Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trusting What You Can't See and Feel To Inform What You Do

I am continually struck at how much God loves faith-the mystery and paradox he asks us to keep walking in. I am regularly helping others see where they are in their journey because it feels to them like they are going in the wrong direction. So often I hear others say I seem like I am getting worse. This confusion comes because as we grow we see our sin more clearly.
For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands for the more we know God's law the clearer it becomes we aren't obeying it (Romans 3:20). A simple example would be that 20 years ago I seemed like a good husband and that is becuase I had no clue what a good husband really looked like. 20 years later because I know what a good husband looks like its more clear I am often not one. In addition to refined sight, our hearts soften as we mature. If the gospel is growing inside of us the pain of life hits us harder. That doesn't mean it has to own us as much but it can often mean it might feel worse (or richer and more beautiful too - our senses are just refined). In any case, as we grow it may seem to us like we are acting worse and life hurts more. It can confuse us that things are getting worse. That is where we have to lean into faith - to trust what we can't see. If God is the author and finisher of our faith and we look back and can see growth, however miniscule that may be we have to trust we are still on the right path. So if it seems like your behaving badly and life is more painful you may have just walked further down the better path.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Redemptive Path for a Husband: Personal Humility

As with several other posts this is an excerpt from the book I am working on. The last part of the book I describe paths a husband and wife can follow to unselfishly help the other to resist evil. Because of a husband's advantages in marraige (that I define earlier in the book) they have an easier time being indifferent to their wives. Because of their vulnerability wives often see kingdom values (especially in the area of relationships) more clearly. As a husband grows the humility to listen to a wife - it is an encouragement to her - she is using her giftedness to help her husband - and this gives her buoyancy which helps her resist the evil one (on the other hand when the husband doesn't have the humility to listen and learn from his wife she is more susceptible to the evil one's lies). So here is one part of one path a husband can follow to help his wife fight evil (in his heart and hers).

A husband listens to his wife’s disappointment, affirms it and helps her to articulate it for two reasons. First, he is offering compassion and using his advantages to treat her with understanding so she can find rest. As a husband helps his wife with marital discontent the deception evil has been hitting her with will begin to fall away. In addition to helping his wife find rest as a husband listens to her distress, he can learn important things about himself. Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get a smart retort. Anyone who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. So don’t bother rebuking mockers; they will only hate you. But the wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more. Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding (Proverbs 9:7-10).
I remember the first time my wife told me I rolled my eyes at her. I probably rolled my eyes at her as she said it. I had no idea I did it. If truth be told, I had no idea I was condescending until the 1,000th time she told me so. When I finally heard her say I was condescending in the weeks and months ahead I began to see that she was right. I learned more about myself and my lack of relational holiness from my wife than anyone else I have known. God loves interdependency. Husbands need wives to grow into who God calls them to be. Because of a wife’s longing she pays more attention to relationship and has insight that will help her husband.
Relational sin and relational holiness have more to do with faithfulness to the Gospel than staying within the lines and keeping the law. Because of a misuse of advantages Christian men, as leaders in church and as husbands in marriage, have missed glorious opportunities to discover a richer and more faith-filled obedience to the living God. The way men have shepherded in the church and marriage has often meant that women are silenced. It seems to me that men are often afraid of failure or afraid of rocking the boat. This often grows out of an ungodly frustration with the complexity they must wrestle with in this fallen world. Instead of passionately being willing to make mistakes and color outside the lines men tend to play it safe or disengage especially from relationship because it is so messy. This is where we need the voice and passion of women.
In observing how those outside the religious establishment can often embolden an obedience that goes beyond a checklist and into more, Carolyn Custiss James (The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules) notes that obedience is not a matter of exactness but is actually infinite. She says, “The sermon on the Mount knocked down the walls that religious living had constructed around God’s law and pointed to a way of living that goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit. Formal religion only takes us so far – for it is both safe and doable. Love however, knows no limits, takes costly risks, and looks for ways to give more.” If they are welcomed into the conversation I believe women can uniquely advance a fervent and courageous conformity to Christ where like him our righteousness exceeds what is safe.
Carolyn Custiss James uses the example of Ruth and Boaz to illustrate this point. Ruth was a gleaner in Boaz’s field. Gleaners were allowed in the field only after both teams of hired workers finished. Ruth asked Boaz to shelve this system for her. A modern day equivalent would be like a homeless ‘dumpster diver’ asking an owner of a restaurant if he could sit in the dining room and enjoy a meal for free. James says, “Boaz’s response is as astonishing as Ruth’s request is outrageous, and this is where our strong admiration for Boaz begins. Instead of becoming defensive the lights go on and he fully embraces her suggestion. Instead of being displeased or offended, he is moved to act on her behalf. Boaz’s godliness is real, and he willingly follows’ Ruth’s lead. He actually appears driven – you might even say obsessed – to come up with ways of making her mission possible. In an astonishing outpouring of grace, Boaz exceeds the young Moabitess’ request.”
James suggests that Ruth’s asking and Boaz’s supporting grow out of their cooperation with God’s leadership. They worked together to advance God’s purposes. Ruth was moved to more because of relationship. She was zealous in her pursuit to provide because she cared about her mother-in-law. Boaz responds to this and God advanced his kingdom through them.
I stress this point because marriage is the foundation for men and women working together in the church. It is where we practice, demonstrate and learn about relationship between the sexes. As husbands grow the humility to listen to their wives we will all learn and grow a deeper holiness. If husbands begin to honor the voices of their wives I believe the church will come alive with a godliness that is much more faithful, life-giving and passionate than we experience today. Again, listen to the words of Carolyn Custiss James, “Walking with God takes us into a sea of possibilities that stretch our capacity for sacrifice and our imagination for obedience, reminding us there’s always more to following God than we think.” I can’t imagine a better way to go after that than encouraging husbands to learn from their wives so the church exemplifies better the way men and women can work together to advance the Gospel.