when you walk by the way, etc.  Homeschooling certainly makes obeying those commands easier, especially with younger children who don’t yet have the discernment to sort right from wrong in a secular teaching environment.[1]
But I have seen families who homeschool neglect the spiritual teaching and even more, spiritual care of their children, and I have seen families who do not homeschool excel in raising their children in the Lord. Those families had to work extra-hard to disciple their children, but they most certainly did not neglect God’s commands in sending their children to private or public schools. Successes and failures aside, what really matters is not what worked for someone but what God says.
My understanding of those two commands (Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6) is that the place of education isn’t as important as the interaction between parents and children at home. Discipling your children and homeschooling are not synonymous. Neither is simply doing family worship at the end of a school day, whether that day was at or away from home. It is teaching your children when you rise up (but you can be getting ready for school or studies at home), when you lie down, and when you walk by the way (whether that’s the car to and from school or up and down the stairs of your house).
We see homeschooling as the easiest and most practical way of doing that and so have chosen to homeschool, but believe making that the only valid option for Christians is beyond the teaching of scripture.

                Post-high school education is often hotly debated. This is an area that I don’t believe there are commands in the Bible that directly apply. However, there is teaching on the company you keep, making wise choices, and the calling of God.

We don’t see college as the only or even best route, but one of many. What is most important is receiving what you need to fulfill any calling or passion God has given you – that might mean internship, trade school, online courses, college, or simply reading and studying this and that on your own. This goes for daughters AND sons. The aforementioned callings and passions should be shaped and checked by scripture (for example, only men are to be leaders in the church, so if a daughter aspires to that she must re-think her desires). First, one must study the Bible to determine what a Christian is to do and be, and then what a man or a woman is to do and be, and finally what they personally should do and be with the giftings God has given them. From there one can determine what the wisest route is – and that is never sitting idly at home!
Because of the above, I don’t believe a daughter must stay at home, but I do believe that after careful study of biblical commands to women, it would likely be the wisest route in order to prepare for the future. I do not see a career as being the norm for a woman; see “women working” below.

 

Youth group
                As with education, the clear command of scripture is for parents to raise their children in the Lord.
Does this mean others can’t be involved? No. But others should not take the place of parents in any way. There are definitely times when peers can gather and do peer stuff. Is it always wise? No. But should it be banned across the board or generalized as dividing the church into age-based factions? I don’t think so.

 

Women Working

“Older women… are to train the younger women to be… working at home.” Titus 2:3-5. (Other translations say “keepers of the home.” Strong’s concordance suggests that the Greek best translates into the idea of housekeeper.)
The understanding of this command does depend some on the variance in translations, as noted above. Because of that, some read this passage and believe that women may only work in and from the home. Others apply that only to a wife. And still others see the application as the keeping of the home being the woman’s first and primary duty, but once that is done she is free to work outside the home. Because of Proverbs 31, there is rarely any dispute over whether or not a woman may work from the home. The issue is not a woman generating income.

I tend to side with the latter two opinions, thus concluding that daughters have more freedom in this area (though living at home would perhaps be wisest, and if at home, any family duties must be fulfilled), and that there are times it is permissible for a wife to work outside the home.
Our view is that if a woman can still manage the home (which pre-baby could easily have been as little as 15 minutes of chores and an hour of cooking a day), working is not an issue (it should also be noted, however, that working from home can cause as much if not more of a distraction from wifely duties than working outside!). This means that it would most likely only be part time and not full-time or a long-term career. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the wisest use of her time.

Before we got married, Ezra and I decided that we were okay with me working part-time pre-kids if I wanted to. But his job is plenty to support us and we decided my time would be better used in other ways – like volunteering at the pregnancy center, writing, visiting people from church, etc. Not that it was wrong for me to work, but we saw that the better use of my time would be in these other ways that were more along the lines of how the women who were applauded in scripture spent their time. Also, just because you “can” do both on paper doesn’t mean it will play out that way. As a couple, you must consider what it really means to be a keeper at home, versus simply making dinner at the end of a long day.
I wrote about this more in 2012, and you can read that here.
I understand and have respect for more conservative views, especially considering the variance in the translation of the passage, but do not see it as an across-the-board rule.

Birth Control
                 The Bible does not say anything about birth control specifically, however, it does speak about how we should view children, the sovereignty of God, the sanctity of life, and also to issues of sin in our hearts. Some look at these teachings and conclude that using birth control is always sin, implying that if you don’t take “as many as God gives you,” then you’re not really seeing children as a blessing. Others believe we have freedom to use whatever birth control we choose as long as we still view children as a blessing. In the middle are people who would use only some forms of birth control, or only at certain times.
This is a complex issue that is often emotionally charged, personal, and has many facets.
                First, there is our mindset towards children. The Bible is clear that children are a blessing, can bring their parents great joy, and are like arrows in the hand of a warrior – “tools” for engaging our culture.
                Second, there is the sovereignty of God. God is in control of every area of our lives – which combined with point one say to me that the number and timing of children isn’t something for me to regulate. This is even more clear to me as I think about the timing of S’s conception and birth – with circumstances that were better than we would have chosen, but also ones we would not have chosen – yet still showing how God’s way is so much better than ours. To say “it’s just science” is to deny God’s hand in every day details of our lives, including the science of things like the rising and setting of the sun. It does not feel right to me to try to take control of that, nor does it ever seem to me like there is a “good time” to have a baby – babies are always work and life is always kind of crazy.
                Third, there is the sanctity of life. This applies to specific forms of birth control that can be considered abortifacients, and that therefore I believe are wrong for Christians to use. If after points 1, 2, and 4 are prayerfully considered a couple still chooses to delay or prevent children, there are other options to choose from that do not compromise life, some that could even be considered God’s design (ecological breastfeeding, Hosea 1:8). However, I think in most circumstances, after said prayerful consideration, the use of birth control will be excluded.
And fourth, there is sin in our own hearts. Ask yourself: why do I want to use birth control? It’s easy to want to wait for a better time, or a longer gap (side note: I do believe God can and does give us more than we can handle – but never more than HE can handle!), or to want to be done so you can focus on other things. Those are often complex and deep concerns that often belong to the couple (and sometimes their mentors) alone, but whenever steps are taken to prevent children we must check our hearts for sin, particularly selfishness. Selfishness can also show up in our ideals for what we want our children to have. Love is not measured by what things we can give them or activities they can do.

Within that framework, I know people who have chosen to use legitimate forms of birth control, particularly for health reasons (and I know people who have chosen to still forgo any birth control despite health risks – and both decisions were reached with much prayer), or in seasons of particular trial. Whatever the reasons, though, we must always check ourselves to make sure it’s not simply selfishness that leads our decision.

Whichever side we fall on, the decision seems to come from more general texts (Children are a blessing and God is sovereign) that combined with wisdom are lived out a certain way (If the above statements are true, are we really in a place to seek to prevent kids?).

On the other side of things, I don’t think it’s right for us to pry into others’ plans for children. I always felt that if people weren’t divulging that information, then that was their choice to keep it a private matter and that was completely fine. I think that someone in a mentorship position can and even should ask about that at times, especially if the couple is waiting to have children, to help check their motives.

I’ve also often found that behind the asking and/or the way it’s responded to, there’s usually an unspoken implication that they’re hoping you take the same position as them, which in our circumstances has been the mindset of leaving it up to God and it makes it awkward if that’s not what you’re doing.

But what clicked the other day was also that the way some people reply to pregnancy announcements (or ask if you are pregnant yet), implies that we really hope you are because it’s the best thing that can happen in/because of your marriage. I don’t mean by being annoyed at this that children aren’t a great blessing or that having them isn’t good for your marriage (the past months have been very good for our marriage, especially communication, and I think a fair amount of that is due ways we’ve grown because of S). But marriage is about WAY more than having children, and there are other blessings God gives as well.

 

[1] Unless a child has a clear profession of faith and fruit to match, we cannot claim they are a necessary “salt and light” in the secular schools.

Thoughts on Convictions – 1

In the last two years or so, I’ve thought often about convictions, particularly the way they play out in conservative circles. I was raised with a lot of books and CDs from “ultra-conservative” circles  and benefited from them. However, I often accepted the rationales given for their values without question,[1] and there was definitely a time when I was lock-step with most of their teachings. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began wondering at some of what they said, so that I started studying to make sure that my thoughts were biblical and not just things that “sounded right” to me.

As a continuation of those thought processes, I re-read some of the books we own dealing with homeschooling, birth control, emotional purity, etc. I really started thinking about phrases being used and where they come from. Is guarding your heart really a biblical concept? Are we really supposed to “give our hearts to our fathers?” How “wrong” is youth group? How absolute is homeschooling? And what should a daughter do with her time? In the end, my convictions remained the same in their basic outworking, but my explanations for them changed. This was mostly due to one thing I kept seeing again and again as a pitfall in these circles: It seems that the clear commands of the Bible, such as parents discipling their children (Ephesians 6, Deuteronomy 6), are often blown out of proportion. Instead of acknowledging the freedom we have to apply such commands in different ways, the application itself becomes a further command: you must homeschool. This also happens in areas such as modesty, courtship, birth control, youth group, and women working outside the home.
I firmly believe that the Bible speaks to each of these issues. It is usually very easy to see exactly what God desires:  you shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. Children, obey your parents. Flee sexual immorality. Parents, teach your children the ways of the Lord. However, as proved by the varied ways Bible-believing Christians apply the commands of scripture, it is clear that the simple commands of the Bible are not so simple to apply. The way a brief command interacts with culture is complicated. Sometimes, people use that to ignore commands of God, sweeping everything off of the table and saying nothing of those commands, refusing to consider the differences between our culture and what the Bible says. Other times, they make the commands to mean more than they are (as in the previous example of “bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” becoming “homeschooling is the only form of education for the Christian family”).
There are many times when we have more freedom than some allow in the application of His commands. Things like homeschooling may be the wisest and most practical way to obey Him, but homeschooling is not the only way, nor is it a command from the Bible. It may be a right thing to do, but I believe it is the application of a law of God, not the law itself. I hope in the following posts to show examples of how this plays out in various issues. I hope by these examples to demonstrate that these things are important, but also delicate and require grace in the way we live them out.

[1] Despite my family’s use of the materials in a way that went to the Bible FIRST and applied any teaching with grace.

Courtship & Legalism

In response to a recent article critiquing courtship, Ezra has written this blog post and I wanted to share it with my blog readers.

While Ezra’s post deals with the most glaring issue, there are a few smaller comments I wanted to make. Umstattd’s article did bring up some legitimate flaws in courtship, at least in the way he defines it. Apart from what Ezra pointed out (which, unfortunately, was not at all a part of Umstattd’s solution, as he turned to a new formula rather than God to solve the problem – perhaps the saddest and most disappointing thing about his article), the biggest “flaw” in the way he defines it is that the only difference between courtship & engagement is a ring & a date. I wanted to briefly outline how for us courtship was a completely different thing than what Umstattd makes it out to be.
– We didn’t view marriage as the only or even most probable outcome to our relationship. Courtship (as we defined it – and any time I use the word “courtship” from now on it has that caveat) was a time to get to know each other in order to determine whether or not marriage between us would be wise or glorify God. We would have still considered it a success if we had decided NOT to get married for valid, godly reasons, and it would have been a failure if we moved on to marriage when we shouldn’t have.
– Umstattd speaks ill of parental involvement. While I have heard of stories that parental involvement was taken too far, the roles our parents played were healthy and necessary, especially considering our circumstances. Our fathers were involved in our emailing, and they along with our mothers were our primary counselors throughout our courtship. This was in many ways by our choice, as we knew that they knew us well and could help us see things more clearly.
That said, they weren’t controlling. Most of our Skype time was on our own. While we were together in person, we had time with our families and friends, but we also had time where we could talk privately and without interruption, whether it was in the car, on walks, in the living room, etc. I was grateful for this, not only because it gave us time to talk through things that we couldn’t really talk about in front of others, but it showed that although our parents were involved, they also trusted us to know ourselves/know if we would be tempted/be mature and let us draw many of the boundaries (ie, WE decided not to have physical contact during our courtship).
– Many say that in courtship, you can’t really getting to know each other. However, with the involvement of our families and friends (in person and via email) we could find out if the other wasn’t being honest and genuine. I was also confident that Ezra wasn’t hiding anything or trying to “make it work” because he was clear and forthright about sin – past or present – and any theological disagreements, proving to me that his hope was ultimately in God and not our courtship, as well as that he wasn’t hiding who he really was.

I say all that not to provide another formula for others, but to explain that there are outer differences as well as deeper differences between the courtship Umstattd critiques and what courtship (or whatever you want to call it) means to us.
It’s not a perfect way, and even in the circles we run in has ways to grow, perhaps especially in men and women getting to know each other/be comfortable with each other on a friendly level, again with the purpose of glorifying God in ALL relationships, be they romantic or friendly – which is another discussion that needs to be had between communities – how guys and girls can get to know each other to even know if they’re interested in taking things to a further level.

Mediocre

I can’t find a publisher for my book.
My oboe playing isn’t where I’d like it to be.
I’m struggling to write a melody I like.
My quilting gets puffy.
After two months of the same stuff, my aural skills are barely improved.
I’m reminded of times I could have done more, or could have done better.

And so sometimes I feel mediocre, and wonder if anything I do will have lasting impact, or if anything sets me apart from everyone else. Teddy Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I think he was right. There will always be people better than you, and even when you can’t find them, there will always be ways you can be improving your skills. It’s discouraging to hold up the standard you’ve set for yourself or the place that others are at and find you don’t measure up. I read a quote by Francis Schaeffer recently, where he said, “If i demand perfection from myself, I will destroy myself.” And he’s right.  In this world of sin, we can’t expect perfection, though we strive for it. However, I’ve found the sighs of frustration, from comparison with others or with the standard of where you want to be, can be taken two ways. I can despair and become complacent, or I can let it be a challenge to push on even further.

I was watching the teachers at Csehy this summer, thinking about this. I watched as they didn’t always play things perfectly, and watched them leave it behind, pressing on toward the goal. It’s easy to dwell on failure – like the conversation I should have had or the side ache I didn’t run through or the recital that my reed went berserk for and even though I fought it like never before it was still wild.
I was particularly discouraged by the recital for a long while. I still wish I could go back and re-do it. But it’s the past, and this is now. I was challenged to move on by Paul’s words in Philippians, speaking of attaining the resurrection from the dead:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” {Philippians 3:12-14}

Forgetting the wobbly reed I strain forward, to continue further on to perfection. I speak of it as applied to music, but Paul wrote it about striving for righteousness, which is far more important than musical perfection.

That puts music into its right perspective, and yet it also spurs me on to pursue everything I pursue with even more vigor. In the past month, I’ve done what I should have done years ago – being better about studying and really working hard at music, running, life – even in the same amount of time as I spent on it before. It means finding opportunities to learn and grow, not just waiting for them to fall into my lap.
And yet – in the long run, while I enjoy studying and love the challenge of “excelsior!” with music and running in particular, that’s not what’s most important. And it’s not what makes my friends love me or want to be with me or keep my friendship. Our love is much deeper than that. We are united in Christ, and that should be what takes first place in our strivings, pressing on for the goal of righteousness. And life isn’t a competition. We’re all called to different things, so while we may want to be better at something, it may not be our path, because ours is a different one, better for us even if we can’t see it then.
If we make other things our identity, then one day when those things are taken away by illness, age, life circumstances, or anything else, life comes crumbling down. First of all, we are His.
It’s a funny balance, striving to be the best we can be with the gifts He’s given us and yet keeping them in their place.

We’ll never attain it on earth – either the righteousness or the musical perfection. But in Christ, we are even now righteous before God, and will one day be totally free of sin. Our worth in Him isn’t in what we can do, but in our being His. He, not our abilities, determines our worth.
Here’s something else: we’ll still have music in heaven. And in heaven, there will be perfect intonation, perfect harmony, perfect understanding of music. That’s the true end of music.
It can be frustrating because now on earth, we never fully arrive. That’s a discouraging thought, and yet –
Isn’t that the point of music and running (and all those other things)? You can always play more accurately, more expressively, always find new pieces or perfect your art still more, always find ways to be challenged further, run faster or farther, get closer to people or interact with new people even better.

But we must always have Christ and music together, lest we fall into either despair or pride as we press on through never-ending practicing to attain perfection.
T. Davis Bunn said, “You will never know a purpose, never find a reason great enough to satisfy your endless hunger to play and perform, unless you learn what it means to live with a deep and abiding faith in your Savior. All else is sham. All else is the ultimate lie, a lie you tell both to yourself and to Christ.”

And he is right. Unless filled in Christ, we will always be empty in the end. If the performance failed, there is emptiness. If it went well, there is rejoicing, but then emptiness because it’s over. Christ alone can satisfy – not His gifts, even such a wondrous gift as music. Live for anything other than Christ, and you will lose it. Our identity is not as musicians, runners, or anything other than children of God.
In moments of pride or mediocrity, the answer is always in Him, to remember that nothing we do can save us, nothing comes of us – it is all from Him – but also that the way we played the concerto or ran the race doesn’t affect our eternity.  Those mistakes aren’t sin – but with those little shortcomings as well as with sin, “the imputed righteousness of Christ will swallow it up as you rest in Him.” (John Piper, in “When the Darkness Will Not Lift”)

Turn to Him.
You will always be hungry unless you eat of the Bread of Life.
Be filled – and know that in Christ, we are not the same as this world, we are not nobodys. We are His beloved children, striving to be like Him, and He is the farthest thing from mediocre.

{One of my favorite practical helps for “getting better” musically is the blog the Bulletproof Musician. So many good articles. Recently this one was my favorite, and since implementing that technique I’m a lot more confident and see a lot of improvement}

Legalism

After reading a book called “Gospel Amnesia” and doing some reading on “anti-Vision Forum” sites (some of which have valid points), I’ve been doing some thinking on legalism. I couldn’t seem to organize my thoughts into a coherent post, but here are some bullet points:

– Legalism isn’t just something that you think will save you (or condemn you) if you do/don’t do it – it often masquerades more subtly as thinking doing or not doing something will earn you more of God’s favor, or that the opposite action will make you or others less favorable to God.

– Looking down on someone because they don’t have the same conviction is often a sign of legalism. While our outward works are a sign of our faith, we have to be careful how we monitor the fruit of others. Just because I didn’t go to college, courted, and want a lot of kids doesn’t make me more holy than the sister who went to college, dated recreationally, and has one child.

– Rules in and of themselves are not legalism. People in gospel-centered camps would err on this side, but having seen the other side – very conservative Christians – I can understand why. To balance that out, we have to remember that the New Testament is full of rules. But the rules always come linked to the gospel – what really saves us and what allows us to receive God’s favor. Living a certain way won’t save you, but there is a certain way of life that brings honor to His name. That’s the purpose of the rules given in Titus – that the gospel may not be reviled.

– When dealing with legalism, we shouldn’t be reactionary. Instead of saying that because someone made a rule legalistic we should be done with it, we need to look at scripture and go from there. And instead of saying there’s no way said rule is legalism, examine yourself and make sure it’s not (or instead of countering cheap grace with only rules, counter it with true gospel!).

– Because someone makes a rule (women need to dress modestly) and someone else makes it legalistic (if you don’t wear a jean jumper you’re not as godly as those who do/only long skirts and button up blouses are modest), doesn’t mean that any guidelines for that rule are going to be legalistic.

– However, often rather than a rule (women cannot work outside the home), it’s better to exercise and encourage others to exercise godly wisdom (the Bible says women should be keepers at home. Can you do that while you’re working outside the home? – and judge each situation from there). I don’t think making a rule from that is necessarily legalism, but it is unhelpful and often takes things to a level that goes beyond what scripture says.

– Don’t make godly wisdom law. It just makes people ungracious and upset. (and yes, I’ll admit it, that is a reactionary statement. So is this: Don’t avoid sharing strong convictions of wisdom in order to avoid accusations of legalism. And note that that wisdom often stems from an underlying, beautiful law of God, which is absolute).

– Legalism leaves scars. Often they’re small, like having to learn how to seek holiness without being legalistic. But sometimes they’re worse, when legalism twists good, biblical things (male headship) into horrible things (emotional and physical abuse), causing people to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think this kind of twisting happens because people lose sight of grace in their own life and have no grace for others.

-If you fight sin because of legalism, sin is suppressed and then it eventually will come out (hence people who grew up in conservative homes and when they leave get into all sorts of immorality, or who were harmed because their parents went at behavior and not the heart – or because their parents’ hearts weren’t changed). But if it’s a heart change, then you can fight those sinful desires with a greater desire and the help of the Spirit.

– Many of the people opposed to “fundamentalist” teaching say that courtship, skirts, large families, etc. aren’t the answer. And they’re right. Courtship isn’t the answer. Fathers leading isn’t the answer. Following scripture to a T isn’t the answer: Christ is. CHRIST needs to be first, not Vision Forum’s 10 things, not a certain way of living, or anything else.

– When living a certain way becomes our gauge of holiness, that lifestyle becomes the center, not God. And this shows yet again why the gospel needs to be first. Holiness based on a set of rules alone leads to children being forced into lifestyles they don’t want, courtships controlled by parents, hyperpatriarchy, and all sorts of other problems – and problems are always many when the gospel is set aside. We want an extreme – to say “rules are great!” or “rules are evil.” But that’s not the path we’re given. We’re saved by grace, but then our works show our faith. That’s somewhere in the middle. Our ability to follow rules isn’t what makes us holy. We are holy in Christ, so we should live that way as a response.
No – we love because He first loved us; we have the fruit of the Spirit because He has given us His Spirit; we live differently from the world because He has redeemed us from the world.

– We need the gospel. That alone is what saves us. Our lifestyle doesn’t save us, nor is there only one right way of living. But when we’re saved, we need to know how to live as regenerate people. That’s where the law of God comes in, and that’s why the first half of Ephesians is on salvation and the second is on how to live as His children. We’re new people; we need to walk in newness of life.

A Greater Goal: Conclusion (5)

{this is the final part in a series}
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Conclusion

I’m not going to say His blessings for obedience will always be visible on earth, but as I’ve sought to reorient parts of my life, there has been blessing. He’s provided opportunities to serve the church with music, wisdom in making decisions of things to cut off, and then proof that it was the right decision.

There are two main examples of this. The first was when I decided that now was not a good time for me to play piano at church. The timing was bad and it didn’t feel like a good fit, but I wondered if that was selfish. I really did want to serve the church with music, but playing for the service just didn’t feel right. That same day, my friend told me she had been asked to be in charge of music for our Carol service in December and asked if I would help her.

The second was in turning away piano students. I wasn’t sure I could handle it as far as capacity was concerned, and also was feeling pressed for time that week. Then the next week I felt I could’ve and wondered if I could take on more – but then I was asked to help lead the younger girls’ Bible study, which fit with building up the church, schedules, and a desire to disciple some of the younger girls in our congregation.

It’s still often a struggle and a challenge as I seek to apply these things, and most often, I fail. But I’m slowly growing, learning, and dying to self.

In closing, here are a few statements to summarize and cement these past five posts.

–          I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy hobbies like knitting, or that we can’t do them for the sake of aesthetics and beauty. We can and should enjoy them and make things beautiful. But we need to be sure that we’re doing them for the right reasons and not neglecting other things that we should be doing. So do things you enjoy, and take time to rest and make things beautiful!

–          We shouldn’t judge our fruit by our production. I may finish five quilts in a month but not be seeking Christ – and abiding in Him is how we bear fruit.

–          We shouldn’t judge our faithfulness by how many things we checked off our list today, or how good we feel, but by whether or not we’re doing what God has given us to do. I may volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Center but be dishonoring my parents, or accomplish a long list of tasks while failing to do it to the glory of God.

–          There is no problem with these hobbies, just with making them our priority and goal rather than our goal being Christ. In fact, when we are seeking to obey His commands, we will run into many of these things: Learning a meek and quiet spirit will include cleaning sinks. Washing the feet of the saints and hospitality will include baking. Helping mothers will include holding babies. Serving the church may mean you sew or knit. Ministry may include knitting – we used to knit hats for crisis pregnancy centers. Honoring your mother and father may mean you do all of these things and more.

–          Doing street evangelism with your church isn’t “holier” than honoring your father and mother by scrubbing a floor. Both are obedient and necessary and have their place. Everything we do, whether big or small, can be used to worship and glorify God.

–          This isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are aspects of it that are – God’s commands to build up the church, evangelize, practice hospitality, be self-controlled, and care for the afflicted apply to all women. But the practical outworkings of that will look different to all. For some, that may mean a lot of knitting. For others, it may mean none. But for all, it shouldn’t take us away from the work we’ve been given to do.

–          If used to help us fulfill our duties, worship God, or for seasons of rest, hobbies can be a very, very good thing. But if they distract us from what we should be doing, then we need to reassess how we’re using them.

–          If we are following the commands of God but doing them for ourselves rather than for Him, then we must ask Him to change our motive.

–          Done for the glory of God, even the most mundane and temporal things will have eternal value.

–          If our first desire is to knit, bake, and marry, we have a very small vision. I urge you to put that aside and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and make Christ and Christlikeness our goal. Put off me-time and put on fruitful, faithful, obedient ministry that puts others and their needs above your to-do lists and projects. You can use knitting and baking to further His Kingdom and to be faithful. Marriage is a wonderful and beautiful thing – but only Christ is ultimate, so seek Him first.

–          Find the balance in using gifts and talents in a way that aids, rather than detracts from, what God has laid out for us to do. Remember that little things like knitting can have eternal value, but also that it shouldn’t distract us from being faithful daughters – of our earthly and heavenly Fathers. These things are not good or bad in and of themselves – it’s how we use them and our time that makes them helps or hindrances.

Let’s not strive for good knitting, the praise of men, someday having immaculate houses, being modest, or just being good daughters. Loving babies, serving our families, knitting, and writing – all of those things are gifts, but they are means to an end, not the end. Knit – but do it to serve and not for your own gain. Bake – but do it to build up the church, not receive the praise of men. Hold babies – and help and bless mothers when you do so!

 As living sacrifices thankful for what He’s done for us, let’s press forward to the goal, not getting entangled in civilian pursuits, but being faithful with what scripture commands us to do, for our sanctification, for discipleship, known for good works, building up the church, evangelism, our families. Do it by knitting, cleaning, baking, sewing, praying, talking, serving, and many other ways, for the glory of GOD alone, that His name would be praised and exalted and that He would be worshiped. 

{If you want another angle at this or a quick summary, there was one over at Six Angles a few weeks ago}