Where Do I Look? Who Do I Follow?

Who can I look to for leadership in our shifting, narcissistic, hedonistic culture? Who will stand up against it and live as the Bible proscribes and as Christ commands? Who will be strong enough not only to make it through life with his eyes on the goal, but be able to lead others along with him? And this strength cannot come from himself alone, but must come from absolute dependence on Another.

man walking across bridge

This week, Pastor Jeff brought in three men whom he had discipled and held a panel of discussion about how discipleship works on an everyday basis. It was very practical and useful to get different perspectives on what intentional discipleship can and should look like. I admit though, that I was fairly distracted by the men. No, not because of their physically attractiveness, but because of their godly obedience to disciple, raise their families well, and humbly accept leadership in the church, their family, and in other areas. These men expressed humility even as they shared how God had worked in them. The adjective “humble” does not necessarily apply to men who sit back and do nothing because they do not want to pridefully assume command. No, humility describes men who do things, good things, and great things even, yet do them with a dependence on God and with an attitude that deflects attention from them and returns the praise to God.

Our culture seems to be running short on men like this and I wish so desperately for a change. I pray that God would wake up so many Christian men from their lethargy and the lie that they are not important to the Church and that it is acceptable for their life to be defined by watching sports, eating heavily, and living for themselves. They have so much more responsibility to love their wives with the passionate love Christ had for the church, to raise and teach their children, to set an example in prayer and in evangelism and in discipleship for the rest of their family, to be a bearer of the gospel to their friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

I do realize that there is another facet of this issue. It is relatively easy to tell men to step up and be who God has called them to be since I cannot control their actions. However, how women act does affect how men lead, and it is hard for to know what to change. I Timothy says that women should learn in all submissiveness and that, at least in the church, should not have teaching authority over a man, but should remain quiet. Why this restriction on women? Paul specifically says it is because woman was the first to be deceived. This may seem like an irrelevant reference to one point in history, but I think it may actually be representative of woman’s nature. Women are easily deceived; this is illustrated in the well know story of Eve in Genesis 3, but can also be seen in the world today. I think particularly of women being lured into the sex traffic industry or of destructive cults whose followers were predominantly women. Perhaps this is because of their female emotional nature, or perhaps because they are truly designed to be submissive to a godly man who will lead them in the right way. If they are submitting to a man who is not leading them in the right way, or are not submitting to a godly man and thereby leading themselves astray, there will be trouble. But what should a woman do when she is joined to a man in marriage or under a group of male leaders at a church, and they are not leading at all? Should she continue to be submissive, quiet, and seek to learn from them? Should she step away from this relationship and seek someone who will lead? Should she temporarily take over leadership as far as setting an example of godliness, hoping they will be ashamed into following suite and leading?

I really do not know. I know that God has designed men to be leaders in the Church as they represent Christ, the head. I also know that in Christ there is no male or female and that the Spirit and His gifts are equally laid upon both and His commands are equally binding on both. May God give us wisdom. In the meanwhile, I am so thankful for the men in my home church and in my acquaintance who are actively pursuing the Lord and taking the responsibility of leadership. I wrote this intending to praise these men as they stand out from the majority culture and to consider what a woman’s responsibility is in the midst of this wide lack of leadership, not to complain about all men. I hope that is evident. I have seen some wonderful examples of godly men leading. It is not just an ideal in my mind, but something I have seen fleshed out. I’m praying that I may see more and more of Christ as the head through the men in our church and in the Church.

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On the Street Where I Live

It’s funny how a place can be so much a part of you. There are certainly special places that people like to remember; whether it is a camp we enjoyed as a kid, the restaurant where you had your first date, the beach your family likes to vacation at, or maybe even the place where you were standing when you got a very special phone call. There are other places though, which do not have the glamour or uniqueness of a particular memory or special event, but will never be forgotten. The kind of places where we would notice if the smallest detail was changed.

The street where I live is one of these places for me. My house is the first one on the right, so I do not really need to go far down my street for anything, but I love to anyway, either to walk and think or to take a jog. Mine is an older neighborhood, with sidewalks and large, grown trees that give shade as you walk by the houses. Some of the houses have driveways, but a lot of people just park on the street. Most of the houses have a nice little front yard, with mailboxes right up on the porches. I also like to peek into the backyards to see what kind of flowers are being planted or the new deck being built. The sidewalks are a little uneven and there are many different colors of concrete from the different times blocks have been replaced. The street starts out straight and lightly drops off over a hill and ends in a “T” with another road.

We live in a modern world and I cannot say that I know everybody on the street or that I borrow cups of sugar when I am in a pinch. However, the neighbors I do know, and even those I do not know, would probably be surprised how possessively I view their houses and yards. Even though I have never seen some of my neighbors, I see their houses, pets, funny habits, and even their trash piles as a part of my daily life. It is just normal life for me right now, I am sure going to miss it when I leave and it becomes less of my life and more of my memory. What everyday place is so much a part of you that you would notice even if something small changed about it? Image

An Ideal (yet real) Relationship

 

            In literature, it is so often difficult to find a balance between the ideal and the real. The division might also be described as the balance between classic storytelling and contemporary storytelling. Contemporary books, often more realistic, can tend to be so close to life that they are boring or are too base and graphic to make an enjoyable read. Inversely, the older style which embraced more idealism can seem too predictable or be resolved so perfectly that it cannot be taken seriously. I find that this balance is especially hard to achieve when it comes to stories centered around love relationships. However, I discovered the perfect blend of classic and contemporary in Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor. The professor is William Crimsworth, a gentleman cut off from his relations and means of support in England, who becomes a teacher in Belgium to earn his living. Frances Henri, whose only relation is her sickly aunt, teaches lace mending at the same school, but becomes William’s student in a desire to improve her English and broaden her opportunities. The plot is very simple and takes no unexpected twists, but the relationship between William Crimsworth and Frances Henri is beautifully done.

            Their relationship seems to embrace all of the good concepts of both historic courtships and modern engagements. They are realistic about each other’s shortcomings, yet charmingly choose to focus on one another’s best points. For example, William acknowledges that his fiancé is not the greatest of beauties, yet he is attracted to “the graces of her person” still and enjoys her beauty. In fact, at one point, he cannot contain himself and pulls her into his lap to first declare his love. He does, however, exercise control in waiting until she has confessed her own love and promised to marry him before he asks if he can kiss her. In fact, he frequently begs kisses from her even after their marriage. Aside from this physical attraction, he is an intellectual sort and makes clear that Frances’ mind is not only what first attracted him to her, but also the bond that holds him to her the strongest. This sweet holistic blend of loving both mind and body of a sweetheart is another characteristic I rarely find. Many old books treat true love as an ethereal, intellectual substance which shuns the carnal desires of flesh and is content with a mere look or spoken word from a lover. On the flip side, many new books focus on the physical, sexual drive that unites a couple’s bodies while minimizing the meeting of minds.

The couple also commands my admiration because they can communicate without trying to dominate each other. Each desires to yield to the other and so they work through situations together.  One important discussion they have is if Frances should continue her new position as teacher in an English school after they are married. Frances expresses a very modern opinion of desiring to be working and making profit even though they could be supported on just William’s salary. William, on the other hand, speaks of how precious the idea is to him of “becoming the providence of what he loves- feeding and clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field” and requests of her that he be allowed to give her rest from the hard work she has been doing to support herself. In a more modern or feministic story, Frances would have asserted herself and William would have been humbled. Instead, Frances acknowledges his superiority and gently persuades him that people who work together, even suffer together, esteem each other more highly than those who only interact for the purpose of pleasure or comfort. And so William yields for the sake of her happiness and agrees with her that she should continue working.

Later on in their marriage, Frances shows an entrepreneurial side and suggests that she begin her own school. William takes her suggestion seriously and supports her in it. Even though the school is her endeavor, she insists on his teaching at her school at least an hour daily. Why? Because she wanted him to be a part of what was significant in her life and because she wanted him to know how her day was filled so that what was important to her could be important to him as well. He was not allowed to fall out of touch with her school and he was always applied to when anything difficult arose in the school. As William words it, “it was her pleasure, her joy to make me still the master in all things”.

And so, unexpectedly, in a lesser known work of one of the Bronte sisters, I find the perfect model of a couple that I have always been looking for in literature and never quite finding. Here is a couple that complements each other and defers to one another in love, even in the modern context of a working family. A couple where the man is decidedly masculine in providing for his family and leading his wife and the woman is sweetly feminine, industrious as the woman described in Proverbs 31, yet deferring to her husband and looking to his support. What was their secret? Perhaps William is right when he says, “Frances was then a good and dear wife to me, because I was to her a good, just, and faithful husband”. 

The Call of the Child

Take a wild guess which book I read last. If the title was not enough to give you a clue, my last sentence hopefully made it clear. Yes, I recently read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild for the first time. Aside from the setting, I did not know anything about the book as I began to read (always the best way to start a book) and I enjoyed this short little novel. I really liked the unique perspective of the story being told through a dog’s eyes. Stating it briefly like that kind of makes it sound like a Disney movie, but it was not tacky or unbelievable and every emotion Buck portrayed and everything he observed and understood was perfectly in keeping with what you can observe in a real dog’s behavior. For example, you can observe that dogs feel loyalty and affection to certain people and other animals. The general plot of the book is a pet reverting back to the wild, becoming stronger and fiercer until he forsakes human company and joins the wolf pack.

            It is very evident that London was heavily influenced by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Buck is described as going through a process that stripped the tame generations from him. It is also observed that Buck learns that nothing matters except survival and only the toughest survive in the wild. The Call of the Wild is a great piece of literature, but I admit that I do not agree with the bleakness of the evolutionary outlook. In this case, I am not even so concerned with where this theory says the earth came from, but where it implies it is going. I recalled Romans 8:19-22 which describes creation being subjected to futility because of the sin of man and that it longs to see the full redemption of man because it too will be redeemed at that time and set free. In the meantime, it groans, as if in the pain of childbirth, waiting for the coming hope. I want to read a story that keeps the concept of using a creature’s perspective that reflects this worldview. I want to read a story that subtly shows a dog (or other animal) longing for peace and for the redemption of man. One day, according to Isaiah 11:6-9, the wolf (even as cruel and selfish in its desire for survival as described by London) will live with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion. These animals are described as grazing and eating straw, no longer requiring death to satisfy their hunger. And sweetest of all, a little child will lead them. Creatures small and large will listen for the call of a child and follow his leading peacefully. Verse 9 specifically says “They will not hurt or destroy”. Why this change from their “natural” behavior? Because “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord”.  Knowledge of the Lord is not limited to humans! Amazing! Just as the curse on the caretakers ruined the creatures and gave them selfish, destructive natures, the healing of the caretakers will also bring peace to those under their authority.

As a clarification, I do not believe that animals have souls or that they can share in God’s Spirit. And I do not thing Scripture is clear enough to say that animals’ spirits are eternal. However, I do think that God does love animals because they are also a part of his creation. And I think that those who believe in a God who created all things for his glory will treat animals and the earth with respect and seek to hasten the day when the WHOLE earth will be made new.