Thursday, February 25, 2010

Following Jesus' Example First

I write a lot on this blog about how I desire to become more and more like Jesus, and that's truly what I want for my life.

I just read an interesting blog post from Practical Theology for Women, titled Equipping Women for Gospel-Centered Lives, and I came across something that I've never thought about before. As we pursue godly womanhood and desire to become more and more like Jesus, we have to ALWAYS put Jesus before us and nothing else. We can study about how other women have pursued Jesus and have walked down the road toward godly womanhood, but we have to remember that our end-goal is not to become those women, but to become like Jesus. Here's a quote from the blog that I was reading:
Day in and day out, I hear from woman after woman who doesn’t fit the mold, perhaps by her choice but more often by circumstances completely out of her control, who feels lost in our evangelical construct of what the godly woman looks like. The problem is that she was not taught clearly that the image in which she was created is God’s and the image to which she is now being conformed is Christ’s. She feels pressure to be like Ruth or the Proverbs 31 woman but not so much to be like Christ. But Scripture doesn’t give us that leeway. She was created in God's image and is being conformed back to Christ's. Period.
Obviously, if learning about the practices of those women and how their struggles and successes helped them become more like Jesus, than studying their lives is only healthy. But it's when we set our sights on becoming those women that we're going to get ourselves in trouble. The Proverbs 31 woman was a godly woman, but still sinful! Her works and disciplines are to be admired and something that we can strive to achieve, with Jesus' help. But we must ALWAYS remember that it's about Jesus. And whether or not our lives resembles attributes of the Proverbs 31 woman or Sarah or Esther at the end of our lives (seeking godliness should produce fruit similar to that in these women), as long as we pursue Jesus -- it will be His character and His grace that will shine through us to transform us into the women after God's own heart. If following the example of the Proverbs 31 woman helps us get there ... great. That's why her story was included in scripture. But that should be secondary to how we pursue a life like Jesus.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Overwhelmed by the need for missionality ...

Now more than ever before I feel a deep need to be missional for the sake of Jesus Christ within my neighborhood. I've never quite felt this strongly about it before. I'm not sure if it's just because of where we live -- a transitional neighborhood that still exudes many signs of poverty and physical brokenness -- or just the sheer fact that the Lord is reconditioning my heart to long for Him and for other people to receive His gospel. I hope it's both!

Just within the last few weeks, my husband and I have branched out more than ever before. We've attended a few neighborhood association meetings and we've tried to be intentional about meeting our new neighbors -- stopping by, inviting them to join us to do different things, etc. And my mind just races with ideas of what I'd love to do to get to know our neighbors better and to begin fostering community.

As a stay-at-home mom with an 18-month-old, I have struggled for a while to figure out how to be missional. My priorities, aside from the Lord, are my husband, then my son, then my church. I don't have time in my day to volunteer at a soup kitchen or an afterschool program for kids, maybe some of the more obvious choices. But when I try to identify ways to be missional, I need to remember that missionality isn't defined by just a specific demographic or need that I can help. It's a mindset and an action that is realized to take the gospel to the people in my sphere of influence in a relevant context. It's the Great Commission lived out (Matthew 28:19-20), and it will look different for every body. But the questions that we need to ask are: 1) Who are the people in our sphere of influence? 2) How can God use us to reach out to them and paint the story of the gospel in a way that's relevant to them? (When I say relevant, I mean to communicate the gospel in a way that the people that I'm communicating to will understand, NOT to just tell the part of the gospel that I think they'll be comfortable hearing OR to shape the gospel in a way so that it becomes a product of what a person's wants, not about who God really is ... kind of like a "designer God".) 3) How will God reorient my life to make missionality a lifestyle instead of just a one-time or occasional event or activity?

So, where does this leave me?
  • As a stay-at-home mom, I need to identify the people that are or could be in my sphere of influence.
  • What kind of activities or events do I or can I participate in during the week that I can do WITH my son that will help us build relationships with people who don't know Jesus?
  • How can I not only be effective for the gospel while I'm with him, but also teach him the gospel and the great commission as we interact and intentionally love our neighborhood and the people in it?
  • Are there things I can do missionally that fall in line with my responsibilities as my husband's helper and my responsibilities around my home?
  • Who are the people that my family can influence for the gospel?
  • What kind of activities or events can we host or be a part of, or places can we go to intentionally love people for the sake of the gospel?
When I ask these questions, I need to be honest with myself and my family and determine if these are commitments that we can make over time ... not just a one-time do-good event. I'm sure there's a time and a place for one-time activities, but as I'm contemplating what it means to live a missional life, I need to reorient myself to be missional on a daily basis ... make these activities/events/etc. a regular part of my schedule so that the people I meet and care for and love on, will regularly see Jesus in me and hopefully come to know His greatness! And once it begins in my own life, how wonderful will it be to invite friends and community to be a part of it with me! We see in Acts that this is what we were created for!

If you're a single woman, or you're a recently married woman without children, or a woman that works full-time, or you're retired, or whatever life stage you're in, your missional lifestyle will probably look very different than mine. But the questions you need to ask yourself are still the same: 1) Who are the people in your sphere of influence? 2) How can God use you to reach out to them and paint the story of the gospel in a way that's relevant to them? 3) How will God reorient your life to make missionality a lifestyle instead of just a one-time or occasional event or activity?

This is HUGE ladies! I think it's very easy for us to dodge this call in our lives and say we'll do it later or on the side, but we can't tell ourselves this lie any longer! We must dig in deep right now. Just like the Israelites during their exile to Babylon, God is calling us to "Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food you produce. Marry, and have children. Then find spouses for them, and have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray to the Lord for the city where you are held captive, for if Babylon has peace, so will you" (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Looking for a good book ...

I just stumbled across a great site, Discerning Reader. It looks like quite a gem! From what I can tell, it appears to be biblically based and offers reviews on a wealth of books from Apologetics to Children's Books to Family, Theology and Women. I obviously don't want to vouch for their reviews and say that their opinions are completely in line with what I believe, but from what I've read so far, this Discerning Reader seems to be a great place to locate books with sound theology and read a sound review from a source outside Amazon or some place similar.

So, if you're looking for a good book or a review of a book that you're thinking about reading, consider stopping by Discerning Reader and see what you think. I already found three books that I want to explore: Building Her House (Nancy Wilson), Most of All, Jesus Loves You (Noel Piper), and Gospel-Powered Parenting (William Farley).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Digging Deeper to the Heart

It's interesting how the Lord sharpens and prunes us .... We begin to pray for transformation in different areas of our lives -- change may be immediate or over time -- but it seems that God usually begins to work on and in us when we least expect it. That's how God has been working in me lately.

I've been struggling with what I thought was self-control or the ability to tame my tongue for who knows how long. I would like to think that on most occasions I do control my tongue, but it's during those moments of frustration, many times unwarranted, with those that I love or during casual conversation with folks that I don't even know very well (strange, I know), that the ugliest parts of me are revealed. The most recent bout of this issue seemed to surface sometime in early November '09 (at least that's when I started journaling about it). I've been deep in scripture, looking for 'remedies' to the problem and praying like crazy, and I thought that I was getting somewhere. But these "instances" continued to surface.

It wasn't until a dear friend of mine called me out and asked me if my issue was really self-control or if it was more deeply rooted than just my tongue; that it was a heart issue. I was kinda caught off guard by her comment and became a bit upset. She began to explain that it sounded like a gospel issue -- that my heart was not reflecting the truth of the gospel. "What do you mean?" I thought. "How could that be, of course I know the gospel. Why wouldn't my heart communicate that?" But when I really thought about it, she was dead on. The root of all my insincere remarks and thoughts, unrighteous anger (as if my anger is ever righteous), and slanderous comments and/or thoughts about others is rooted in my lack of understanding of the gospel.

I call myself a Christian. I believe that I am a sinner and that no matter how hard I try I cannot save myself from my sin (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus, God's own Son, who is fully God, is the only perfect sacrifice that can save me and he did, that day on Calvary. He died for me and on the third day when He rose and ascended into heaven, I too was redeemed the day I believed. He made me a new creation and justified me. But scripture is very clear that the change in me cannot stop there. (Colossians 1:9-14; Ephesians 2:10) It's a way of life. Jesus' work on the cross was not just for justification purposes, it was for sanctification purposes too. And if I do not pursue the good works and righteousness that He has set out for me, I am neglecting His gift of sanctification and the chance to become more and more like Jesus during my life here on earth.

Therefore, when I say that I do not truly understand the gospel, it's not a misunderstanding of my salvation, but a lack of understanding of who Jesus is and the ways in which He calls me to be like Himself -- progressive sanctification. Obviously it will take me until heaven to truly understand the gospel -- the time when Jesus will open my eyes and allow me to see His full glory -- but it does mean that I must pursue righteousness that only comes from God and not my own foolishness today and for the rest of my time here on earth (Romans 6:18-19).

As I revisit my struggle in light of the gospel, all I can really say is that whatever comes out of my mouth or the thoughts that I stop from coming out of my mouth; if they're not pleasing to Jesus, I know that my heart needs some work. Self-control is an important discipline, but when the out pour of my heart is evil, it's my heart that needs to be fixed first and then I can visit self-control. If I'm not careful, self-control can just be a pretty mask that hides the evil within my heart.

Since I've come to this realization, the Lord has been faithful to heal and change my heart. I am so thankful that He has opened my eyes to this truth.

I deeply desire to be a godly woman of righteousness and one who possesses discretion and a heart that fully knows the gospel and allows it to permeate in all areas of my life. As women who desire to pursue godliness, I pray too that you would make this a prayer for your life as well. Your situation may look a little different than mine, but I believe that as we point each other to these truths, God will transform us into women that are more and more like Jesus every day, and who could ask for anything better? Philippians 1:9-11 speaks this prayer perfectly:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.