Friday, August 22, 2008

Further Confessions of a Recovering Feminist, Part 3

Yesterday we talked about how our experience alone cannot shape our understanding of God. But often this begs the question, "What do I do with my pain?" I don't want to pretend that there is not legitimate pain out there experienced at the hands of ungodly people. Even Job did not shy away from this reality. His suffering was excruciating, and to dismiss it without an answer would merely trivialize what he went through. Maybe the same is true with you. You are left wondering what to do now in the wake of a hurtful experience. There is hope for you.

I realize that I cannot know exactly what you are going through. I have never experienced suffering in a seemingly unbearable capacity, but I am a sinner living in a sin-cursed world, and I do have a Bible that tells me about this world and my own sin. All of the pain that we experience, whether great or miniscule, is a result of the curse. And though your situation is real, you are never alone in your pain (Hebrews 13:5b).

I wasn't there, but Christ was when your boyfriend broke up with you. He was there when your father let you down for the tenth time. He was there when your pastor disappointed you with his resignation. The sovereign hand of the Father is on every event that happens in your life. God is so powerful that nothing moves, even Satan, without his approval. We even see in Job's story that Satan had to seek permission before he was able to afflict Job. God is there in the midst of all pain and all suffering. He is the perfect and powerful Father.

But, let me tell you about real suffering—the suffering of the Savior. And he suffered an excruciating death and tasted abandonment by his own father, not only for your sin, but for the sins done against you. He knows our pain because the pain that he experienced, on our behalf, was far greater than we could ever know or handle. We serve a Savior who understands us.
So what do you do with your pain?

God has given us his Word for our good, and that is certainly true as we wrestle through pain. In the Psalms we see honest accounts of people in pain, crying out to God. There is much encouragement to be felt in reading the Psalms. And there is a wealth of rich theological truth about our great God in the midst of trying times. God's people were made to gather together. We were never made to walk through suffering alone, and within your local church you will find people who can hold you accountable and point you to the Savior. Sometimes there is no greater encouragement than to know that someone else knows what you are experiencing. Ask God to help you find someone suffering more than you and minister to them as you walk through these trials together.

When our theology of God is placed into experiential categories we create a God who is fluid and changeable. This is not the God of the Bible, and viewing God this way really brings no hope in the end. And though sometimes it seems like immediate comfort, it will not give us a Christ who saves us and deals with sin—even sin done against us.

Pain is a result of the curse, so we must look to the only One who can free us from this curse—Jesus Christ. And as you look to him know that the wrong done against you will not escape ultimate justice. Not only is there hope for you to be comforted in your pain, but you also have the freedom to forgive your oppressors as you have been forgiven. In all of these things know that the pain and the suffering must be brought to the foot of King Jesus, who knows us and loves us. We can experience the peace that Job expressed (42:5) when he said to God, "before my ear had heard about you, but now my eye sees you."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Further Confessions of a Recovering Feminist, Part 2

Everyone has experienced painful relationships in some capacity. Whether you are a college student in the wake of a bad breakup, a single woman facing conflict with another sister in Christ, or a wife in a painful marriage, there is no getting around the fact that life is hard. We live in a sin-cursed world where the ravaging effects of sin scar people on a daily basis. It is an inescapable reality that our experiences shape us either for good or for evil. It is common for women to allow hurtful or frustrating circumstances to drive our worldview.

Here is how it happened for me. Two years ago I went through a situation that was both painful and consuming. As I processed through all of the emotions surrounding this time, I would repeatedly make blanket statements about relationships, and people in general. Thankfully, my parents shepherded me through this with the truth that my experience was not a universal truth about the people in my life.

We are susceptible to this in the wake of every painful relationship—whether guy or girl. When we are confronted with these types of relationships the temptation is to stamp every man like "that guy." The same was true for me. We can probably all agree that we have wrongly judged men on occasion, but do we ever stop to realize that these judgments can be a feminist heart still speaking? Here are two examples of this lived out.

I have been a part of conversations with girl friends that led to "male-bashing" when a beloved guy did not return the affections offered to him. It is so easy to label all men as jerks when our feelings aren't reciprocated, but to do so is to unfairly categorize all the other brothers in Christ and a man created in the image of God.

An egalitarian conference speaker recently spoke to the issue of pain in women's lives. By using Job as an example, she correlated the tragedy that Job suffered with the sufferings of women who are not allowed to preach in pulpits. She says,

I want you to understand that Job's situation is connected to the sense of pain, loss, and confusion that many women in the church today suffer as a result of the effects of patriarchy.

While you may think that you have not gone "that far" in your thinking, the feminist is in all of us. Adopting an interpretation based on what happens to you can lead all of us to improper assumptions of Scripture. If pain, rather than Scripture, leads us to judge the men around us, what will stop us from taking this to its logical conclusion? To fall into that temptation means rewriting God himself.

Perhaps you are not on a trajectory to new interpretations of key Christian doctrines, but you may have scoffed at male leadership in your church because of the sorrow that men have caused you in your own life. You may deem every man as a moral failure because your father left your mother for another woman. You might even think that there are no Christian men worth talking to because you have been let down so many times. The circumstances that have occurred are sinful, and your pain is real.

But they are not the end of the story. There is a heavenly Father who will never fail you and he will not falter even when every earthly man around you does. Pain and experience cannot dictate our theology. Rather our theology must lead us through the pain and experience. And tomorrow, we will discuss what we should do with our circumstances. I promise you that this answer has hope.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Further Confessions of a Recovering Feminist, Part 1

A while back I confessed that I am a recovering feminist. I'm still recovering. Hopefully, by God's grace the recovery is farther along than when I first wrote the article—but I remain in recovery nonetheless. For a while I was a blatant feminist, viewing everything through the lens of oppression and freedom from oppression. After conversion I became "tamer." But I still held on to the fact that I could be a Christian and still be an independent woman, free from authority. I didn't need a husband because I was going to do great things for Jesus. Marriage seemed to be a hindrance to these great things.

Thankfully the Lord intervened and opened my eyes to my sin. Apart from his work I would still be wallowing in darkness. In this process of sanctification I have realized that all of us are feminists at heart. And while I am still recovering, I am thankful to be able to say that the recovery has taught me many lessons.

The Lord has woven into my heart a deeper appreciation for marriage, and a greater respect for the married women in my own life. I used to scoff at friends who put their husbands first, but now I see the beauty of a wife who values and treasures the man that God has given her. As a result of seeing this respect lived out, I have grown in more grace in my interactions with men—whether in a dating relationship, friendship, or employer relationship. The Lord has helped me to see that these men are not only created in his image, but also someone else's future (or current) husbands and I must treat them as such.

As a single woman I have learned that the qualities of a godly woman matter for me right now. Marriage does not make someone feminine. Rather, divine design has made me feminine and I must cultivate that femininity now, and flee from feminism. In all of these things, I have learned that it is ultimately not about me and my rights. There is something far greater going on than my meager life. Recovering from feminism has given me greater opportunities to cry out to the Father for more of Christ and less of me, because apart from him I would be lost.
Perhaps you wonder why this sort of response to feminism is warranted. It is very easy to adopt a way of looking at the Bible—a hermeneutic—built around pain and experience (even if you are not a feminist). And because we are so prone to rewrite God into our own image, and thus rewrite who he has created us to be, it is helpful to stop and think through what exactly we are doing when we allow our experience to drive us. As we think through what God has called us to be as men and women, we must ask ourselves if our theology is born out of preconceived ideas or the text itself.

So whether you are reading this as a mature Christian, seasoned through suffering, a new believer wrestling through what it means to be a woman, or a recovering feminist like me (or soon to be) processing how painful experience has shaped your present view of the world, these posts are for you. And as one recovering feminist to, Lord-willing, future (and current) recovering feminists, I pray that you would see the God of the Bible. We all bring our own ideas to the Cross—and the Cross is where our sinful ideologies are shattered by the powerful blood of Christ. In these next two posts I hope to shed light on what we do with our experiences as women—and bring them to the foot of King Jesus at the Cross, where love and mercy meet.

This post originally appeared here

Friday, August 15, 2008

Top to Toe For Women: In Pursuit of True Beauty

Below is a post I wrote for the CBMW blog yesterday. I hope you enjoy it!

Recently, Randy Stinson addressed the problem of self-preoccupation among modern men, but, the principles he set forth apply to women as well. He explained that biblical manhood should not be characterized by an excessive delight in self-pampering, but rather a Christ-like, self-sacrifice that places others wants and needs before our own—all so others might see Christ. In the same vein, Christian womanhood should include more self-sacrifice than self-preoccupation. This is not to say that women should give up on proper hygiene, shopping, or even getting their nails done. The Bible only says that women should not be hoping in those things for their value and worth—rather they should be hoping in God (1 Peter 3:3-5). It is important to note that the Bible is not silent about beauty. God has much to say about such things.

Mrs. Mary Mohler, wife of seminary President and Council Member, R. Albert Mohler Jr., addresses beauty at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church women's retreat. Mrs. Mohler's teaching and humble spirit is a tremendous gift to all in the church, especially women. She encourages us to see that beauty is important to God. While dispelling the notion that femininity equals frumpiness, she also dispels the idea that femininity equals "dressing to the nines" all of the time. God, being the Creator of the Universe, has created beauty and the beauty that displays his creation is what we should pursue. But, beauty is not simply defined by external appearance. There are examples of biblical characters, like Absalom, who destroyed themselves, and others, because they did not give praise to God for their beauty—their beauty was merely external. Beauty is both an internal and external desire in the life of the believing woman.
But we must separate biblically defined beauty from worldly beauty. Worldly beauty is empty. After giving us a framework for seeing beauty, Mrs. Mohler exhorts us to see that the world's understanding of beauty is empty. She discusses the danger of vanity and cautions us to not make an idol out of worldly beauty because it will eventually fade. What doesn't fade is the beauty of a woman who has spent her life in front of the mirror of God's Word, rather than the mirror in her bathroom.

God cares about beauty. But the point of beauty is not our own glorification. God designed beauty for our enjoyment and for his glory—so we should take an interest in how we look, but not for man's empty praise. We should care about how we look because we want the Creator of our features to be praised for his handiwork. If we spend our time adorning ourselves only, we will miss the point. We cannot hope in the empty promises of a $90 straightener and Great Lash mascara. Rather we should be adorned by the Word of God. This looks differently in other women, but the goal of our femininity is so people will see Christ in greater measure, not our fancy clothes and manicured nails. So let us not be ashamed to recognize true beauty as we see it, but let us also put our hope in Jesus blood and righteousness, lest we think on that final day that it's our trendy outfit and size-2-body that will save us.

Mrs. Mohler's messages are excellent, and I would highly encourage you to follow the links to listen to them. May God bless you greatly as you listen. You can access her talks here and here

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Remembering Our Chains

At church last night the pastor profiled the Apostle Paul. As he taught through the conversion of Paul, seen in Acts 9, my own conversion came to mind. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about when I got saved in a while. Tears came to my eyes, though, as I thought back to that December morning nearly 5 years ago. Though there was no voice from the Lord calling me to repent, like the Apostle. There was, however, an unexpected, overwhelming sense of a guilt that I could not shake. Much like Paul, and many of you, I hadn’t done anything any different the night before. I was just living a godless life, knowing the Gospel, but thinking that I could wait until after college—when the “fun” was over and real life began. But God had other plans. The only explanation for why I am here today, writing this, is because God looked at me in my sinfulness in December 2003 and said, “Courtney, today is the day you will leave your darkness and follow me.” I didn’t know that’s what was happening then, but I know that now.

Often we are excited to hear about what God is doing in people’s lives right now, rather than asking them how they got saved 5, 10, or 15 years ago. It’s not that we are not excited about God saving people. It’s just that it only seems relevant to ask that question when they become a member of our church or get baptized. But it is incredibly relevant. The very fact that the God of the Universe chose to save any people is amazing enough. That he mercifully looked on us, in our sinfulness, and called us out of darkness and into the light of Christ is cause for continual celebration. We should remember our chains, not because want to wallow in our past, but because we are realizing that we are chained to Someone far greater than our past—Jesus Christ.

One of the things I appreciate about my church is that they have members give their testimonies one Wednesday a month. This is a great opportunity for us to remember our chains, and give praise to God for his work in our lives, and the lives of the people in our community. It reminds us that God is always working to bring people to himself, and conform them into the image of his Son. It is good to be reminded of that.

Last night’s message was good for me to hear. I don’t ever want to forget how God saved me. My favorite hymn is “And Can It Be” and the third verse gets me every time I sing it:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon, flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Amazing love! How can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thoughts on the Olympics

With school starting next week (and the Olympics airing this week), I have had little time to do much of blogging. But two things from the Opening Ceremonies last Friday struck me. The parade of nations at the end of the Ceremonies is always my favorite part. It was only this year (probably because I am older now) that I stopped to think about the fact that one day we too will be involved in the parade of nations on a much grander scale. And the nations that will be gathering will not be for an elusive gold medal, but they will be gathering around the throne of the Lamb who was slain. People talk about the Olympics being the great unifier—the only place where nations stop fighting for a moment in order to compete. Unfortunately this year this isn’t the case. And it never really has been because sports (as fun as they are to watch) will never make for peace. Nations will never lay down their swords until Christ grips their hearts and they take up a different sword, for a different cause. As I watched people from different tribes and tongues march into the “Birds Nest” in Beijing, I was reminded that, though imperfect, this was a preview of what heaven would be like—except only more glorious.

Another thing that struck me as the Ceremonies concluded was the little boy who marched in with the Chinese team. The earthquake killed 20 of his 30 classmates when it hit in May. After he escaped he went back into the building to rescue 2 more classmates. When asked why he did this the 9 year old said that it was his duty because he was a class leader. Counter this story with the story of the middle school teacher who abandoned his class when the earthquake hit, claiming that he would do it again if he were in that position. The fact that a 9 year old boy feels compelled to rescue his classmates, at possible cost to his own life, is a reminder of common grace. God graciously allowed him to see the need to protect his friends in that moment—and for that we can be thankful. Maybe this little boy doesn’t know who this God is, but I pray that someday he will. And maybe even during this Olympic Games a Bible will get to him where he can read about the One, who at great cost to his own life, went to the Cross and died so we might live. That’s a great rescue.

So as I watch the Olympics, it is a reminder to pray. To pray that the nations would be glad in God, and God alone. And to pray that those who do not yet know his name will soon know the One who knows their name. Oh that God would be pleased to save many this Olympics.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Olympic Competition and Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

The Olympics start tonight and you can be assured where I will be for the next few weeks— on the couch taking in the games (with the exception of school starting, of course). But does Olympic viewing call for discretion? That is a question that CBMW's Gender Blog (where I am a contributor and employee) seeks to answer. Before you venture into the Games this weekend check out this series. We pray that it is an encouragement to you and your family.

Part 1: Olympian Leadership Opportunity for Dad's— Randy Stinson
Part 2: The Gospel and the Desire for Victory— Randy Stinson
Part 3: Girls and Sports?: A Matter of Principles— Jeff Robinson
Part 4: Does Modesty Matter for the Athletes (and Viewers)?— Courtney Tarter

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Redemption and Jane Eyre

Last night I finished Jane Eyre. I had been excited to finish it since I heard from some friends that the speech at the end by Rochester is excellent. Though I do not know the state of Charlotte Bronte's faith in Christ, she does end a seemingly tragic story with the hope of redemption in Christ. It is a beautiful story, really.

I leave you with my two favorite quotes by Mr. Rochester:

"Jane! You think me, I daresay, an irreligious dog: but my heart swells with gratitude to the beneficient God of this earth just now. He sees not as man sees, but far clearer: judges not as man judges, but far more wisely. I did wrong: I would have sullied my innocent flower--breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me. I, in my stiff-necked rebellion, almost cursed the dispensation: instead of bending to the decree, I defied it. Divine justice pursued its course; disasters came thick on me: I was forced to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. His chastisements are mighty; and one smote me which, has humbled me for ever. You know I was proud of my guidance, as a child does its weakness? Of late, Jane--only--only of late--I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance, the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere."

"I thank my Maker, that, in the midst of judgment, He has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat the Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto."

We, too, can give thanks to our Creator that in our own lives He graciously remembers undeserved mercy in the midst of a much deserved judgment.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Summer Reading Update: Part 4

Well, my summer reading has taken a slightly different turn. I had five books on my list and I made it through four before I got sidetracked by Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre—not to mention other unexpected summer happenings (excellent books by the way). So I will save Losing Our Virtue for another semester break when I have more time. But, I did finish Evangelicalism Divided, which was a really insightful (and convicting) book. What stood out to me most was the fact that my staying the course is only by the grace of God. My own ability will not keep me from sliding into doctrinal error—God will. This is a humbling and challenging thought. This heightened the importance of the spiritual disciplines for me. If I am not seeking His face I am more prone to backsliding. So even though this book was probably not meant for a “devotional,” it ended up speaking much needed truth to my soul regarding my own walk with the Lord.

I was reminded that there is much to learn from history. The phrase “history repeats itself” is true indeed, and not because of chance, but because human nature never changes. It simply manifests itself in different cultures and contexts. Our propensity to error and sin is always before us. History reminds us of that. We can very easily think that we have arrived at some “new” idea or phenomenon if we are not aware of all that happened before we were even a blip on the radar screen. So, I am grateful to the men and women in the faith who have gone before us. It is encouraging to be reminded that perfection is not required of us because Someone else was already perfect for us. But it is also a sober reminder that the things that make us in such desperate need of that Someone, called Christ, will come back to haunt us if we are not mindful.

So my summer reading list is now complete (with the exception of 80 pages left of Jane Eyre). Now I must tackle a head start on Hebrew vocabulary—and get ready to bury myself in theology until December. Thanks for keeping up with my summer reading! I won’t bore you with the Hebrew vocabulary, but if you have any helpful tips—I would be very appreciative.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Today my parents celebrate 28 years of marriage. At this point they have spent more of their lives together than they have apart. In a day when divorce is rampant, I am thankful for my parents commitment to the covenant they made 28 years ago today. I am thankful that they never pretended that it was easy. I am thankful that they are honest about their faults through the years. And I am thankful that they love each other more today than they did on their wedding day.

Our God is good indeed! Happy Anniversary!