Posted on Monday, July 03, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Way back in my early twenties, I used to volunteer at CareNet Pregnancy Center. They trained some of us to give abstinence presentations to high school youth. There were many true and helpful points in these presentations and I felt good about helping teens understand spiritual, emotional, and physical consequences in their decisions. And as evangelical churches around me were also speaking out more to teens about abstinence, I was happy that the church was finally talking more about the consequences of sex. But now, almost 20 years later, I am rethinking how Christians teach abstinence as purity. 
 
Of course, it is not pure behavior to participate in premarital and extramarital sex. But we are missing out on learning the beauty of purity by reducing it to saying no to sexual activity outside of the bounds of marriage. And by reducing our teaching this way, I think that we have reduced our brothers and sisters in Christ to threats to our purity and have also inadvertently enticed lust by hedging their behavior with more and more laws to stay pure---sealed with with the ring that advertises it.
 
John doesn’t tell us to hold back our love, but to love our brothers and sisters with a holy love:
 
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11—12)
 
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18—19)
 
And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister. (1 John 4:21)
 
He tells us to look to our ultimate hope, which is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, even though we can’t fully grasp what that will be. And this great hope is not merely wishful thinking---it is purifying:
 
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1—3)
 
Because we are children of God, and our hope is in full glorification and Christlikeness, we are called to purify ourselves. What does that mean? We cannot do this ourselves. We need Christ, who is our purity. But what does that mean? Purity is too often thought of as something that we lose, and so it is thought of as something to guard through abstinence. But we don’t purify ourselves through abstinence. We purify ourselves by having our hope fixed on Jesus Christ; “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). In their book, God So Loved He Gave, Kelly Kapic and Justin Borger build off of this verse in discussing the paradox of how Christians live under God’s divine generosity as we belong to God:
 
God’s ownership is much more dynamic than we might expect. While we often associate the idea of “ownership” with locks and keys, safe deposit boxes, bank accounts, and home security systems, God’s ownership is fundamentally different. Unlike us, God doesn’t own by keeping, but by giving…
 
Since God did not create to satisfy an inadequacy or need of his own, but out of the fullness of his delight and love, this delight and love flow to the creatures as generosity and back to God as thanksgiving and praise. Creation reflects and therefore shares in---or “beholds”---God’s great glory. Our good has by his hand become a means of God’s ultimate glory, intrinsically connected (cf. Ezek. 36:22-27).
 
The nature of this connection is a key to a healthy view of God and ourselves. As God’s giving does not impoverish but enriches him, so we, as we offer back to God the gifts he has given and sanctified in us, are enriched in his glory and are satisfied in and through him. (24-25)
 
We can certainly apply this dynamic nature of God’s generosity to our purity. Our purity is from God. Think of all that purity entails. It is not merely abstinence from premarital sex. We must not reduce it to what we withhold. Purity involves our hearts, our thoughts, proper active love, integrity, and holiness. Purity is body, mind, and soul cleanliness, which is not mixed with sin in any of these areas. Can anyone uphold this in herself? Himself?  No! But God graciously gave us his Son. Jesus Christ’s full righteousness is imputed to every believer. So from him, we are given everything that purity entails. Everything! And it is through him that we remain pure. He didn’t just pay for our impurity and give us his purity; he has given us himself! Paul makes this argument when discussing purity:
 
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
 
We have been given the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, tabernacling with us. Now that is holiness and purity! While affirming God’s ownership, he is telling us that God has given us himself. Talk about divine generosity! He then concludes that we are to glorify God in our bodies. So our purity is from God, through God, and we respond by offering it back to God. Purity isn’t merely abstaining from sexual activity; it is offering our whole selves back to the Giver.  This positive response of gratitude and worship is where we find our greatest satisfaction and joy. We will not find our ultimate satisfaction in sex. But that is the lie that many believe when they participate in entertaining lustful thoughts, inappropriate behaviors, and especially in carrying it all the way through to the act of premarital or extramarital sex. Temptations to sin in this way must be confessed and offered to God. That too is an act of faith in offering ourselves to the One who sustains us. 
 
This is also important for married people to understand. Often, abstinence teaching within the church gives a false promise that is still focused on a man-centered gratification that really has nothing to do with our purity. It goes something like this: If you maintain your virginity until marriage, you will be blessed with wonderful sex and a happily ever after relationship. Purity is treated as some sort of commodity for ultimate blessing. Don’t be fooled: this is the prosperity gospel. God’s holy standard exists only to reward you for your great victory in following the “name it claim it” formula. But even sex within marriage is not going to satisfy us. And it certainly isn’t our purity. 
 
Many disillusioned Christians who tried to “do it the right way” have fallen hard when they didn’t get the rapturous blessing they thought they had earned. Our purity is from God, through God, and to God. Understanding that the Lord has truly been victorious, that he can sustain us in our weaknesses and give us his own power to love him and to hate sin, that we can share in his love to his people with godly affection which is appropriate for our different relationships, and that all of our affections are going to be returned to him in fullness of glory is satisfying. He wants to give us true pleasure that is to be found in blessed communion with the Triune God and his people. When we know and experience this, we do not put false expectations on others, even our spouses. And we look at our brothers and sisters with the eyes of faith.
 
True love rightly orders it's affections. But please don't put that on a ring.
 
Posted on Monday, June 19, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I've received a handful of emails regarding the latest MoS episode on Maddi Runkles, the pregnant teenager who could not walk with her fellow graduates at Heritage Christian Academy. They were pretty much divided in half between those who agreed with the school's decision and those who did not. This thoughtful reply by a listener got to the heart of a matter about whether a school administration, even a Christian school, has the same authority that church government does in handling personal sin. I am posting it with permission of the the sender, Lori Seaman:
 
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the conversation about the Christian school shaming the pregnant teen. One thing it got me thinking about was the unique role of the church, and what happens when other institutions try to take on that role. Christian schools can and do play a very good, important role in the formation of Christian children, but they are not churches. I'm not sure, once they created a code of conduct that did not just address academic- or school-related issues, but personal sin. 
 
There are things that are not sin that schools can reasonably prohibit and punish. It is not inherently sinful for a boyfriend and girlfriend to kiss, but a school can have a policy against PDAs, and give a detention to students seen kissing in the hallway. A pastor, on the other hand, would be (as least as far as I can tell!) wildly out of line if he were to discipline a serious boyfriend and girlfriend for not waiting until their wedding day to have their first kiss. Failing a class is not a sin, but a school can deny graduation to a student who fails. Whereas, I'd say, a church can discipline a member for sex outside of marriage, but a school should not. 
 
A school, even a Christian school, has no real mechanism for dealing with sin, nor is it their role to do so. If they have a code of conduct with that includes both not having premarital sex and not plagiarizing, then they are in a bind. If a student plagiarizes or cheats, are they now bound to allow that student to walk at graduation if they repent? But if they won't allow that, then they are also in a position where extending grace to the pregnant teen but not the plagiarizer would seem unfair. A church can embrace and forgive and be again in full communion with both the repentant pregnant teen and the repentant plagiarizer, because dealing with sin is the job of the church. Dealing with sin is not the job of the school, and they cannot do it well.
 
Anyway, great show, and I think the school really could not have come up with a good answer once they decided that they should have student's private sexual behavior (behavior that did not take place on school grounds or at school events) in the code of conduct. It doesn't belong there, because even Christian schools are not there to discipline and forgive sinners. That's the church's job. I'm not sure, once they created a code of conduct that did not just address academic- or school-related issues, but personal sin, they could have responded well.
Posted on Saturday, June 03, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
The MoS team just finished a prerecording discussing Heritage Christian School’s handling of the teenage pregnancy of Maddi Runkles, a senior with a 4.0 grade point average and the now former president of the student council. It will air on June 14th. Maddi, along with the rest of the students at Heritage, signed a contractual pledge that she would abstain from premarital sex, drugs, and alcohol. So the pregnancy reveals that not only did Maddi sin by having premarital sex, she also broke her pledge to the school. 
 
Runkles is repentant for her sin. She is a young woman who professes Christian faith and is active in her church. She asked her school board for forgiveness when she confessed her sin and revealed her pregnancy. One understandable way the school reacted to the news of her pregnancy was by stripping away all of her leadership positions. Being that this is a Christian school with high moral standards, I can see how a moral failure like this would disqualify her for a time from leadership in the high school. But the further actions of the school seem beyond the scope of how to treat a repentant young woman who is taking responsibility for her actions. She was not allowed to be on the school campus at all during her pregnancy. This means that she could not even attend her brother’s games, she would have to complete the rest of her class work at home, and although she would receive her diploma, she could not walk with her classmates at the graduation ceremony. She has, however, after confessing her sin to the whole student body and asking for forgiveness in great humility, regained the right to attend her classes and I think attend her brother’s sports events as well. But she still cannot walk with her classmates at the graduation ceremony. 
 
We discuss all of this on the podcast, so I’m not going to go into all those details here. But there was one thing that we brought up during the podcast that I would like to continue to discuss, and that is this contractual pledge that the students sign. This is nothing exclusive to Heritage. Many Christian schools require students to sign such a pledge. On one hand, it makes sense to want to have an official way to distinguish a Christian school and show that they are serious about moral behavior. Many parents send their children to Christian schools because they expect them to uphold Christian morality. Of course none of us want our children to be engaged in premarital sex or in the use of drugs or alcohol. It’s good to see that school administration actively promotes making good decisions.
 
However, I’ve never been comfortable with these kinds of school contractual pledges, and this recent news of how it was enforced with Maddi Runkles made me want to question the function and effectiveness of them. I’m all for a school promoting purity. But these pledges, and the way they are enforced, go beyond what a healthy church even requires from its new members. In the OPC, we do take vows to join the church, which are solemn promises. Here they are:
 
Vows of Church Membership
1) Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?
2) Do you believe in one living and true God, in whom eternally there are three distinct persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – who are the same in being and equal in power and glory, and that Jesus Christ is God the Son, come in the flesh?
3) Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?
4) Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord, and do you promise that, in reliance on the grace of God, you will serve him with all that is in you, forsake the world, resist the devil, put to death your sinful deeds and desires, and lead a godly life?
5) Do you promise to participate faithfully in this church’s worship and service, to submit in the Lord to its government, and to heed its discipline, even in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life?
 
Vows Church Members Make When a New Congregation is Organized

In reliance upon God for strength do you solemnly promise to walk together as a church of Jesus Christ according to the Word of God and the constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?
 
Notice that we are confessing important elements of our faith here, including the fact that we are sinners. We hate sin, and fight to live the life of faith and obedience according to our confession of hope in the Lord. Fellow members also vow to help us. The ministry of the church serves us by the appointed means of grace as we are being discipled and sanctified. We don’t sign a paper listing particular sins that we promise we will never commit. That’s pretty reductive. But, there is a mode of discipline set in place under the shepherding care of our elders for the aim of the glory of God and our restoration.
 
And that’s the thing about these signed school pledges: they validate condemnation of particular sins without providing a way of restoration. They don’t promote repentance. They leave a teenager in their shame because they are immediately cut off from their “Christian” community. And when we are talking about Maddi Runkles’ case, we are reversing over 2,000 years of Christian influence on the transformation of the moral sanctioning of sexual morality from the category of shame to sin. Runkles' growing teenage belly is a shame to the school and its “Christian” ethics. But the power of the cross tells us that Maddi isn’t permanently shamed. Christ has pursued her, and through her faith and repentance his blood covers her sin. She is restored. Both her body and her soul have dignity and honor. 
 
Yeah But...
 
Even if the institution says, “Yes, you are forgiven, but these are the consequences you signed onto,” this highlights my very issue with such a contractual pledge. By having students sign such a pledge, the sexual sin all of the sudden becomes an act that she is committing primarily against the school. Maddi Runkles, and this horrifies me, went before her student body tearfully confessing her sexual sin and asking for forgiveness. What is the school forgiving her for---committing the sexual sin or for breaking her pledge? Because her sin was first and foremost against the Lord, and she has assurance that he has forgiven her. It would be one thing if she was caught having sex, drinking, or using illegal drugs on school property. Public schools would also be handing out the consequences there. That would be a public, criminal act within the institution. But that wasn’t the case. And yet even Maddi's tearful confession and repentance was not good enough to restore her to her Christian school after committing a private sin.
 
So what is the effectiveness of the contractual pledge? It isn’t to restore the sinner. It is to warn others. It tells the parents, this is a “clean” Christian community and your children will not be contaminated by these three sins. Or will they? What does this pledge and the executing the breaking of it communicate to the students at Heritage Christian Academy? Maddi commented that she knew, even while she was coming forward and confessing her sin, that other students had broken their pledge and were still lying---even after being caught. Many of them knew. The message is that what’s most important is appearances and the reputation of the school. Some sinners against the pledge will be able to work the system. A growing belly will never make it. This perpetuates an environment of sneaking and lying. But Maddi Runkles revealed the fruit of her confession of faith by repenting and treasuring life, resisting the temptation to abort and pretend like she was someone else.
 
Promoting Purity
 
What message does a pledge like this and the consequences of breaking it really proclaim about purity? Instead of purity being rooted in Christ and the proper ordering of all of our desires in offering to God, it becomes something you lose and never regain. It’s a physical status, a commodity that can keep you in a school, an act of abstention that can later be exchanged for a “Christian” husband. But purity isn’t only about abstention. It is preeminently about our communion with God that overflows to our other relationships so that we love as he loves. We love as he loves us. 
 
God is the one who has made a pledge to us in Christ. So rather than a contractual pledge, I would love to see Christian institutions asking how they can better promote this truth and how our communion with the Triune God affects our other relationships. And when Christians fall, I would love to see the culture in Christian schools be one where they help them come forward in honesty and lift them back up again, rooted in their faith. 
Posted on Friday, May 05, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
How many friends would you say you have? I read an article by Bec Crew a while back ago that challenged whether our friendships were as reciprocal as we think they are. He highlights a From The Odyssey Onlinestudy revealing that the feeling is mutual with only about half of the people we think of as friends:
 
Led by researchers from MIT, the study analysed friendship ties in 84 subjects aged 23 to 38, who were taking part in a business management class.
 
The subjects were asked to rank how close they were with each person in the class on a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 means "I do not know this person," 3 means "Friend," and 5 means "One of my best friends."
 
The researchers found that while 94 percent of the subjects expected their feelings to be reciprocated, only 53 percent of them actually were. 
The study is of course limited because of its tiny sample size, but as Kate Murphy reports for The New York Times, the results are consistent with data from several other friendship studies from the past decade, comprising more than 92,000 subjects, that put reciprocity rates at 34 to 53 percent.
 
This perception gap when it comes to friendship hints at a number of pretty significant problems, from our inability to clearly define friendship and the impact this could have on our own self-image, to us having the wrong idea about the kind of people who could actually affect social change.
 
While one of the team, computational social science researcher Alex Pentland, suggests that this inability to read people is largely due to us desperately trying to maintain a favourable self image - "We like them, they must like us." - the concept of friendship is actually really difficult to define.
 
I would hope that the older people in the study faired better in the perception gap. My teenage daughters have been learning a lot about this very issue. After reading the article I asked myself who I thought my friends were, and began to write down some names. It was interesting to see how many married couples I wrote down together. I was trying to only write down names of people I thought would mutually write my name down on their list. I have to say that I quit because the act of writing my friends names on paper felt very cheapening to our relationship. But it became clear to me that the size of the list would change dramatically depending on the way I defined friendship. I wonder how the study above would have been affected if the categories were more clearly defined between 0 and 5.
 
For instance, I have a decent amount of people for whom I have affection for and enjoy their presence. But the amount would be reduced by other factors like, people I would share private concerns with, or people I would ask for an inconvenient favor from. Notice I said would there, and not could. That may say more about me than them, but still affects the amount.
 
The article went on to quote from some friendship professionals for a definition friendship, the problems with our perceptions of it in our culture, and an opinion of how many friends would be good to have:
 
"Treating friends like investments or commodities is anathema to the whole idea of friendship," Ronald Sharp, a professor of English at Vassar College, who teaches a course on the literature of friendship, told Murphy. "It’s not about what someone can do for you, it’s who and what the two of you become in each other’s presence."
 
"People are so eager to maximise efficiency of relationships that they have lost touch with what it is to be a friend," he says.
But hey, it’s not all bad news. If you cut your friends by half and end up with five true pals who really do love you back, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, says renowned British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar.
 
According to a recent study led by Dunbar, while 150 is the maximum number of social relationships the average human can maintain with any degree of stability, we're only able to maintain a mere five close friendships at a time. 
 
"People may say they have more than five but you can be pretty sure they are not high-quality friendships," he told The Times.
 
I imagine friendship as a commodity has always been an issue, but it is so much more apparent with the advent of social media. One thing is for sure: high-quality friendships are a blessing. And they are something worth investing in. How would you define that? We learn a lot about friendship in Scripture. Here are just a few excerpts of the more imperative kind:
 
A man of too many friends comes to ruin,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Prov. 18:24
 
Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
Prov. 27:5-6
 
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  
For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. 
But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
Eccl. 4:9-10
 
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
James 4:4
 
Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
 1 Cor. 15:33
 
I came across an enriching definition of friendship while reading this week from Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, by Dan Brennan:
 
A friend is one whose presence is joy, ever-deepening relationship and love, ever available in direct address, in communion and presence. A friend is one who remains fundamentally a mystery, inexhaustible, never fully known, always surprising. Yet a friend is familiar, comforting at home. A friend is one who urges human freedom and autonomy in decision, yet one who is present in the community of interdependence. ---Anne E Carr
 
Christians are called to a friendship of the highest quality:
 
“This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:12-15
 
So we have the greatest friendship one could imagine. And this makes a strong case for why our perception gap matters. What matters more, how many people we can call a friend, or how many people can call us one?
Posted on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
The thing I really appreciate about Simonetta Carr is that she likes to hang out a little in the uncomfortable spots when writing about history. Her whole book on Renée of France is about a Reformation figure who was “difficult to categorize”:
 
For some, she was a devoted daughter of the Church of Rome, misled and deceived by John Calvin and other reformers. For others, a heroine of the Reformation, who kept her faith---with the exception of one painful lapse---in spite of fierce persecution. Some, emphasizing her complaints to Calvin in her last letters, have described her as a fierce ecumenical spirit. (14)
 
In answering this question of who Renée of France really was, Simonetta Carr gives a bite-sized biography, a “brief look at the life of a woman who made difficult choices and asked stimulating questions---someone like most of us, often baffled by uncertainties, resisting changes, stubborn, and frustrated” (16). It is a great little read which I recommend. But rather than give you a summary or review, as it’s a short book that I encourage you to read for yourself, I just wanted to reflect on something that stood out to me in Renée’s story. And that is my take-aways from the intimate correspondence between Renée and John Calvin.
 
One reason it stood out to me so much is because all of the sexual tension in the contemporary church. I’m constantly seeing articles about whether women and men should text one another or have a business lunch in public. Renée was in a difficult marriage, so that one could even say she was vulnerable. Duke Ercole II was not happy with his duchess. She was continually stirring up political controversy as the infamous “patroness of banned or endangered Protestants, who were often employed in her service in different capacities”(45). She wasn’t exactly what the church would uphold as a submissive wife.
 
There isn’t a lot of information of Calvin’s visit to Ferrara, Italy. There isn’t a precise date or duration of his stay or an account of his purposes for his first visit with Renée. He did use a different name, Charles d’Esperville. And he made quite an impact on Renée and her court. Carr points out just how much they had in common, separated by only a year in age and both struggling to live away from their homeland of France. This visit was the beginning of a fruitful friendship of correspondence for the rest of their lives. There’s no romantic scandal here. There is pastoral guidance. But even more than that, Calvin opens up about his personal life with Renée in ways that are uncharacteristic of him. They were friends.
 
Calvin knew Renée’s influence to advance the true gospel as a French princess and Italian duchess. But Renee stood out to Calvin, and he shares personal reasons for his correspondence:
 
I have observed in you such fear of God and faithful disposition to obey him, that even without considering the high rank he has given you among men, I have been able to appreciate the virtues he has conferred on you and would consider myself accursed if I did not take advantage of those opportunities to serve you. (35)
 
He took great care to present Renée with clear teaching on the essential doctrines, as she was up against false teachers in the Este court. As she was going through persecution brought on by her own husband, wavering in her faith, Calvin continues to strengthen and encourage her with gospel truth. He spoke graciously to her in her weakest moments. He was a constant source of counsel for her, in the influence she had and the choices she was making regarding her personal life. Renée didn’t always take Calvin’s advice. She pushed back quite a bit. But there was a mutual respect creating a friendship comfortable with open disagreement and growth. It wasn’t one-dimensional. Calvin also listened to Renée’s concerns and gained from her perspective.
 
This correspondence lasted all the way to Calvin’s death. Less than a month before he died, Calvin wrote Renée affirming his high admiration for her virtues, asking forgiveness for dictating the letter to his brother “because of my weakness and the pain caused by several illnesses: breathing impediments, [kidney] stones, gout, and an ulcer of the haemorrhoidal veins, preventing every movement with the potential to give some relief” (96). Carr pointed out how uncharacteristic it was for Calvin to talk about himself in such a detailed way. This ended 27 years of correspondence between the two, “the longest and most pastoral correspondence the Reformer ever kept with a noblewoman” (107). Carr points out how Calvin communicated to Renée as he would to a dear friend. 
 
This is because Renée was more than auxiliary support to men. Calvin didn’t reduce her to one role as the Duke’s wife. She was a sister in Christ with a soul and a mind of her own. She wasn’t even an easy friend, but one who asked hard questions, openly disagreed, and took risks. They were sharpening friends for one another, which produced fruit lasting longer than their lives on this earth. Carr’s book telling their story is one of those fruits.
Posted on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Derek Rishmawy wrote a thoughtful article about our online identity, something that has always been of interest to me. I began writing about the like culture in 2011, when I first started blogging an interacting on social media. I was one of those strange housewives who entered the Facebook world pretty late. I didn’t open up an account until I began blogging, and was even more timid about joining Twitter. Now, as a mom of teenagers, I’ve opened up Instagram and Snapchat accounts, not so much for my own interests, but to enter the world that they are living in.
 
The like button was such a mystery to me in the beginning, and I have to say that it is still something that makes me pause to ponder what it really means and why I would use it. At first, “liking” posts was very tacky to me. Could you imagine if we had a tool like this for actual conversation? Rather than commenting on the truth or value of what is said, just say like. It’s interesting how we use a positive word for an action that is so reductive. 
 
As we become more and more accustomed to the like culture, we begin to forget to ask important, discerning questions in our online interactions. The value is in the response, or so often in the popularity person who said it, while pause and reflection is like the tree that falls in the woods when no one is there. 
 
Likes have also become a way of dividing into online alliances. I see this with my teenagers, and I see it in the Christian bubble of social media. Instead of pursuing truth, we are often feeding into our sinful tendency to compare ourselves with others. We can easily begin to calculate the value of what we say by the number of likes we receive rather than the actual content of the post.
 
Additionally, the more we push that like button, the more we may feed our own illusion of power. “Aimee likes this, along with 13 other people.” Well, if Aimee likes it, it must be good. In endorsing someone else’s published material, we can create our own amateur social media status on what is cool to like. But the joke is on us. What’s really going on beneath all our playful, self-indulgent, liking banter ruse is the fact that it’s all a marketing ploy. Is it a coincidence that I liked a fitness website and now I get ads run on my page for losing weight and breast implants? I don’t know how this whole thing works with spiders and cookies and smart people who put tape over their cameras, but the market clearly gets the value of a like. Our likes are beautiful noise for companies to target us with customized ads.
 
The Cash Value of a Like:
 
My teenagers first made me hip to the fact that some people actually buy likes, or pay for apps that will accumulate more likes for them. My heart sunk to think of teenagers objectifying their selves in such a way. Something as trivial as a like or a retweet is turned into a commodity of status. Three years ago I wrote about how likes have become a teenager’s source of validation. Is it just teenagers? I’m afraid not.
 
I pointed out then that the debacle in which we have pastors using church money to hire a service to manipulate the system and guarantee their books will make the NY Times best seller’s list suggests we’ve reached a whole new sophisticated like. This is what I thought about as my daughters were sharing the reality of the superficial relationships they find themselves in. Where is the hope when we have to wonder about the character of the best-selling pastor?
 
What’s the integrity in a like? What’s the worth of a 14-year-old with 236 likes? What is the real value of a book on the best seller’s list? And the character of the pastor who wrote it? Or the people buying into the hype? Because there is a message being sold, but it isn’t the gospel.
 
I told my girls that their meaningfulness will not be measured in likes. As they were walking away, I reminded them, “Smiles are still free!” There’s a simple human gesture that communicates so much more.
 
And to those who think that deceiving the public by paying for likes is okay if it gets the gospel into more hands, I would like to remind you that the gospel is still free too. God doesn’t need our help to boost his status. Those of us who do write to encourage and instruct in the Christian faith should know that the value of our work won’t be measured in likes and retweets. Much of it will be offensive to the popular notions of spiritual health.
 
I’ve always believed smart people don’t have to tell others they’re smart, and beautiful people don’t need to advertise. They just are. Exploitation is ugly, and usually used by those lacking in the very thing they are trying to sell. Well-liked people don’t need to brag about how many friends they have, and besides, it’s not always a good thing to be well-liked. And followers are not the same a friends. So, like me or not, I’m going to say what I say. I might not attract the big guns, but I encourage the readers I do have to leave thoughtful comments, be more engaging, and even dislike in your feedback if you think I need some sharpening.  And if you really do like what I have to say, please use the share button, which I think is much more helpful.
 
I’m still going to like things. I try to equate them with a smile, something I am generous with. I’m still going to retweet. I just want to continue to think deeper about liking motives. Be that tree that falls in the woods when no one is there and take a moment for some reflective questions. It doesn’t matter if no one hears you do it. 
 
Can I be more engaging in this conversation?  Am I just being lazy in my relationships?  Is this statement true?  Is it propaganda? 
 
It’s not wrong for websites and bloggers to promote themselves. We need to if we want to bring people to our work. But I do think that sometimes we sacrifice our own classiness by feeding this whole celebrity-obsessed cultural hunger. There has to be some better ways.
 
 
*This article is an updated editing and combining of two articles I wrote in 2011 and 2014.
Posted on Friday, April 21, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Are you interested in a scholarship to the Faithful Shepherd Pastor’s Conference at Harvey Cedars?  P&R Publishing and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals are offering free registrations for the conference this May 15–17. Applicants must mention “P&R Scholarship” when registering in order to take advantage of this offer. They will still be responsible for arranging and paying for housing with Harvey Cedars.

Carl Trueman will be speaking on The Unique Dangers of our Technological Age

Jon Nielson on Word-Centered Youth Ministry

Todd Pruitt on Hope for the Suffering Pastor

And yours truly will be speaking on Equipping All Women in the Household of God
 
Also, the MoS gang will be doing a panel discussion.
 
Come join us at the beach!
Posted on Thursday, April 13, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
A while back, I wrote a post about the places in Scripture where the female voice dominates, sort of interrupting the androcentricity of Scripture in a complementary way. Richard Bauckham’s fascinating book, Gospel Women, is one that I keep returning to for discovery. He has a great section where he elaborates on the Gentile foremothers of the gospel. Rahab is one of the Gentile women Matthew names in the genealogy of Jesus. Why did he include her?  Bauckham insists that it is because Rahab represents God’s openness of his covenant community to the Gentiles. Rahab was a Canaanite who openly professed her faith in the God of Israel, and was then welcome to become a member of God’s household. 
 
Interestingly, Matthew gives us a screenshot of another Gentile woman in his gospel. In Matthew 15:22 we have a Canaanite woman who persuades Jesus to change his mind. 
 
And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”
 
This would be another example of what Bauckham calls a gynocentric interruption in Scripture. He highlights a parallel with this Gentile woman to the Gentile foremothers mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy---“Like Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, she acts with initiative and resolution and, in difficult circumstances, attains her end” (43). He explains this encounter between Jesus and the Cannaanite woman as “a new Rahab encountering a Messiah who could be a new Joshua”:
 
“Her address to Jesus, ‘Son of David,’ is equivalent to Rahab’s confession of the true God that is inseparable from her recognition that this God has given the land to his people Israel (Josh. 2:9199). Like Rahab she takes initiative and asks boldly for the kindness she so desperately needs (Josh. 2:12-13). Like Rahab she receives the mercy for which she had asked (Josh 6:22-25). Finally, and very importantly, like Rahab, because of her faith she is a first exception to the rule about Canaanites. (44)
 
Here is the rest of the interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite woman:
 
But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. (Matt. 15:23-28)
 
It’s almost as if Jesus is throwing her a softball. Matthew is certainly throwing one to us as readers. He just opened his Gospel with some of these supposed “dogs” named in the ancestry of Jesus. In a footnote, Bauckham reminds us “that Jesus cannot ultimately reject this woman for her ethnicity without repudiating two of his ancestors in the genealogy.”
 
“…What the Canaanite woman does, with the clever twist she gives to Jesus’ own saying (Matt. 15:27), is persuade Jesus that he can act compassionately to her without detracting from his mission to Israel. Like Rahab, with her exceptional faith she secures an exception that can set a precedent…By placing Jesus briefly in salvific relationship to many Gentiles, Matthew seems to be indicating that the Canaanite woman’s precedent is not to be an isolated exception but the beginning of the messianic blessing to the nations.” (44-45)
 
Matthew ends his gospel with Jesus the Messiah authoritatively proclaiming this “precedent constituted by the Canaanite woman” at “a universal scale” with his Great Commission:
 
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
 
The discernment, initiative, and resolve of these women are a model of faith for us all. The first led to the birth of our Savior, and both are a foreshadowing of his blessing to all nations.
Posted on Friday, April 07, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Twitter is an easy venue for statements to be taken out of context. It’s like a bulletin board of thoughts, links, questions, and declarations. There is no context. It’s also an easy venue to set up carefully crafted propaganda, hashtag movements, and false dichotomies. So I have been engaging less and less in twitter “conversations.” That’s not always easy to do because there’s a lot of click bait out there. Much is being “discussed” about relationships between men and women this week and I was tagged on Twitter with this question
 
“What types of situations would it be beneficial for a married person to have a friendship with the opposite gender? Genuinely interested.”
 
I couldn’t possibly respond well on Twitter. So I was left with the choice to ignore it or maybe write something longer on my blog. It’s a question that I’ve seen frequently. And it is related to a topic that I plan on writing much more extensively on: a theology of brother and sister relationships in God’s household. 
 
There are many answers to the above question: work situations, neighborly situations, community outreach situations, parenting situations…but there should already be a foundational level established in how to relate as friends that comes from our household situations. One of the first questions we wrestle with in infancy is “Who am I?” Right away, we receive signals in our personal household. For example, my son would immediately learn, “You are a Byrd,” “You are a son,” “You are a brother,” and “You are loved.”
 
But ultimately, this question can only be fully answered by his Creator. And in God’s household, his church, all God’s people reflect these answers as well. What do my son and daughters learn about who they are in this household community? 
 
Unfortunately, as eager as the conservative church is to speak out against the sexual revolution and gender identity, she often appears just as reductive as the culture surrounding her when it comes to how our communion with God is represented in our communion with one another.  We have lost the beauty of brother and sisterhood, distinction without reduction. 
 
No, gender is not a social construct. There is more to being a woman than my physical body. After God made man and woman in his image he pronounced his creation “very good.” Dr. Kelly Kapic’s excellent chapter on theological anthropology in Christian Dogmatics teaches that this declaration on mankind as “good” was not merely a static state, but a “dynamic or relational view of the human person….Just as God planted the garden to grow, he planted Adam in the midst of that garden---to grow. Humankind could and would change, either growing in beautiful communion with God and the rest of creation, being fruitful and multiplying, or turning from Yahweh and thus compromising their intended human telos” (181). And through four thesis statements, Kapic explains what matters in Christian anthropology. 
 
The whole person matters:
Our minds matter. Our bodies matter. Our wills, our emotions, and our souls matter. All of these faculties that make us human beings made in the image of God need to be rightly ordered toward God in communion with him. Creation reveals this design, and a Christian’s expectation is for glorification where this will be perfected. As we are being transformed into the likeness of the Son, we look forward to intimate communion with him, in new resurrected bodies, on the new heavens and the new earth. 
 
Agency and purpose matters: 
We were not designed to be isolated worshipers of God, but “for communion with God, neighbor, and the earth” (177). This changes the way that we think about our whole being. “Love and communion theologically reorient how we understand and evaluate our bodies and their faculties: we see them relationally rather than reductively” (178). Christians look to both our protological history and to our eschatological expectation. While the first Adam’s sin affected the entire world, so Jesus’ life-giving reality, which has overcome death itself, now promises to affect the entire cosmos (Rom. 5:15-21)” (180).
 
Relational growth matters: 
God’s original declaration of goodness on mankind communicates to us that humanity was “rightly ordered and properly placed within the structure of God’s overall creation. Such goodness consisted in their loving communion with the Creator, a relationship that would foster human flourishing and joy” (182). I love what Kapic includes from many different statements of faith in his chapter, but this one from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines really stood out to me:
“We believe that persons are created in the image of God and destined to live in community with God, and with other persons, and with all creations.” (183)
 
How can we grow relationally if we separated ourselves from friendships with our brothers and sisters? I do understand the intentions and concern in the warnings against such coed friendships, which leads to the next point:
 
Sin Matters:
Sin moved humanity from joyful communion with God to being cut off from God and subject to his righteous condemnation. But in Christ, those who were not a people are now God’s people. And so, “just as no part of the human creature escapes the distortions of sin, so no part of human nature (body, will, mind, will, affections, etc.) is unassumed by the Son…the Son’s full and true incarnation as well as the Spirit’s holistic work of sanctification are both necessary” (187).
 
While we are still susceptible to sin in this age, and are called and equipped to fight sin, Christians know that sin will never be normal. It is an evil that works against our image bearing. “To employ classical language, sin and its consequences are accidental rather than essential to being human, a point that Scripture reinforces both in terms of the goodness of the original creation and the promise of glorification” (184). Sin does matter. And brothers and sisters in God’s household are called to promote one another’s holiness (Heb. 12:15).
 
Representation and solidarity matter:
“In Scripture we are presented with a radical portrait of divine generosity, with humanity given special place of privilege to embody and extend divine goodness and grace. This portrayal also has as radical democratizing effect, which cuts against ethnic, social, economic, and other differences that so separate humanity from one another and also pit persons against the earth. Human creatures were made as interconnected beings, linked to the earth and one another, even as they represented Yahweh to the rest of creation
 
“Accordingly, humans were created to live not as isolated, autonomous individuals but in community with one another and in life-giving connection with the material world as the environment for communion with God” (188). 
 
So, why does it matter that these things things matter when talking about women and men being friends?
 
All mankind has dignity as we are created in God’s image. How do we represent God’s love for mankind in Christ? And, given the concerns over sin, what responsibilities do we have? Well, first we need to view our sisters and brothers holistically, not just physically. What does it mean to look at a person as a holistic relational being? It means that we are not going to reduce them to their bodies, specifically to their genitalia and sexual urges. My gender is more than my genitalia. Is our zealousness to avoid sin inadvertently training Christians to view women reductively as sexual temptresses and men reductively by animalistic impulses?
 
We were designed for communion with God and one another. How does our communion with God affect our communion with our neighbors? Does it cause us to exclude the opposite sex from our friendships? Do we express our love for one another by not being friends? Is that how we promote one another’s holiness?
 
The very definition of a friendship is platonic---“intimate and affectionate, but not sexual.” So this question, “would it be beneficial for a friendship with the opposite gender,” is really asking if coed friendship is even possible. Is our representation to one another in God’s household and also to the watching world that “No, on this side of the resurrection it is not possible”?
 
And what does purity look like in coed friendships? Avoidance? Paul calls Timothy to treat “the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). We know how to do this! We know how to promote holiness in brother and sisterly relationships. I have a close relationship with my brother. When we married, things did change a little. Our spouses get the main focus of our attention and time. We uphold that for one another. We don’t seek a bunch of opportunities for just the two of us to meet together. But when we do happen to be alone together, it’s not a threat to our marriages. Our friendship benefits our marriages; it does not subvert them.
 
In His book, Strangers in a Strange Land, Archbishop Charles Chaput uses similar language as Kapic when describing that we must not be reductive when it comes to purity, while also warning to being preemptive against temptation to sin:
 
Purity is about wholeness or integrity, it means that the body, mind, heart and soul are rightly ordered toward God. Every element of who we are is doing its part to bring us to union with God, which is our ultimate happiness. Given the strength of the sexual desires we all feel, rightly acting on those desires is a key part to maintaining purity. For single people and celibates…it means offering those desires up to God, and seeking to channel them in our love and service to others. (180)
 
Christians, remember who we are. We are God’s people. We were created for joyful communion with him and one another. The Father has shared his love for the Son with us, through his Spirit. Wow! 
 
“The faithful love of God was so great that he restored the true relationship with his mankind again in Jesus Christ, the true and genuine man” (189)*
 
We point one another to the Incarnate Christ, as “we are never more like God than when we love his Son through his Spirit” (166). And even now, we enjoy fellowship together in his household as brothers and sisters. Let’s encourage and exhort one another to be rightly ordered toward God, with all our faculties, and not reduce one another in our friendships. These relationships will benefit us as we are sent out into the world to be good neighbors to all creation.
 
 
*From The Confession of the Church of Toraja, Indonesia
Posted on Thursday, March 23, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Here’s a good question: If Hebrews opens telling us that while God has spoken “through the prophets at many times and in many ways,” but that now in “the last days” of this age God has spoken “by the Son,” why are there no quotes from Jesus in the whole sermon-letter? After all, it’s not like Hebrews doesn’t employ a lot of quotes from God’s word in the Old Testament.
 
This is a question raised in Karen Jobes’ great book, Letters to the Church. Before getting to that question though, she breaks down this all-time best opening hook for a sermon, ever, by looking at all the contrasts, concluding:
 
The contrast between the ages (“in the past” versus “these last days”), the audience (“our ancestors” versus “us”), and the mode of revelation (“prophets” versus “the Son”) highlights the one concept that has remained the same through all time: God has spoken to humankind. The author of Hebrews opens his sermon with the bedrock of all biblical thought. God has revealed himself to us. The reality of divine revelation---and idea viewed so skeptically in modern times---is the opening proposition upon which the entire message of Hebrews is built. (63-64)
 
This is the big question, right? I mean, some like to imagine God is speaking small messages to them everyday, new revelations, personally communicated. But the first challenge in human history is meant to question whether God has revealed himself truly at all. Jobes points out that this opening statement in Hebrews “responds to the serpent’s challenge that led Adam and Eve to the fall,” reasoning, “Therefore, because God’s verbal revelation was at the heart of the fall, God’s verbal revelation is also at the heart of redemption.” If God has spoken to us, then we must respond in obedience in faith. 
 
The writer of the Hebrews attributes all the Old Testament quotations as words from the Triune God, ascribing words that were originally from Moses, David, Nathan, and Jeremiah, to God, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit.
 
The way the author of Hebrews chooses to use the Old Testament therefore underscores three points for his Christian readers: (1) the word of God that was spoken in the past to “our ancestors” is found uniquely in the Old Testament; (2) the Old Testament “word” was spoken by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and (3) all three members of what would later be called the Trinity speak with the same divine authority. Consequently, the Old Testament is to be understood not only as God’s words to a past people of the old covenant but also as God’s word to Christians after the coming of Jesus. (71-72)
 
And this leads back to our opening question. Jobes reminds us that Old Testament Prophets have whole books in the Old Testament, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Jesus is the ultimate prophet, and yet there is no book of Jesus in the New Testament, or anywhere in the Bible. Sure, we have him quoted in the gospels some, but even then he spends much of his words quoting from the Old Testament, elaborating on both its continuity and discontinuity in the new age. She notes this to highlight that Jesus is completely distinguished as the final and ultimate prophet. While the gospels do use words from Jesus, Hebrews doesn’t have one quote from Jesus.
 
This seems rather strange for a book that so confidently states that God has spoken to us by the Son. Wouldn’t this mean that Jesus’ words are God’s words? And if so, shouldn’t the author of Hebrews be quoting Jesus right and left to make his case? The fact that the book of Hebrews doesn’t once quote words from Jesus’ teaching is a big clue about another qualitative difference between the revelation given by many prophets of the past and the revelation given by the Son. Where the words of the prophets were the message from God in the past, the Son himself is God’s final revelation. This is not to say that what Jesus said isn’t important. It is to say that the identity of Jesus as the divine Son of God is what makes him the perfect and final revelation of God. And so no matter how many other people may come along claiming to be prophets with a word from God, if their message doesn’t point to Jesus Christ as God’s clearest revelation, their message is worthless for understanding God. If you want to know God, look at Jesus, who is the “exact representation” of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3). In other words, Jesus doesn’t just speak God’s words (that is what the prophets did), he is God’s word. (75-76)