Real is best

I write on a Tuesday and I have to admit to you that today and the past three or four Tuesdays prior, I’ve felt off, floundering about like a fish out of water. Generally speaking, my Tuesdays are spent at a podium or around a table, studying God’s Word with a group of women I love and esteem. However, our study is on break for the summer and, though summer breaks are necessary and good, a Bible teacher without a class feels, well, a little lost.

We just finished a study of selected Psalms and while I knew it would be good–hello, it’s the Word of GOD–I think it will go down as one of my favorite times in Bible study. I am always overwhelmed and humbled by the sheer goodness of God, how He tenders our hearts to His Word, how He reveals Himself and His gospel in beautiful and glorious ways, how He teaches and transforms. This go ’round He did all that, even more so. He is so good.

And my Bible study girls? What grace they are to me! Each and every group is different but all encourage me and sharpen me by their participation and presence. I know that no teacher can exercise her gift apart from students to come alongside but I am always–always!–happily and humbly surprised there are those who choose to join me.

I was wondering the other day just how many women have passed through one or more studies with me. Not that I see such a number as a trophy or something to seek after or boast in, but rather I see each woman and her attendance as a trust, a gift, a privilege wholly undeserved. I am not worthy but I am grateful.

I read an article yesterday about, of all things, whether pastors should use social media. In the article Tony Reinke describes the pressure many pastors feel when they compare their offering with the level of excellence widely available with the mere click of the mouse or scroll of the phone.

I get this. Currently there is much discussion on social media about women and ministry (indeed, when is there not?), particularly in terms of online and parachurch platforms. For many women their primary source of discipleship comes from outside their local church, and why not? Most of the popular teachers and podcasters and bloggers are so because they are good at what they do. They are funny, they are skilled orators, they are relatable, they are super fashionable, and did I mention they are funny? Me? I can’t compete with that.

My offering is humble, simple, ordinary. While I may have once resented it, I now not only embrace it but see it for the sacred privilege that it is. I believe we need to be in Bible study with people who know us, who know our name, who look us in the eye, who hold us accountable by their very presence, who see us at football games and the grocery store and other times when the mask is off and the real shows in all its realness, who know our hypocrisy, and who point us to the only hope, the gospel. To do so for another is a privilege and a trust. My Bible study girls are this, and more, for me and I hope and pray I am the same for them.

Books and blogs and podcasts are good, indeed they are. But they are no substitute for real people in our real lives living the real gospel side by side with us in the midst of real life with real problems and real need. Virtual is good; real is best.

So for my real friends who join me each Tuesday, thank you. I am grateful for the real fellowship we enjoy with the real God who in His providence placed us in real proximity to seek Him and to know Him and to study His Word together.

Talking on the phone and learning to be needy

My friend called me this week and when I first saw her name on the caller ID, I admit my first thought was that she was calling with bad news. She lives out of town and we rarely talk, like with our voices, so for her to call, while welcome, was also disconcerting.

It wasn’t bad news but rather the best sort of happy news and we chatted and laughed and talked, like with our voices, for quite some time. It was great.

I once talked on the phone all the time. Way back when my babies were just that, I had friends with whom I would talk on the phone about everything and anything. For instance, I had one particular friend that either she or I would call the other right at 9 am nearly and we would proceed to talk for an hour, sometimes more. Every day.

This is crazy, particularly in comparison to my current phone talking habits which are nearly nonexistent. I’m not (exactly) a hermit; I do converse with people but with the more narrow medium of text messaging.

And I love it. Text messaging, as I’ve asserted often, is an introvert’s dream. Short, direct conversations which can be easily avoided or abandoned, what’s not to love?

Years ago I was on the phone with a friend, conversing like with our voices, me bemoaning the general state of my life. I can’t remember my specific circumstances but I do know that the laundry wasn’t done and the dishes were piled in the sink and I sighed and whined and complained about both and probably a wealth of other things besides.

About fifteen minutes after I hung up with my friend, my doorbell rang. It was my friend and she walked straight through my front door to my kitchen sink and began to wash the dishes. THE NERVE. Not only that but she refused to leave without taking a few loads of laundry with her to wash. I allowed her the boys’ laundry and some towels but not my or my husband’s dirties. My dignity, what was left of it, compelled me to draw the line somewhere.

I was mortified. And embarrassed. And utterly humiliated.

Evidently I reserved the right to complain but not the right to accept help. And there was no quid pro quo here. Her kids were grown and out of the house and she had all the time in the world for a friend’s need as well as her dishes and laundry. In the end I could only receive her help and I hated it.

In Sunday School I am teaching through the book Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love. Author Ed Welch asserts that in any healthy community, the members both give and receive help. This process of walking with another begins with each of us realizing we are needy.

I am needy and that truth rankles, as was so obvious when my friend administered very real, very practical help to me all those years ago. I don’t think I’m alone in my dislike of my helplessness. We all would rather appear strong and like we have “it” all together, whatever “it” may be.

Admitting our need feels risky. We conceal our neediness, or we revel in it, like some kind of weird misery contest, but in reality, we are embarrassed by our weakness, we are afraid of what others may think, and we fight to appear competent.

Welch states the obvious: in order to receive help I must admit my neediness. But there’s a less obvious dynamic at work: in order to effectively give help, I must also admit my neediness. In fact, my honest admission of my weakness, according to Welch, is one of the greatest gifts I can give the church. Wait. What?

Honestly assessing who I am and living in that honesty make me a better helper. Self sufficiency, on the other hand, may really be arrogance. Our community will grow together in love and humility as we each of us understand our weakness and our need for each other. This is the grace of the gospel, is it not, that I am so weak and flawed I needed rescuing and the Lord did just that. It is humbling and humiliating to be so weak and so needy but it is also beautiful.

Help is given and I only receive. I cannot earn it and I cannot repay it. My friend taught me as much all those years ago and I am grateful for her example of friendship and of gospel grace.

Book review: Housewife Theologian

Aimee Byrd and I stumbled into each other’s blogspace a few years ago, I can’t really remember how or when. I do remember feeling as if I’d discovered yet another kindred spirit as I read of her passion for God’s Word and for theology and for women to know the Word as theologians. Aimee and I had the opportunity to meet at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference last year and I was delighted to discover her virtual passion transfers over to her real life. In the short conversations we enjoyed we managed to discuss our blogs and our ministries as well as teaching Bible study and everything in between. In other words, she’s the real deal, as fervent and thoughtful in real life as she is onscreen.

Upon the news that she would be publishing a book entitled Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary, I immediately conveyed my congratulations, admitting that one such book would be exactly the sort of book I would write should I ever write a book. I’m not sure whether or not Aimee considered that a compliment but I will say that I am glad Aimee wrote it and not me and the message is certainly the better for it!

What is the message of Housewife Theologian? What motivates Aimee (and me) to teach Bible study and write and blog (ok, so it is Aimee who writes and blogs, me not so much)? The message is this: we are all theologians in the sense that what we believe, or not, about God affects every part of our lives. The question is, what sort of theologians are we? To that end, Housewife Theologian explores various facets of a housewife’s world, from beauty to marriage to sin to vocation, just to name a few, asking how the gospel informs and motivates and transforms. Aimee maintains the gospel makes a difference and she aims to show us how.

Theology carries an unfortunate connotation, particularly among women. We think it reserved for the opinionated and argumentative among us. Or maybe we consider it the realm of the academic or the professional. We tell ourselves that we’re saved, we have Jesus, and, frankly, isn’t that enough? How we sell ourselves short! Aimee’s book confronts that connotation head on and encourages the reader to not only carefully examine her theology but to ask herself what sorts of implications her theology carries in her real life.

Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary is an honest, intelligent book. No fluff here! Aimee writes with a self-deprecating authenticity that is engaging and at times really funny. She challenged me, she made me think, she asked the hard questions. I told my Bible study class at the start of our session this fall that my desire is for us to be strong women of the Word, women unafraid of theology and doctrine, women full of zeal and confidence because we know whom we have believed. My desire for my Bible study girlfriends is Aimee’s desire for the women who read her book. In fact, she has framed the book with the goal of small group discussion and discipleship.

If I have one quibble, and I hesitate to even call it a quibble, it is this: that women who do not view themselves as housewives will assume the book is not for them. The term housewife, Aimee readily admits, is a little quaint and slightly old fashioned. She asserts, however, and I agree, that all married women are housewives. That being said, this book is not merely for married housewives. It will speak into the lives and journeys of all women, married, widowed, or single. Young or old we women need the message of this book. Buy it. Read it. Share it. Talk about it.

Here’s Aimee in her own words discussing the theme and message of her book…

 

A big thank you to P & R Publishing who provided me with a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

This is what I pray for

Longtime readers of the blog will know I tend to wax a little nostalgic at the close of a unit of Bible study. Y’all know I’m not given to strong emotion, certainly not of the sappy variety, but there’s something about coming to the end of a given journey together through the pages of Scripture that does something to my heart. I think of the excitement and apprehension that marked the beginning; I think about how I would make out a course outline way back at the start and as I would type it up I would wonder with every week’s lesson title that I type what the Lord will teach us and how He will change us. All that wondering is then reality when we reach the final lesson and, well, I am overwhelmed.

I mentioned to you that this particular study, or pair of studies, has been as challenging as any I’ve ever taught. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. One is the sheer breadth of the material. We have been studying Jesus in the Old Testament, specifically Genesis through Deuteronomy, using Nancy Guthrie’s excellent workbooks The Promised One and The Lamb of God to frame and facilitate each week’s lesson. I remarked last fall as we were wrapping up Genesis that we could have easily titled the course “Theology 101” since our lessons wrestled with doctrinal truths such as God’s sovereignty, the problem of evil, election, judgment for sin, salvation by grace, just to name a few, and this winter’s study proved no different. We did not shy away from the deep things of the Lord and I am thankful for it.

So not only were we discussing heavy theological and doctrinal truths but we were often doing so several chapters of the Bible at a time. Each week I reminded the class of our “helicopter” approach; rather than looking at our selected text via a verse by verse exposition, we would swoop down as it were, highlighting the passages that developed our theme of seeing Jesus. You can imagine, then, the challenge of preparation each week.

I was also challenged by the format of the class itself. It had been some time since I’d taught strictly via lecture so, introvert that I am, I naturally had to work through a case of the nerves. My biggest worry, though, wasn’t my Tuesday morning anxiety attacks but the fear that I may be contributing to the consumer culture that seems to plague many current evangelicals. I don’t want the women in my class to be spectators but it seems to be I might be encouraging just that response and this frightens me.

I will say I think our current format fits our group best. And I do know that spiritual maturity on the part of the students is not solely the teacher’s responsibility. My passion, what drives the hours I spend in preparation, is for women to know and love the Word of God. I want them, me, all of us together, to be thinking women, strong women armed with a strong theology, a theology forged in the careful and passionate study of Scripture. I don’t know if this can be accomplished by me standing at a lectern for an hour or so on Tuesday mornings. I hope so. I pray so.

On Wednesday a friend of mine, a fellow Bible student, told me about another friend, also part of our group. “She’s curious,” my friend told me, “she wants to know more.” As she was telling me, I wanted to cry (I told you Bible study can make me a sap). This hunger, this desire, this compulsion, this is what I pray for.

I am so grateful for these women, my friends and sisters in Christ, who come alongside as we study the Word together. As they sit before me, Bibles open, hearts expectant, ears attentive, they are God’s grace to me. Teaching is a responsibility and a challenge both, yes, oh, yes. It is also a privilege, a gift I do not take for granted. I love the Lord. I love His Word. I love teaching. I love these women.

We wanted to see Jesus and we have. Glory to God, we have. No wonder my emotions well. My heart is full.

And our journey together continues! We may have finished this study but we begin another in April. I cannot wait to see all that the Lord will do in us and among us. He is faithful and He will do it.

Everything She Had

Author’s note: This week I am taking something of a hiatus from posting new content here on the blog. This post is from the Lisa writes… archives, circa May 2009

This morning in my Bible reading I read Mark 10:41-44, the account of the widow who, in Jesus’ words, gave “everything she had.” Tomorrow we conclude our study of Surrender by Nancy Leigh Demoss and as I prepare for our discussion I can’t help pondering what it means to give everything I have.

Sometimes I look at the widow of Mark 10 and other believers who likewise have given all for the sake of the gospel and I think to myself that, why sure, of course I’d be willing, you know, if Jesus actually were to ask, but lucky for me He hasn’t, and then I go about my business carefully protecting and hoarding that which I’m convinced He hasn’t asked of me.

The thing is, He has and He does. Not just of me but of all who would claim to follow Him. Oh, I don’t mean we are each of us to empty our bank accounts and write the church a big fat check. But perhaps I am. Consider:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:37-39)

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

Denying myself. Taking up the cross. Daily. Dying to myself. Losing my life to gain Him. See, that’s the kind of commitment Jesus demands. This is the kind of surrender that marks the true disciple of Christ: complete and total. Everything she had.

We sometimes view a particular struggle or burden as our given cross to bear. I think Jesus’ demand is far more radical than persevering through illness or loving a wayward child. The cross had one connotation to his listeners: death. Just as Paul claimed to be crucified with Christ so too must we die to all that is ours: our agenda, our rights, our dreams, our stuff, our reputation, our children, our homes, our very lives. We are to sacrifice it all, laying it before Him to do with as He pleases.

Seems harsh. It is. Seems difficult and costly. It is. But, like the merchant who sold all he had in order to gain the pearl of great price, we will find that the supreme value of the Treasure far outweighs any sacrifice made to acquire it. As we relinquish all to the good and sovereign King, our testimony becomes that of Paul’s:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him…” (Phil. 3:7-8)

Is Jesus the great Treasure of your life? Have you relinquished all in glad surrender before Him? Can He say of you as He said of the widow: she gave everything she had? Do you know the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus? Do you count all else as rubbish so that you may gain Christ?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom. 12:1)

How I long for my testimony to be: she gave everything she had. A living sacrifice offered to my God in view of the glorious grace and abundant mercies He poured out on my behalf at the cross of Christ.
I surrender all. All to Him I owe.