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Gems from Numbers 11: The blessing of rule-breaking misfits

August 28, 2013

I tend to be a rule-keeper. Well, kind of. There is a good bit of the rebel in me. But in general, I have no problem sticking to a set of policies … as proof I claim my near-flawless demerit record at Bob Jones! (They still stuck me in the spiritual-problem-child dunce hat a number of times regardless of my rule-keeping. So, I guess my inner rebel always finds a way to peek through.) I totally see the necessity in rules. Even dumb ones. They bring order and cohesion.

There are those people who always break the rules. You know them. Maybe they are ignorant, and don’t understand they are breaking rules. Even though you tell them over and over again. Maybe they are cantankerous, and must. always. rebel. Or maybe they are naïve, and break the spirit of the law while toeing the line.

As a leader in Christian ministry, what do we do with the times our policy is broken or a rule is stretched way out of shape? Discipline? Overlook? Warn? Laugh? Sometimes it is tough to decide.

God’s Spirit knows best.

Moses was stressed out with the load of leading a million whining ex-slaves. So, God has asked Moses to share the load. Specifically, He wanted Moses to share His Spirit with 70 hand-picked leaders.

He called together seventy of the leaders and had them stand around the Tent. God came down in a cloud and spoke to Moses and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy leaders. When the Spirit rested on them they prophesied. But they didn’t continue; it was a onetime event.

God gave his instructions. Go to The Tent where I always meet with you, and this time I’ll meet with your 70 helpers. But there was a problem. Apparently, only 68 of the elders actually showed up!

Meanwhile two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed in the camp. They were listed as leaders but they didn’t leave camp to go to the Tent.

Two of the men did not follow instructions very well. That, or they got the time wrong. Or maybe they got waylaid with a broken down cart. Or maybe they didn’t understand they were chosen. Or maybe they had a gig to finish up first. I’m sure they had a very good reason for not being at The Tent when God showed up.

This next part is chilling.

Still, the Spirit also rested on them and they prophesied in the camp.

I could just stop there. I think you get it. But, I gotta hammer this point a bit.

Bang, bang!

God gifted those who were outside The Tent! His Spirit indwelt those who didn’t follow the “meet in The Tent” policy! No wait…. God used the two misfits wandering around the camp to bless His people!

But they were in the wrong place!

But they got off schedule!

But they bungled the plan!

It doesn’t matter when God’s Spirit is at work. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3)

Can we be like God?

Can we allow those who break our policies and rules to be blessed of God and in turn bring blessing to His people? Does it rub you the wrong way to “reward” rule breakers?  Is God’s Spirit the ultimate rebel?

Gems from Numbers 11: How the meek burn out

August 21, 2013

Moses couldn’t handle it anymore. Not all alone.

He tells God, “I can’t do this by myself—it’s too much, all these people.”

“You don’t have to,” was God’s answer. “Gather together seventy men from among the leaders of Israel, men whom you know to be respected and responsible. Take them to the Tent of Meeting. I’ll meet you there.”

Share the load.

Now, I would have been thinking, What will everyone think of me? Will they think I’m  weak? And then, What if these 70 elders make a big mess of everything I’ve worked so hard for? Or even, What’s it going to cost me?  And most embarrassingly, What if they get the credit and people think they do the job better? Secretly, I’d want them to bungle it so I’d be appreciated more.

But these thoughts were far from Moses mind. He was willing to give up what was dearest to him, freely. Without reservation. He shared what he had, the very Spirit of God.

God said, “I’ll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them.”

Moses was not me, and his reaction earned him the label: meek. Because you see, Moses did not think he was special! He wanted everyone to experience the intimacy he shared with God. He didn’t hoard it. He shared his resources and gifts.

His burn out brought blessing to the 70 leaders of Israel. Meek Moses encouraged and empowered with the Spirit of God when he was at his personal low.

Gems from Numbers 11: Everyone’s a critic.

August 19, 2013

The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.”

Those cukes were probably muskmelons. The melon was cantaloupe and watermelons. The leeks were any green grassy-type herb. Think chives, green onions, or even fresh hay. Onion and garlic are what we know them to be today. Want to try a recipe? Visit this site!

Variety. Spice. Flavor. This is what the Israelites were craving. This was the best of the Egyptian diet they used to eat. And it was free! (Like the manna wasn’t?)

I get cravings. Don’t you? I have a fond memory of gorging on Brazilian white chocolate while reading The Silver Chair. I crave that sweet and chalky flavor every time I hear the characters of that story referenced. I don’t think cravings are bad…until they become a critiquing demand.

When craving turns to criticism, it starts to tick people off. Relationships start to blow up. And you might just drown in quail.

Be honest.

The Israelites were believing lies. In times of craving it is easy to be deceived. In fact, we kinda want to be. Here are a few of the lies they wanted to believe.

Lie #1: Moses (and by extension God) would not give them meat. They were poor victims of God’s stinginess.

Let’s face it. Its easy to believe the worst about someone. Even God. Because the Israelites assumed God would not give them meat, they started to immediately complain. In doing so, they skipped the right way: the Righteous way. Asking.

I am familiar with this tactic of complaining to get what you want. My son is the expert. Here’s how he does it. “Mom, this cereal has too much sugar in it! You shouldn’t buy it so I don’t want it so bad.”

My response is usually silence. He then keeps complaining until I stop him with, “Henry, are you going to ask me a question?”

Then he remembers. “Mom, can I have some of this cereal?”

“Sure!”

You see, Henry ASSUMES I won’t give him what he wants. He believes a lie. The truth is I love giving him good things. He is believing the worst about me when he starts in with complaints. And, it hurts and angers me.

The truth was that God never said he would not give them meat. They had not asked.

Lie #2: The fish was free in Egypt.

On the face of it, this is true. Anyone can go to the Nile and fish at no cost. But, what were they doing in Egypt in the first place? They paid for everything they ate in Egypt with their own lives and the lives of their children. They were slaves. Everything Egypt gave them carried a terrible price.

When I crave something, I begin to look for props; reasons to excuse my desire to indulge. The Israelites said, We are used to free fish! Of course, we have a craving for meat. A dieting woman might say: I deserve this chocolate. I had such a rough day. She ignores the truth that her bad day stemmed from all her “good” days of overeating. The danger is that she focuses on her excuse, and ignores the truth behind her reasoning.

But when I acknowledge the truth of my excuse, criticism might flip to gratitude. Or I can be like the Israelites and continue to exaggerate (or embellish) the truth until it begins to deceive.

Lie #3: Nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.

Eating the same thing over and over is boring. This is truth. But not the whole truth about manna. Hearing partial truths can deceive us. It also births a critic.

The truth was manna was delicious when they first tasted it. It kept them from certain starvation in the wilderness. It was EASY. It didn’t need to be grown, nurtured or harvested through hard labor. They went out their front door and picked it off the ground! It was free. It was abundant.

But instead of seeing the whole truth about manna, they critiqued the parts they didn’t like.

Ask. Be grateful.

Its basic manners that we teach tiny children. Say please. Say thank you.

In times of craving, ask! Especially when dealing with other people. Ask for what you want. Don’t hint around the issue. Don’t use passive-asking techniques like my  son. Don’t assume the answer is no until you ask! Assuming the worst is a sure way to end a relationship.

And take a moment, in times of craving, to look around and see what you good you already have. Take your focus of your desired object long enough, and you may not want it anymore compared to what you might have to give up to get it.

Be honest. Are you starting to criticize everything around the situation, circumstance or people you think are keeping you from your deepest desire? If so, beware. You might end up drowning in it.

Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it.

Gems from Numbers 11: “Let me out of here!”

August 16, 2013

In Numbers 11, Moses was stressed out.

“ What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? So why dump the responsibility of this people on me? Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother, carry them all the way to the land you promised to their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people who are whining to me, ‘Give us meat; we want meat.’ I can’t do this by myself—it’s too much, all these people. If this is how you intend to treat me, do me a favor and kill me. I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough. Let me out of here.”

In my head, his tantrum sounds just like the one I had this morning with my three children. Moses felt the stress of a mother*, who constantly cares for her children only to have them complain about the ONE THING they don’t have. And he lost it.

Oh Moses, I so get you.

*Or father, or nanny, or any full time caregiver of children.

What’s to be gained by erasing gender roles?

July 31, 2013

Have you seen the pro-life checkbooks? My sister uses these, and as a kid I got a kick out of reading them.

A person is complaining to God, “Why haven’t you sent someone to cure cancer or world hunger?”

God replies, “I did. But you aborted them.”

This is how I feel about our traditional understanding of women’s roles in the church and family. For example, I have often heard oversees missionaries worry about “Timothys.” These are the young men who they hope will take over the ministry one day. Or, American pastors wonder where are the men to step into leadership spots in their congregations?

They ask, “Where are the men? God, why haven’t you sent someone to lead in your church?”

I wonder if God is replying, “I did. But it was a woman.” And, she was overlooked.

The church thrives when it embraces the leadership and gifting of ALL its members.

I consider myself a Reformed Baptist, so I could address God’s sovereignty in this situation. Yes, I believe He is at work regardless of how the church has used or misused gender in His body.  Yes, women are ministering to other women, children and as servants; and are contributing in valid, commendable ways. Yes, I believe gender limitations in the Western church have pushed strong, courageous, Spirit-gifted women into the wilds and sparked revival in India, China, Africa, Ecuador and elsewhere. He WILL use his body, even when we try to amputate parts. God will do his work. I believe this.

But, what more could the church do if it doubled its leadership team? Korea is home to the world’s largest church. In the book, Why Not Women?, the pastor of this uber-church answers the question of what is key to the success of his church?

I told them to release their women, but they insist that’s not the problem. They ask me “What’s the key to your church?” I tell them again, “release your women…”

No wonder some churches are hurting for godly leadership. They are ignoring half (and sometimes more than half!) the Christians the spirit has gifted to teach and lead his congregation.

Freeing women from gender constraints is right.

I know it bugs some people when I compare gender issues with slavery. (Ha! my husband won’t even let me bring it up in argument.) BUT, I’m gonna anyway. And this is why. I insist, the core principle is the same.

In Christ, all people are one. If that is the heavenly reality, why on earth do we make such a fuss over people born with certain unchangeables (skin color, body parts, or geographical birthplaces)? Even though the Bible affirms the culture of slavery (in parts), we realize slavery is wrong. Even though the Bible affirms the culture of patriarchy (in parts), we need to follow suit and renounce gender discrimination in God’s family. Freeing women from gender constraints, as the church worked to free slaves and include Gentiles without conversion to Judaism, is right. As Christians, that is our duty. To do right.

A duet of man and woman is God’s ideal.

God tells us right from the start that man alone is not good. Men partnering with women – are good! Men and women working together, even in the highest ranks, bring a balance that is needed to care for ALL of God’s flock.

What’s to be gained by erasing gender roles in the Christian community? A thriving, righteous and complete church of God.

The Thin Gray Line

July 29, 2013

I have said many times that those who believe as Complementarians, often practically live out their marriages as Egalitarians. There are many varieties of marriage in the Complementarian basket. Some follow a strict hierarchy, others practice a more democratic system. Many Comp marriages are a great example of unity and partnership. Even though many Comps believe the wife is to follow her husband’s leadership, most Comp husbands  don’t require absolute obedience. In fact, they consistently yield to and seek to please their wives. They never (or rarely) pull “the trump card” of authority in their marriage to override their wife’s desire. A great explanation of this is found this article by Alan Johnson.

A Christian Understanding of Submission (A Non-Hierarchal-Complementarian Viewpoint)

In essence, many Complementarian husbands believe they have the authority of rule, but they don’t demand it. As a result, it is hard for Comps to understand the temptation inherent in the Complementarian belief system to domestic abuse. Here is the circle of thought by a husband prone to controlling, dominating ways.

“The Bible says I am to be the head of my house. I am responsible for what happens in my home. My wife should submit to me. She doesn’t. I must make her, so I can be a good husband.”

The husband’s role performance is based on the wife’s role performance. Hence, “wives submit” becomes uber-important for Comp marriages to properly function. This is why Ephesians 5:22 is emphasized in Complementarian churches. It is the hinge that swings a godly marriage. If it squeaks or rusts shut, the marriage is not functioning as God intended. The husband can’t lead because the wife won’t follow.

This gender-based role of wife-submit and husband-lead,  creates a thin, gray line. On one side of the line are Comp marriages that espouse gender-based submission and leadership, but in ways that look very Egalitarian. On the other side of the line lay the Complementarians that believe in a strict hierarchy: males and females must remain in their given roles or the church is headed for ruin. Because the line is thin, it is often hard to see the differences in Comp teaching, but the line is exposed by taking a look at the outcome of the teaching. Unified, peaceful marriages or abusive, subservient ones?

Because Comps believe a wife’s duty is to submit to her husband (regardless of the husband’s leadership abilities) , it is hard to find a firm line around what her submission should practically look like in a difficult marriage. Some Comp marriages are strict traditionalists bordering on abuse. Some Comp marriages find women negotiating their role of submission into something they are comfortable with, and the husbands distancing themselves away from having “the final say.” There is a wide discrepancy when it actually comes to how submission looks in a Comp marriage. Many times this teaching is simply empty theory. Many times it is an excuse to wield power over one spouse.

I have no profound conclusion. Understanding the differences in individual marriages may help those who label themselves Comp or Egal see an opposite view that may have been clouded. Not all Comps marriages follow the dogma, just the label.

Problem Passages: Ephesians 5:22

May 22, 2013

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

Ephesians 5:22 says,

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Context

This verse introduces what is often called the “Household Code of Conduct” for Christians. Paul, who is writing to 1st century Christians in Ephesus, spends the first part of chapter 5 describing how a Christian should live a life of love. In verse 18, he begins to define how a person filled with the Spirit behaves. This description segues into commentary on wives and husbands, children and parents, masters and slaves.

Summary of Differing Opinions

Who should submit in a Christian marriage? Complemetarians believe wives should submit. Egalitarians, as well, believe wives should submit, but so should husbands.

submissioninmarriage

Complementarian Interpretation

This verse is the mother of complementarianism. (The father comes a verse later.) It establishes their core belief that God wants marriage to follow a pattern based on gender. The wife’s role is to submit to her husband. The husband’s role is to lead his wife. They believe this verse proves that godly marriages must be based on a structure of authority. Unless the wife is following her husband’s leadership, they have become like the world (following the feminist influence) and are not pleasing God in their marriage.

Mark Driscoll, a vocal complementarian, recently questioned the motivation of some Christians who wanted to understand the original language of the Bible. He said that only “rebellious” Christians do word studies. I’m sure he said this tongue in cheek. The verse he wants Christians to accept the English-translation without question? This one. Wives submit to your husbands.

And this is the complementarian argument on its simplistic level. Many comps don’t need to interpret this verse, or understand its cultural significance. They are willing to take it at face value. Even though verse 21 states that all Christians are in submission to each other, wives have a gendered duty to submit to their own husbands. There is no reason to question the plain, English words of this verse.

God made women to submit to men in each marriage. (This understanding comes from the following verses in this chapter, which I’ll cover in time.)

…biblical submission for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. – John Piper

Comps teach that this wifely submission comes with two caveats. “To your own husband” and “As unto the Lord.” Most comps do not believe all women are to submit to all men. They also admit that gender-based authority in marriage can lead to abuse, and so they caution husbands to lead in a servant-like manner. They also caution wives that they do not need to submit to a husband who is disobeying God’s will because of the phrase, “as unto the Lord.” (Well- sort of. Some well known Comp advocates have been known to say some outlandish things regarding women staying in an abusive relationship.) Comps teach that a wife should not follow her husband into sin. What this practically looks like varies by teacher.

Further Reading

50 Crucial Questions Chapter 2 by John Piper and Wayne Grudem

Egalitarian Interpretation

Submission is the state of living by the Spirit. The Egalitarian believes it is how all Christians, regardless of gender, should behave, wives and husbands.

“How desperately we need to see  that mutual submission in marriage and the family is not subtraction of wifely  submission, but the addition of husbandly submission. Only that is the  perfect biblical equation. In decision making within marriage, the ‘one’ who  makes the decisions should be the ‘two become one.’” Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Equal to Serve, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1998), p. 200

A commonly used Egalitarian argument for non-gender based submission is based on the earliest Greek manuscripts of Ephesians. The verb submit (hupotasso) is not found in verse 22. Instead, it is implied from verse 21, like this:

(21)…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ ; (22) wives to your husbands, as to the Lord.

Egalitarians argue that inserting the word submit into verse 22 and separating the two verses (which were written as one sentence) into distinct thoughts, is inadequate and incorrect. Hupatasso, the verb in verse 21-22,  is written in the middle voice which implies passivity, not activity. Submission is a state a Christian is already in because of the Spirit inside (vs 18). Even more so – especially in a Roman patriarchy setting- submission is a state a wife is already in. (On the passive voice of Hupatasso by Charis R. Hart) Many times, a wife naturally looks to please her husband, even in a sinful way, as a result of the fall. (Genesis 3:16)

Culture plays a large part in an Egalitarian’s understanding of Ephesians 5:22. Some argue Paul was enforcing the Roman law of marriage. Others argue for understanding the influence of the Ephesian cult religion of Artemis, which demands the superiority of women over men, into Paul’s instructions for Christian marriages. Regardless of which historical perspective the Egalitarians believes, they agree that historical perspective is key to understanding Paul’s teaching of gender in marriage.

Egalitarians are wary of separating Christians into authoritative categories based on gender, race or social positions.  Egalitarians believe the question of gender-based hierarchy has no place in a marriage whose goal is a unified partnership. “Who has authority?” is never the question a Christian should ask. The disciples asked that question of Jesus, and he told them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” A Christian marriage should be marked by service to each other. In decision making times, gifting and talents are a better factor than gender.

Further Reading:

Submission in Marriage by Marg Mowczko

Authority vs submission – a biblical view of Ephesians 5:22 by Cheryl Schatz

Ephesians 5:22

Comps Believe… Egals Believe…
Wives Wives alone must submit because she is woman. Husband and wives submit to each other.
submit Submit means to arrange yourself under an authority. Submit means yeilding to another.
to your own husbands Husbands are the authority in marriage. Paul is exemplifying a cultural phenomenon of patriarchy.
as to the Lord. God is the ultimate authority, and a wife should never submit to doing evil. Christian wives are now “in the Lord,” living by the Spirit. This position will influence their marriage.
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