Monday, April 30, 2012

Free to Be...

I see a woman in a head covering, and, suddenly....
I'm hyperventilating.
She has a head covering. He must be a command man.
If he is a command man, he must be a hyper-patriarch.
If he is a hyper-patriarch, he is a mysogynist.
If he is a mysogynist, she must be in a lot of pain.
Yes, in one nanosecond, my eyes see headcovering, and my brain thinks 'tyranny.'

I find myself praying silently with Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof:
"God bless the family-with-head-coverings and keep them FAAAAAAAAR away from us!"

Then I remember my own time off in the weeds, and I do my best to back the condemnation truck up.

But I admit I'm still inching my way to the opposite corner of the room.

At the other end of the standards spectrum, I recall sitting in the back of a class of 'homeschoolers' where I got waaaay too much of an eyeful from a young woman's choice of jeans. This wasn't a church gathering in the sense that God's Word would be preached, and there would be worship and prayer. was a church gathering in the sense that most of the folks congregated there would make some claim to Jesus as Lord. And, frankly, that young lady's style was unbecoming for a Christian.

We need standards. The case of the young lady above makes that obvious.
We need standards in the home because our children are too young to know prudence.
We need standards so that when we remove the scaffolding from these children we are building, they will understand what prudence looks like and how to set standards of their own.

Standards are tricky business.
Some believers have a tendency towards rules.
Some believers have a tendency towards no rules.
Standards are family business, too.
We can't hold other people to our standards. House rules, after all, are just that, and not God's Law.
But that does not mean we are free to have no standards.

"I will set no unclean thing before my eyes."
The implication is that there are unclean things, that I can choose to look at them, and that the godly man will choose not to. The application, though, is for the Holy Spirit to make.
So maybe I can watch Pirates of the Caribbean. And you can't.
Maybe you can read Harry Potter. And I can't.
But we should both agree that anything that strikes us as unclean should not be entertaining to us.

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence or anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things."
The implication is that the man of God must make a conscious decision to take out the garbage.
The application is that we must define within our own households that what qualifies as true/honorable/right/pure/lovely and what qualifies as false/dishonorable/unrighteous/impure/ugly.

Having no standard is a standard. Don't fall for the idea that no standard is freedom. It is not. With every book, every movie, every song, every thought, we have to weigh its worth.
And we have to remind ourselves that the standard is not:
"Whatever is a classic, whatever is new, whatever is popular, whatever is a box-office smash, whatever has a cool soundtrack, whatever is cinematic genius..."
We're not called to be relevant; we're called to be holy.

We are a free people. Christ died to set us free. And Christian liberty is a wonderful thing.
My family is a free family. It isn't often that people toss the label 'legalist' at us. I am in no way advocating that we start searching for lines to draw.
No way. I am of the firm belief that we should start by assuming all things are permissible and have a reason--a very good reason--for determining something is not permissible.
But perhaps it would be more helpful to ask ourselves, "Where would I draw the line?"
"What would a movie look like that I would not watch?"
"At what point would I decide a book is not worthy of my time?"

A few years back, we had a hair crisis in our household.
The men all liked women's hair to be long, the longer the better.
The women liked our hair to be short and chic.
And suddenly, we had a need for a standard.
Brett wanted a standard that would be glorifying to God without writing a new law. After days of weighing our appeals and his tastes with God's Word, he came up with this: Be feminine. If you look like a female and like you appreciate being a female, wear it. If you look masculine or like you wish you were masculine, it's off-limits.

And with that one standard, the winds of freedom were blowing once again.
I think that's what good standards do.
They set a boundary that makes us at once achieve love and liberty.

Sometimes, standards can be too dogmatic.

There are scriptural principles that tell us that...
iron sharpens iron...
and don't let anyone despise your youth...
and spur one another on to love and good deeds.
our concerns regarding the youth group movement (and they are valid concerns) can cause us to reject these scripture and set an extra-scriptural, overly-dogmatic standard.
So we let our kids discuss everything...but Truth.
That's just weird.
Not only that, but for this mama who prays that her children will have a hunger for spiritual things and that their friends will have a hunger for spiritual things...
it's puzzling.
We end up forfeiting koinonia in favor of dogmatism.

When we elevate our standard so that it is equal to a biblical principle,
we harm the parties involved and breed disillusionment.
Surely, we sola scriptura types are aiming for a more excellent way than that!

Or sometimes, in our quest to have Godly standards, we let others set the standards for us. Then one day we wake up and realize we've been too rigid, too wooden. I was visiting a few weeks ago with some friends in another town. I was sharing what we were learning about having adult daughters, contrary to the more popular family-integrated standards in this area. Our friend smiled lightly and remarked, "Yeah, we can get a little dogmatic about that, can't we? We've been talking about that, too." It was nice to know we weren't the only ones re-evaluating.

So, setting standards is delicate.
The road to setting them has ditches of legalism on one side and lawlessness on the other.
The road is pock-marked with needless wounding and pointed fingers.

But, as with everything else in the Christian life, we aren't off the hook just because it's difficult.
We are a chosen nation, a holy people, a royal priesthood.
We must aim to have standards that reflect the Lord we serve and our identity with Him.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wouldn't It Be Great if Everyone Was Just Like Us?

We have some old friends who are the kind of friends you let your hair down with. We share a glass of wine and share our hearts. We laugh and enjoy each other's company. The conversation will inevitably turn to the Kingdom, and often, in moments of shared exasperation over some Church issue ("Church" as in the worldwide Body of Christ, not a specific local church), we roll our eyes and lament, "Wouldn't it be great if everyone was just like us?!"

I know. It sounds arrogant, doesn't it? But what we really mean is that day-to-day Body life can range from purely joyous to neutrally peaceful to mildly irritating to downright toe-stepped-on offensive. And if everyone was just like us, we could avoid those more uncomfortable moments. We'd share the same convictions. We'd have the same rules. Life would be a piece of cake.

But, noooooooo.
God made it more complicated than that.
We have to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
We have to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.
We have to count it all joy when we encounter various trials.

Body life is good; I don't mean to imply it is not.
The rich friendships I have been blessed with in the Body are priceless.
But Body life is hard.
And that's a fact.

Matters of conscience.
They are frequently the vehicle which transports us from the neutrally peaceful to the mildly irritating...or worse.

The Word of God,
The Counsel of the Holy,
is endless in its depths of wisdom.
We can mine it our whole lives and never exhaust it,
never reach the end of our learning curve.

But it is a Sword.
And we could all use a little weapons' training before we start swingin' that Thang around...
It is possible to hurt someone by improperly using the Word of God.

I admit it.
When I set standards regarding media (books, movies, music)
or style (hair, clothing, makeup)
or food (alcohol, pork, whole foods)
or health (homeopathy, birth control)
or more serious things (remarriage, baptism)...

...I have a strong tendency to make my conviction a universal law.
I am, after all, a black and white girl living in a gray world...

Ironically, I really don't like being held to someone else's standards.
However, I can't think of one single time when someone got in my face for enjoying a beer or wearing pants or cutting my hair.

So, the corollary issue regarding matters of conscience is that while I can't force my standards on someone else,
I also can't flippantly charge them with legalism.
Oh, they might be legalistic.
In their hearts, they might be trying to be right with God by their own virtue.
And that's a private form of legalism, for the Holy Spirit to judge in them.
Nevertheless, I can't say they're being outwardly legalistic if they are quietly living lives of conviction and are letting me also live a quiet life of conviction.
Oh my goodness. I can't even begin to count the times I have done that.

We do need standards.

...which brings me to my next point...
Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Lawgiver

"Mom, who did the Pharisees believe in?" Jacob asked from the backseat of the car.
"Themselves," I answered. "They believed in themselves, in their ability to keep the law." And it was one of those moments when teacher and student were learning together because as the answer was coming out of my mouth, I was having a God moment. It was like a word of wisdom, and the words were not mine.

God is the Lawgiver.
He has created this world and set it in motion.
In Him we live and breathe and have our being.
And from this incredible, eternal Mind comes Law which sustains His creation.
He wrote scientific laws, like gravity.
He wrote economic laws, like supply and demand.
And He wrote moral law, which He originally entrusted to Israel.

His Law cannot be broken without serious consequence.
And therein lies the irony...
because break it we do.
Minute by minute.

In short, He wrote a Law we cannot keep.

This Law that is impossible to keep demonstrates to us what is right and what is wrong.
The Law reveals to us our sin,
which reveals our dead-ness,
which reveals our need for a Savior...
someone who can keep the Law,
and pay our penalty,
and make us right with God.

That is the function of the Law.
And in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, He interprets the Law to implicate us all.
If there was any doubt as to our ability to achieve right standing with God through the Law,
it was all cleared up then.
"Think you've kept the whole law? Let's talk about calling your brother 'Raca.'"

No wonder the Pharisees were mad.
They thought that Jesus was making the Law impossible to fulfill.
But He wasn't adding new requirements.
He was acting the Judge, interpreting for the people what the Law had always meant to the Lawgiver.
The Law had always been impossible to fulfill!

Being the Lawgiver is serious business.
And it is a job reserved for God Himself.

But over the last few years, the Lord has been showing me how much I like to play Lawgiver.
I write new laws
and hold others to them
and make judgments based on whether they 'keep' them.

What is 'sin' but the failure to keep the Law,
literally 'missing the mark?'
So when I write a new Law, and others fail to keep my law...
I'm really saying they are sinning, because they're missing my mark.

I can think of laws I've written regarding all kinds of issues of conscience:
birth control
youth groups and children's church
nose rings and tattoos
women working outside the home.

(We need to have standards. 
Christians are notorious for feeling, rather than praying and thinking, their way through life.
We need to be in the Word, applying the Word...
and I'll get to that.)

I can have a value on homeschooling and commit to it, come hell or highwater.
I can define what I think it is and what I think it's not.
I can even assess, based on my definition, "I don't think X is homeschooling."
But I cannot say that not homeschooling is sin.
I cannot say that because God does not say that.

I don't want to write any more Law.
I am a worm.
I am but dust.
I am not qualified to write Law.

God is holy.
God is perfect.
God is the author of Creation
and the source of all knowledge
and the source of all wisdom.
He alone is qualified to be the Lawgiver.

"Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."  (I Timothy 1:17)

Lord, help me to remember that You alone are the Lawgiver.
And I am the sinner--saved by grace.

(Up next, what I'm learning abut issues of conscience and setting standards...)