Posted on Tuesday, June 07, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

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Have you heard this one: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice?  It sounds like a good adage.  I always find myself training my children in the art of niceness.  It’s, “be nice,” or, “that isn’t very nice!”  Nice is mannerly.  Mannerly is important.  But it’s more important to be kind than nice. (I know, it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

Nice is a behavior.  We learn niceness.  It can be very fake.  Haydn might not want to let the little girl at the ball field play with his Batman, but I tell him to be nice and share.  Zaidee may want to tear her sister’s eyes out for instigating.  I tell Solanna that she’s not being very nice to her sister, and Zaidee that she should go for her mouth if she wants true lex talionis justification (just kidding on that last part).  But seriously, my kids are already pretty nice.  They get it.  I do my best parenting when I cut past the nice stuff and get to the real spiritual matter—a kind heart.

For example, “Solee, what does it reveal about your heart that you want to provoke your sister to anger?”  When I take this approach, I am often met with pursed lips and silence—like I just don’t get it.  But she knows I do.  And I know I just made her think about her own spiritual condition.

There’s a difference between niceness and kindness.  A nice person is agreeable, delicate and subtle.  While this is very helpful behavior that is useful to society, these can also be very manipulative traits.  A kind person is benevolent, compassionate, gracious and favorable.  The difference is striking.  Sometimes, my niceness is the very thing of which I need to repent.  Since I do have a “nice” disposition or personality, I often find it to be a struggle in my Christian walk.  I sometimes find myself being agreeable when I don’t really agree; I lack certain boldness for Christ because I want people to feel comfortable; and in my continuous desire to please people I miss the opportunities given to really serve them.  My temperament is nicer than my husband’s.  I know that Christians may judge spiritual growth by our level of niceness.  I find myself judging the well-behaved, nicies as the more spiritually mature.  But this is one way God has used my marriage to Matt to expose my own misconceptions.  As C.S. Lewis put it, “A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might be even more difficult to save” (Mere Christianity, p.215).  Not being predisposed to a nice temperament, my husband is more keenly aware of his dependence on Christ.  And he is also one of the most loving people I know.

But let’s get back to our children.  In a book I’ve recently quoted, Kenda Creasy Dean observes how our teenagers have taken our social cues on niceness to become indifferent, noncommittal clones of one another.  “As a social lubricant, ‘nice’ is a cheap and versatile adjective; it offers a nod without commitment, in religion as in other spheres…American teenagers ‘tend to view religion as a Very Nice Thing’—meaning that religion may be beneficial, even pleasant, but it does not ask much of them or even concern them greatly, and as far as they can tell it wields very little influence in their lives…The Bible has much to say about kindness and compassion but says nothing at all about being nice”(Almost Christian, p.33).

Maybe we need to reexamine the virtues that we are teaching.  Lewis reminded us that God wants to make us new creatures, not just an improvement of our old selves.  As a matter of fact, he puts to death our old self, niceness and all.  The new creation has a spiritual fruit: kindness.  Whereas niceness mainly stems from a love of self, kindness grows out of love for God and neighbor.  It is certainly a more difficult teaching.  But of course, we begin by looking at the One who is the epitome of kind. Jesus Christ wasn’t always nice.  As a matter of fact, he was downright offensive.  But he was kind to the worst of sinners, including me.  He sacrificed his very life to forgive my sins, and give me his kindness.  That’s the message that changes a heart of nice to a heart of kind.  That’s what I want to teach my children.

Meditation: Gal. 5:22

Posted on Sunday, June 05, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is telling the American Church, by Kenda Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press, 2010)

We are so concerned with facilitating a cool atmosphere for the youth at church.  The trend has been to convince our kids that church can be cool and we won’t cramp their style.  We try to accommodate to the shorter attention spans and make the message entertaining.  We have youth groups meet in their own lounging wing, separating them from their un-cool parents & Co.  Is this really helpful to our children?  Not according to the recent National Study of Youth and Religion…

Sociologists consider a young person’s sense of belonging in a religious community to be a more accurate predictor of his or her adult religious involvement than regular church attendance.  Caring congregations help teenagers develop what social scientists call “connectedness,” a developmental asset accrued from participating in the relational matrix of authoritative communities—communities that provide young people with available adults, mutual regard, boundaries, and shared long term objectives.  Highly devoted teenagers readily defend Christianity’s communal aspects.  Aaron, the sixteen-year-old black Protestant we met earlier said bluntly: “Christianity…is not something you just live.  You have to practice.  You can’t live it all by yourself, you need to go to church.”

Congregations are important sources for both interpersonal and spiritual support for highly devoted Christian teenagers.  Peer relationships matter.  Religious teenagers’ closest friends tend to be other religious teenagers (nonreligious teenagers’ closest friends are usually other nonreligious teenagers, suggesting that peers reinforce religious identity in both directions).  Yet equally important are adults who befriend teenagers.  Compared to their peers, young church-attenders are far more likely to have adults in their lives with whom they enjoy talking, and who give them lots of encouragement…Highly devoted Christian teenagers mentioned pastoral friendships with affection.  While most teenagers in the NSYR (81%) told us they have never talked to a pastor or youth pastor about a personal issue or problem, most highly devoted teenagers did so frequently. (p. 72, 73)

They might be intimidating with their funny jeans and texting madness, but our youth need us!  There are plenty of avenues outside of the church that can entertain and keep the kids separated from the adults.  Church is a place where we come together united in Word and sacrament.  If we are united in Christ, why are we dividing ourselves by demographic interests?  People leave churches these days over a lack of youth programs.  Is that biblical? Is it more important for my kids to have a mountain top experience at some Christian concert or Hershey Park trip, or to be faithfully nurtured, discipled, and connected within the whole congregation of Christ’s followers?

Posted on Friday, June 03, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

It’s that time of the year again—graduation season.  This is such a huge rite of passage into the beginning stages of adulthood.  I’ve received several announcements by mail from friends and family who have finished their grade school career; inviting me to the party their parents are throwing for them.  I look at their professional picture attached, and think about myself at that age.  Scary.

What’s even scarier is the startling statistics out there about this age group and their faith.  Some of the latest numbers show anywhere between 70 and 80 percent of so-called Christian teens abandoning their church by their sophomore year in college.  The National Study of Youth and Religion has found that while most teenagers call themselves Christians, they don’t really have any knowledge of the content or history of their faith—nor do they really care.  The researchers have dubbed this dubious spirituality Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  Here is the sum of their “faith”:

  1.  A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. 
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die. (Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean, p.14)

The gospel message is mysteriously absent from most of these teenager’s ideas about who they are, who God is, and what their relationship is with Him.  As it turns out, teenagers and twenty-somethings seem to be a big mission field.  There are several important key factors that have led to this great decline in handing down our faith.  Obviously the gospel message itself is not being told and taught to our children.   As I have been reading some different books related to this subject, the one area that I want to focus on in this short article is mentoring. 

Michael Horton always likes to say that we have segregated people by age in the church from the womb to the tomb.  We start with the nursery, and move onto children’s church, youth group, college/single’s groups, groups for divorcees, widows…but how often are we together in church?  When my husband and I were helping out with our youth group, we quickly noticed how cut off they were from many of the adults.  And, as a defense, I recognize how hard it is to build a relationship with a teenager—it can be very intimidating.  Matt and I prepared weekly lessons for Wednesday nights and I hope that they were beneficial.  My oldest daughter is now attending the youth group with a new, young leader that is doing a great job.  She is very excited to be there and eager to learn on a new level.  I’m glad that her new leader is putting the time into the group and that her relationships with the youth at our church are growing.

But even more so, I know that she needs to connect with some older women, and even some of the younger girls.  One of the amazing things about the church is how it brings people together in a new family relationship.  In the covenant community of God’s church, friends are brought together that may not particularly have sought one another out.  Solanna knows how to make friends her own age.  I want her to be a part of the multi-generational, supernatural covenant family.  Hopefully she learns God’s word from her parents, but I also want her to see it reinforced in the conversations and lives of other families in my church.  It’s nice for a young, energetic youth leader to get our kids fired up.  But they also need to be in the context of people who can articulate and model their faith in marriage, tragedies, celebrations, and the everyday ordinary life.  Do our kids have various people to look up to in the faith?  Are you developing relationships with younger people in your church?

Of course, mentoring is a biblical idea.  But our culture has a tendency to turn everything into a program.  I do believe the word mentor is helpful, but it’s not about assigning yourself to someone or visa-versa.  It’s about making an effort to be a friend to all ages.  In these friendships we have something to offer and something to learn.  Remember the influence you have as a woman of God, and pass down what you are learning.  One particular girl from my youth group was abrasive and stubborn to my invitation for lunch and coffee.  In my mind, she wanted nothing to do with me or my efforts towards a relationship.  Something made her show up anyway, and we have had many dates since.  Now she is a young adult and I am privileged to call her my friend.  In my home she has seen the implications of the gospel in my life: both my shining moments and the areas in which I struggle.   My hope is that in passing down my faith while sharing my life, my younger friends will learn some of my lessons sooner.  Having been included in my circle, they've certainly seen my humble stumbles, and most importantly, how God is faithful.  The journey of faith is hard, but real.  It is not always entertaining, but it is exciting.  It is not fabricated; it is authentic.

Passing down our faith should be something that all age groups are interested in.  Whether you have children of your own or not, you still have something to teach.  Let them know that you care and they matter.  The good news is for all to hear, so start sharing your faith with those younger than you as well.  Maybe you already do.  Please leave a comment to share some of your own ideas.

Meditation:  Titus 2: 1-5

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

I had been thinking a lot lately about gentleness and its association with godliness when I stumbled upon this article by Mark Meynell.  It’s funny how God gives you wisdom in batches.  Meynell supplies a handy amount of Scripture on gentleness, particularly in leadership, and laments that it has become a forgotten virtue.  I briefly commented on how the feminist culture we live in has denounced gentleness as a feminine quality, and now even females abhor it.  And then I thought about one of the gentlest people I know: my brother, Luke. 

Luke is a strong, manly, 32-year-old father of three.  He is a Christian man.  He is also the owner and main trainer of The Clinch Academy, a mixed-martial arts facility.  He’s hard-core-tough.  He’s also the gentlest man you could meet.  There is no ostensible vibe of his trained abilities exuding from his person.  When you talk to Luke you see humility and grace.  If there’s an elderly in the room, my brother will be the one holding their hand and opening their doors.  I grew up with the boy, and have always admired how well Luke handled himself in difficult circumstances.  I would get angry, but Luke was meek.  Sometimes I would get frustrated at his calm patience in handling conflict.

Meekness, or gentleness, is really a spiritual gift that strengthens in maturity.  Our culture may look at meekness as simple or feminine, but its opposite is brash and childish.   Think of a toddler.  One of the first things we have to teach them is the word, “gentle.”  Whether it’s with the new baby or the new puppy, toddlers just want to bang them in the head and pull their hair out.  They just do.  But then we send them mixed messages as they grow.  As our children grow we teach them to be assertive: in sports, conflict, education, and networking.  While assertiveness isn’t necessarily the direct opposite of gentleness, we tend to treat it that way.  We don’t seem to value gentleness beyond sibling brawls.

Yet throughout the Bible gentleness is a virtue, a command, and a blessing.  In his great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5).    In his commentary, James M. Boice shows how this beatitude is coming right from Ps. 37.  According to this psalm, the meek “are those who trust in the Lord, who delight themselves in the Lord, who commit their way unto the Lord, who rest in the Lord.  It is these who are happy, according to Jesus Christ; and it is these who shall inherit the earth” (The Sermon on the Mount, James Montgomery Boice, p.34).

Provided in Meynell’s article was Matt. 11:29, Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soulsGentle in this verse can also be translated as meek.  Jesus Christ is meek.  He has full trust and submission to his Father in heaven.  As Christ bids us to trust in and learn from him, he speaks of his own humility.  Leadership in humility, protection in meekness, trusting in God alone who is both sovereign and sufficient above all else—this is what we are reflecting in our own meekness—the greatest strength of all!

Men and women model meekness by humbly serving in the role God has given them--all the while knowing that it is by grace we are there.  I am thankful that the Lord has been teaching me in the school of meekness, although I’m merely a freshman.    Paul taught us that his weaknesses gave glory to God’s strength.  When we recognize what the Good Lord did on our behalf, we can lead and serve with humility and grace.

With that I salute my brother for pointing me to Christ in his meekness and great gentleness, and I pray with St. Augustine, “God grant what thou commandest and then command what thou wilt.”

Posted on Sunday, May 29, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 3, Sermon VIII, The Dumb Singing

Goldsmiths make exquisite forms from precious metals; they fashion the bracelet and the ring from gold:--God maketh his precious things out of base material; and from the black pebbles of the defiling brooks he hath taken up stones, which he hath set in the golden ring of his immutable love, to make them gems to sparkle on his finger forever.  He hath not selected the best, but apparently the worst of men, to be the monuments of his grace; and when he would have a choir in heaven that should with tongues harmonious sing his praises—a chorus that should forever chant hallelujahs louder than the noise of many waters, and like great thunders, he did not send Mercy down to seek earth’s songsters, and cull from those who have the sweetest voices: he said, “Go, Mercy, and find out the dumb, and touch their lips, and make them sing.  The virgin tongues that never sang my praise before, that have been silent till now, shall break forth in rhapsodies sublime, and they shall lead the song; even angels shall but attend behind, and catch the notes from the lips of those who once were dumb.” (122)

First of all, I no longer feel bad about my run-on sentences.  Maybe I have picked up the habit from reading from a bunch of dead guys.

Secondly, I am once again in awe of my Grace-Giving Creator.  We have fallen so far from grace, since the Fall of man, as to be dead in our trespasses and sins.  Dead!  There was no glimmer of shine that God saw in me—nothing that I could offer him.  I had nothing salvageable within myself.  I needed a new heart—new eyes that could see, new ears that could hear.  I needed to be made alive.  And now I, who once walked according to the course of this world, have been made accepted in the Beloved (Eph.1:3-6, 2:1-3).  Me, the dumb, will be singing his praises before the angels.

Spurgee’s Scripture:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing.  For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:5-6)

Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

gaggia achilleThis is a picture of my beloved, Ma Lady.  She is a Gaggia Achille lever espresso machine (Insert Tim-the-tool-man grunting).  Every morning I long to see her face and flip on her switch.  I know her intimately: the noise she makes when the pressure is just right for pulling the best shot, how much coffee to pack into the portafilter for the perfect crema, that she extracts a better shot if I give her a half a pump first…I love Ma Lady.  She is more than an espresso machine; she’s an Italian work of art.  She is also a great example of God’s wonderful common grace gifts in our secular world--superb technology on display.  To me, Ma Lady also represents something that people have tried to villainize just because it’s good: coffee.  If you’ve read Solee’s report on the history of coffee, you have a general idea of all the ruckus coffee has been through.

In one of my earlier Reading Reflection’s (Dual Citizens, Jason Stellman), I affirmed with Stellman the physical blessings God gives us in this world.  He comments that so often well-meaning Christians pit the spiritual against the physical, not recognizing the common grace God has given to all for enjoyment (thereby glorifying God).  After all, the Christian’s final resting place is not a matter-less spiritual heaven, but a new heavens and a new earth.  Here is another quote:

The fact of the matter, however, is that the church’s warped version of worldliness makes the enjoyment of life’s legitimate blessings extremely challenging.  Also, the nature of our culture isolates us from one another.  We sit at our computers or in front of our TVs, we drive alone in our cars from the garage at home to the one at work, we interact through Facebook and email, we converse through cell phones and Bluetooths, and even the live events we attend, such as weddings or birthday parties, are usually observed through the screens of our camcorders. (133)

And here is where the real magic of Ma Lady happens.  She is a wonderful morning companion.  But she is also an instrument for hospitality.  As you can well see, her beauty is a conversation piece alone.  What is more, I can invite people to my house for a fabulous cup of mudd.  Whether you are the type who likes sweet, flavored, and creamy; iced, blended and chocolatey; or the purist who wants it black as hell and strong as death (as Tallyrand articulated); I know how to make it with Ma Lady. 

As Christians, we are called to hospitality.  This can be a challenge in our quick-paced culture.  There is less time, more hotels, and more restaurants.  These are all good places and can be well used, but they also make it easier to not invite people into our actual homes--a place where our families have their own culture.  We can invite people into our own space and share that culture in service.  There are not many opportunities to share Christ’s love better than the ones given to you in your own home.  It is also the one place where we are challenged to move passed creating an image and move on to sharing our life.

Do you have a good tool for hospitality?  Maybe it’s a fabulous garden, or a new puppy.  Perhaps you have a special skill that could be shared, or a rocken’ muffin recipe.  Of course there are ways to be hospitable outside of the home as well, but my point is, do you have some hospitality tools in your arsenal?  This is where the worldly can intermingle well with the spiritual.  Maybe it’s time to get cracken’.

Meditation: 1 Pet. 4:9

Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Instead of my regular Reading Reflection, I have posted my daughter's 6th grade Social Studies Fair Report.  You may be wondering what the history of coffee has to do with the gospel interrupting the ordinary.  Stay tuned for my next article for at least two good reasons!  And drink a cup on my behalf today...

Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

What do goats and coffee have in common? Well as the folktale goes, an Ethiopian named Kaldi did not understand why his goats were playing and dancing so joyously one day, paying him no mind.  As it turned out, they had been nibbling on some berries from what we now know to be coffee trees.  Eventually, Kaldi’s curiosity got the best of him, and he joined his energetic goats…and the rest is history. Okay, okay, we really don’t know exactly when or who discovered the now second most valuable exported legal commodity (after oil), but the old wives’ tale still lives on.  The first printed record of coffee was in the tenth century, by an Arabian physician named Rhazes.  It is believed that by then coffee had been deliberately cultivated for hundreds of years.                                                                            

Today we take for granted this mystical beverage, but its history reveals the strong impact coffee has made in many diverse cultures socially, politically, and economically.   It has been a companion for both the rich and the poor, used for its medicinal qualities and as a fuel for the thinkers of the day, as well as the meeting place for ideas and revolutions.

Our modern techniques for brewing and trained baristas might fool us into thinking that coffee has always been served up delicious and sophisticated.  Yet, coffee has been through many stages to get to our “mocha lattes” today.  The coffee plant actually produces berries, of which the bean is in the center.  Its leaves and berries were boiled together to make a weak tea.  Warriors used to mix the berries with animal fat to eat for a great pick-me-up before battle.  Wine was made from the berry’s fermented pulp.  Qishr, a sweet beverage made from lightly roasted husks of the coffee cherry, led to a drink now known as kisher. It wasn’t till around the end of the sixteenth century that coffee beans began to be roasted and ground to make an infusion.                                                                                                                                

Coffee spread from Ethiopia into the Arab world most likely after the Ethiopians invaded Yemen. The Arabs called it qahwa (the Arab word for wine).  This is where the word “coffee” is derived.  Wealthy people had coffee rooms added to their homes which were used for ceremonial imbibing.  For the lower classes who could not afford such rooms, the “coffee houses” sprang up and filled quickly.                       

By the fifteenth century coffee was introduced into the Islamic world by Muslim pilgrims.  Political leaders could not stop its popularity as it spread through Persia, Egypt, Turkey, and North Africa. Coffee was so popular in culture that Turkish women could actually divorce their husbands if they did not provide them with a sufficient supply.                                               

We actually get our term, “mocha,” from the Yemeni port of Mocha, a very popular trade route which introduced coffee to French and Venetian merchants.  Although the Turks labored to monopolize the trees’ cultivation in Yemen by not allowing any fertile berries out of the port, during the 1600’s seeds were inevitably smuggled to the southern India, Holland, Java, Sumatra, Celebes, Timor, Bali, and other islands in the East Indies (who determined the world market price of coffee for many years).                                 

As passion for the brew grew in Europe, Pope Clement viii blessed coffee as a Christian beverage so that it would not be the property of Satan…and we thank him for that.  During the second half of the sixteenth century, coffee shops were springing up all over Europe.  Doctors were peddling coffee for medical claims, while at the same time others were debunking its medical value.  In the next century, the French coffee house, Café de Procope, drew in a diverse crowd including Voltaire (who drank fifty cups a day), Rousseau (who called for coffee on his deathbed), Diderot, and a visiting Benjamin Franklin.  “The French historian Michelet described the advent of coffee as ‘the auspicious revolution times, the great event which created new customs, and even modified human temperament.’”  It provided public places for all types of people to meet and talk, while lowering the consumption of alcohol.                                               

By the 1670’s coffee reached Germany.  Surviving the rumored controversy that           coffee caused sterility and stillborns, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his humorous Coffee Cantata in 1732.  It is said that Beethoven was very particular about his coffee, making sure his grind had precisely sixty beans to brew a single cup. Fredrick the Great, who liked to boil his coffee with champagne, was disgusted by how common a drink coffee had become to the masses.  He tried to stifle coffee drinking among the poor, but to no avail.                                               

In London, during the early1700’s, coffee houses were known as penny universities.  And although only a mere penny you could get a cup of coffee and hours of a great conversation, the coffee houses were flourishing--paying more rent and occupying more premises than any other trade. Our custom of the “tip” began in the coffee houses of London.  Patrons would pay a few extra pence “To Insure Promptness.”  Lloyds of London, the famous insurance company, started as a coffee house that catered to seafarers.                                                             

In 1689, the first American coffee house opened in Boston.  Daniel Webster referred to it as the “headquarters of revolution,” as John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere were regular frequenters.  After the taxation of tea by King George, the resulting Boston Tea Party was instigated in the Green Dragon Coffee House.  Coffee drinking then became a symbol of patriotism.                                                           

The Merchant’s Coffee house in New York was the center of much political activity.  A group of radicals made the first plan for a union of colonists there, and in 1788 the United States Constitution was celebrated by raising a flag at this coffee house.  It was also the place used for the great reception after our first president, George Washington, was inaugurated. 

Moving into the industrial revolution, coffee was an affordable way to provide warmth and stimulation so that the common person could work longer. It replaced beer soup for breakfast.  Coffee now was a common part of the working man and working woman’s diet.                               

We have seen an uprising in coffee houses in the last twenty years. Once again, people have been coming together and sharing ideas over the brew.  Artists, poets, and business people once again have been using the coffee house as a social office.  But even more recently, the American culture has become so busy that the “to go” cup has become a popular choice.  Instead of a coffee break, it is being ordered by drive through and consumed on the run.  One has to wonder if coffee has lost some of its hospitable abilities and charm.                                   

Throughout history, coffee has gone from being used for medicinal purposes, to being a guilty pleasure.  More recent research is proving coffee to be quite the health drink. As a matter of fact, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet.  So, drink more coffee!  Three to five cups a day will prevent bowel cancer, liver cancer, and ovarian cancer, according to the World Cancer Research Fund (2007).  It has also been found to help prevent Type Two Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, Cirrhosis of the liver, gallstones and lowers the number of liver enzymes in our blood. Not only that, studies are showing that moderate use of coffee increases athletic performance and endurance, improves concentration, alertness when driving, as well as enhancing the cognitive function of our brains throughout the day.                                

So, the old philosophers were right: coffee does make you smarter.  And those early doctors were right in using the popular beverage for medicinal purposes!  Now we can add health as an impact coffee is making in our culture today.

Posted on Sunday, May 22, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

Women are very good doers.  We write lists, multi-task, and get things done.  God created women to be helpers and has equipped us with much strength to do so.  However, today I want to propose that maybe our best gifts are a bit more inert.  There are many things that we cannot do, and should not do.  Whoa, I know that is an outlandish statement to make in this feminist, woman-power culture.  Women cannot and should not do everything they set their mind to.  Sometimes it’s better to receive.

As the Catechism states, humans were made to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Since God is greatly glorified through His Son, Jesus Christ; I have to ask how we as women model the gospel and how we reflect Christ.  I would say much of that is through receiving.  I want to discuss what we receive in our natural life, our spiritual life, and how our ambitious doings fit into the equation.

What we receive in our natural life:

First of all in our natural life, we receive life.  The creation account tells us that Eve was made from the rib of man.  Focusing on what that means for a woman, we see a leadership component from the start in Adam’s sacrifice for his lady.  Furthermore, Adam names Eve, Isha (woman) because she comes from Ish (man).  The feminine Hebrew ending adds a softer meaning to woman’s name.  As Eve received her name from Adam, the tradition has continued for a woman to take her husband’s last name in marriage.  Many women today wish not to be identified by their husband’s name because right away it is an act of submission, recognizing the husband’s governmental priority in the relationship.  However, most are born with their father’s last name, of which they have received.

What we receive in our Spiritual Life:

There is much receiving taking place in the spiritual lives of both men and women.  We receive new birth through the Holy Spirit by faith, which is also obtained as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9).  We receive a special dose of God’s grace every Sunday through the preached word and the sacraments.  By this, we are receiving Christ and all His benefits.  In our new spiritual identity, we are once again receiving a name—Christian.  A woman’s special role in the natural world as helper and receiver reflects Christ and His gospel in many ways.  Jesus was in full submission to His Father’s will.  He will always be.  Our submission in marriage and church leadership is a model of Christ’s submission.  It is also a model of the church’s submission to Christ.  Women reflect the gospel when we, as Elizabeth Elliot put it, “…receive the given as Mary did, not to insist on the not-given as Eve did”(Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Crossway, 2006).  Elizabeth explains how Eve refused her femininity when she refused to accept the will of God.  Do we want to continue behaving like Eve, working against God’s precious gifts to us? 

What About All of our Ambitions?

Like I said, God has graciously equipped women with many different strengths to help in the human pursuit of the Cultural Mandate, as well as in our responsibility as Christian disciple’s to fulfill the Great Commission.  I for one, have all kinds of ideas cooking in my head of things to do in these callings.  But just because God has gifted me in certain ways, or given me an ambitious mind, doesn’t mean that my goals for how these tasks should be accomplished are the same as His great plan.  There are three hedges that help direct me along my way:  my church’s leadership, my husband’s leadership, and God’s providence.  First off, I need to ask the question, am I operating within my proper, biblical perimeters as taught by my church?  Church elders should be clear on the proper functions and roles of men and women.  Secondly, do my ideas hinder my husband in his responsibilities?  In other words, am I functioning within my God-given role as a helper?  Furthermore, do I have my husband’s support?  If the light is still green, we can move forward with our ambitions as they glorify God.  All the while we need to be aware that our significance is found in Christ, who is sufficient.  No goal of my own will ever fulfill me or give me my value.  My value is found in Christ alone: not in my husband, my motherhood, my service, or my career. 

The third hedge is a little trickier.  God may set us out on a certain path.  He may give us a passion, equip us well to serve in a certain area, and give us all the green lights to pursue it.  We may go at it confidently and diligently only to find a closed door in the end.  Did we fail?  Not necessarily.   I’m only willing to call it failure if we have sinned.  (And, amazingly, our gracious God can even pick up our failures and use them for His glory.)  My encouragement is to be humbly ambitious.  Receive the gifts and passions God gives you, and go after them.  All the while be ready to let go at all times for the Ultimate Satisfaction—the pearl of great price.  Accept God’s answers with confidence, without sulking. 

There’s no “to do list” for life!  I can’t make that list.  I have to say, I feel stronger than ever about God’s plan for my life, but I couldn’t be more clueless to what it actually is!  I’m confident in His truth, in His direction for me, and in my eschatological goals, but not in many of the details He is working to get me there.  As I prayerfully consider all my rabbit trails along the way, my resignation is: Lord You reign, the way You want to!

Further Meditation: Eph. 5:22-33, Phil. 2:1-11

Posted on Friday, May 20, 2011 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Commission, by Michael Horton (Baker Books, 2011)

I am only fifty pages into Horton’s new, new book and have found many gems.  This section summarizes something I’m passionate about:

We are God’s Analogy, created in his image to reflect in our own creaturely manner that covenantal relationship of male and female in mission.  Just as God completed all of his work and then entered his Sabbath enthronement, Adam—with Eve at his side—was to lead creation in triumphant procession into the consummation: everlasting confirmation in immortal glory.  Long after the original treason of this royal couple in Paradise, the Last Adam appeared.  Jesus Christ is both the missionary God and the human representative who fulfilled the mission for which we were created.  The whole story of the Bible turns on the merciful determination of this Triune God to redeem and to restore sinful creatures and the creation that lies in bondage because of the curse.  In spite of every failure, disloyalty, and unfaithfulness of the human partner in the covenant, God will complete his mission.  And in the person of Christ, he has also fulfilled the mission that he assigned to humankind in Adam: to lead creation into the everlasting blessing of immortality, forgiveness, righteousness, and peace …

We must never take Christ’s work for granted.  The gospel is not merely something we take to unbelievers; it is the Word that created and continues to sustain the whole church in its earthly pilgrimage.  In addition, we must never confuse Christ’s work with our own.  There is s lot of loose talk these days about our “living the gospel” or even “being the gospel,” as if our lives were the Good News.  We even hear it said that the church is an extension of Christ’s incarnation and redeeming work, as if Jesus came to provide the moral example or template and we are called to complete his work.  But there is one Savior and one head of the church.  To him alone all authority is given in heaven and on earth.  There is only one incarnation of God in history, and he finished the work of fulfilling all righteousness, bearing the curse, and triumphing over sin and death.

We use the verb “redeem” too casually today, as if we (individually or collectively) could be the agent of this source of action.  God has already redeemed the world in his Son, having “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).  On this basis, the Spirit is at work applying this redemption, drawing sinners to Christ, justifying and renewing them, in the hope that their bodies will be raised together with an entirely renovated creation (Rom. 8:16-23).  The church comes into being not as an extension or further completion of Christ’s redeeming work but as a result of his completed work.  Heralds announce victory; they don’t achieve it. (26-27)

It is such a relief to me that the gospel is about Christ’s achievement, not my own.  If I were relying on my own life to be the gospel to others, I would not blame unbelievers for their rebellion.  The fact is I’m a sinner who doesn’t have the power to save anybody.  The Good News is that Christ set his love on me anyway, and his Word is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16).  God uses his Word in the gospel to actually provide for us a new birth through his Holy Spirit.  In grateful and joyous response, I am empowered to live my life according to the gospel, but I could never assert the position of the One who was given all authority in heaven and earth.  Adam and Eve tried to assert their own position in how they were going to achieve immortal glory.  Through God’s grace I know that I, myself am not the Good News.