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women

May 22, 2012

One Thousand GiftsI guess I’m a little late to the party. Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts was released almost eighteen months ago and since then has been a consistent bestseller. If anecdotal evidence can be trusted, its appeal has been almost entirely to women. Not surprisingly, I’ve received many questions about the book and most of them have come from women—women who have been given the book or who have been told to read it. So at long last I had the book sent to my Kindle and I gave it a read.

The book’s appeal seems to come on at least two levels. In the first place, it features a uniquely poetic form of writing. Voskamp has a style all her own; it appeals to some and is exasperating to others. Just to give you a taste, here is an excerpt from the first page:

A glowing sun-orb fills an August sky the day this story begins, the day I am born, the day I begin to live.

And I fill my mother’s tearing ring of fire with my body emerging, virgin lungs searing with air of this earth and I enter the world like every person born enters the world: with clenched fists.

From the diameter of her fullness, I empty her out—and she bleeds. Vernix-creased and squalling, I am held to the light.

Voskamp likes to use language in unexpected ways, moving around the order of words, blurring the lines between prose and poetry so that a gift isn’t “tied with ribbon,” but is “ribbon bound.” Sentence fragments are acceptable, rules malleable. There is clearly a kind of appeal to it so that those who don’t hate it, love it.

The second level of the book’s appeal involves the topic so that what she writes about resounds with many of her readers.

Voskamp’s story begins with the twin themes of suffering and ingratitude. She recounts the heartbreaking story of the death of her sister and shows how this, along with other great sorrows and disappointments, drove gratitude far away. One Thousand Gifts is a biographical account of first seeing her need for gratitude and then learning to express it not just in spite of life’s trials, but even through them. She refers to this as eucharisteo, a Greek word for thanksgiving.

June 07, 2011

In a recent sermon I found that I had to touch upon one what I consider of the trickiest passages in the Bible: 1 Timothy 2:15. Here is what this verse says: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Taken on its own, this is a remarkably sexist statement. But I’m convinced there is truth and freedom here if we are willing to go looking for it. Let me take a shot at explaining that passage or at least to show you how I went about trying to figure it out.

In this part of his letter to Timothy, Paul is writing about the local church and about how things are to be ordered there. He explains that the public gatherings of the church are to show some kind of order. He speaks of the way men and women are to worship and focuses specifically on the character of a godly woman and then on the conduct of a godly woman. A woman is to respectful and respectable, not showing off her wealth and not seeking to draw attention to herself. And she is to understand that the Lord has not called her to leadership within the church—this is a part of God’s created order. Paul explains this by referring to the order in which God created man and women. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” He goes on to show that humanity’s problems began when this order was reversed—“Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” It was when Eve usurped Adam’s leadership (and when Adam abdicated leadership) that all of these problems began.

And now we get to that tricky statement, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” If we want to understand that statement, we need to look at two things: what it means that the woman will be saved and what it means that they will be saved by childbearing.

Saved

First, then, what does it mean that she will be saved?

May 26, 2011

Beauty?A short time ago blogger and author Rachel Held Evans wrote an article she titled “Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go?” She began it this way: “In my quest for biblical womanhood, I’ve found that sometimes there’s as much to learn from what the Bible doesn’t say as there is to learn from what it does say.” Her article, she suggested, reflected something the Bible doesn’t say. She looked to Mark Driscoll, Dorothy Patterson and Martha Peace and pointed out how each one of them has at one time suggested that a woman has to be careful that she does not “let herself go” after having children or after being married for some time.

“The message is as clear as it is ominous,” she concludes. “Stay beautiful or your husband might leave you. And if he does, it’s partially your fault.” She spent a month “studying everything the Bible says about women and beauty.” She “turned the Bible inside out, combed through dozens of commentaries, conducted word searches and topic studies and extensive research” and at the end of it all “found nothing in the Bible to suggest that God requires women to be beautiful.”

It is an interesting question: Does God want a woman to seek to remain attractive to her husband even while she grows older? Is there any significance to her doing this, or not doing this? Evans believes that emphasizing physical beauty, even as a woman ages (or perhaps especially as a woman ages) points to a new kind of misogyny. But after long reflection, I am not convinced. Hear me out here.

The Inner and the Outer

I agree that when the Bible speaks of beauty it largely downplays physical beauty in favor of inner beauty. According to the Bible, a beautiful woman is not one who is perfectly proportioned (by whatever society determines to be perfect) or one whose face is stunning. Rather, a beautiful woman is one who is genuinely godly, who reflects “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” The beauty the Bible commends is a beauty of character more than a beauty of appearance.

But. You knew there had to be a but. I think Evans may draw something of a false distinction between the inner and the outer as if these things are entirely disconnected. I would suggest that these two things are actually inexorably connected: the outer is a reflection of the inner. And this means that the outer person matters too. What a person wears has spiritual significance because what a person wears or how a person treats her body reflects her heart. This is contra the Gnostics who believe that what is spirit is inherently superior to what is physical. The Bible allows no such tension. Though only one is immortal, both were created by God and deemed very good. Our responsibility extends to both.

September 07, 2010

False MessagesLast year I wrote a series of articles I titled Sexual Detox (which was subsequently made available in e-book and then printed book format). It was a series that dealt with the effects of pornography and which encouraged men to go through a kind of detox that would rid their minds and hearts of all the junk left there by their exposure to pornography.

While I had expected a lot of feedback on a series that dealt with such a difficult topic, I had not anticipated how many comments and emails would come from women. I passed most of these to my wife who did her best to answer them, mostly by email. All of those emails and the questions they contained formed the starting point for a second series, one directed at women. And now I’m glad to be able to give that to you in e-book format.

False Messages is a book for women. It is written by my wife, Aileen, and seeks to help women, whether wives or wives-to-be, to understand the purpose and the power of sex and sexuality. It encourages them to put away the false messages they have believed about sex and to reorient themselves around the truth. Since God is the one who created sex, he is the one who must direct it.

False Messages is available as a 21-page e-book and is free to download. You are free to print it, email it and distribute it as you see fit.

Download False Messages

November 11, 2009

This is now the third (and final!) entry in this short series written by my wife, Aileen. In the last article she talked about rejection and how it effects both wives and husbands. The day before that she dealt with sexual desire, pointing out some of the differences between men and women. Today the series concludes.

One thing I want to say. In this series she has been dealing predominantly with “average” marriages. It is impossible to write about sex and marriage and speak to everyone equally; there are always exceptions, always special cases, always difficulties. But do realize that in these articles, and today especially, she is writing mostly for “normal” people in “normal” circumstances. If your husband has a serious addiction to pornography or if there are other exceptional circumstances in your marriage, some of this may not apply or may apply very differently.

*****

by Aileen Challies

November 10, 2009

This short series, guest authored by my wife Aileen, began yesterday with False Messages I: What He Really Wants. Today Aileen picks up where she left off.

*****

by Aileen Challies

When you thought about getting married and when you anticipated having sex with your husband, did you ever think about how often you’d be saying “no” to him? I know of a few women who decided before they married that they would never refuse their husbands and who have, admirably, stuck to their promise. For the rest of us, though, “no” is is a word we use far more than we ever would have thought possible (or desirable). Maybe we say “no” with our words, whether kind or gracious; maybe we say “no” with our attitudes or body language; maybe we say it with our wardrobe or simply by going to bed long before he is tired. We grow adept at finding new and creative ways of refusing sex.

November 09, 2009

For the next couple of days there will be a guest blogger on this site—none other than my wife, Aileen. She will be sharing a few articles directed specifically at women. Here is how this came about.

Two weeks ago (yes, it was really that long ago) I posted a series called Sexual Detox. One of the unexpected results of the series was a large number of emails from women who read this blog. I passed many of these emails to Aileen and she has engaged in correspondence with some of the women. This has led to some interesting conversation and, I think, an opportunity for her to both learn from and minister to some sisters in Christ. I’ll let her pick up the story from here…

*****

by Aileen Challies

October 10, 2008

This morning, just for one session, I’m going to try something different. This is a piece of software called CoverItLive and its made specifically for live-blogging. I thought I’d give it a shot.

October 09, 2008

After John Piper finished his session, a “True Woman Profile” played on the screen. It was the story of one of the women at the conference and told of her conversion to Christ in prison. This was followed by the Getty’s singing “The Power of the Cross” and “When I Survey.” And then it was Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ turn to speak and she took as her text Romans 11:33-36. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’”

This passage offers a grid to respond to God’s sovereign control over lives and she spent some time looking at the character of God as it is revealed in this text.

She focused first on the word “depth,” saying and emphasizing that there is much more depth to be found in the person and character of God than in anything else in all of creation. And there are riches in God that far surpass any riches this world can offer. God has complete wisdom and knowledge, knowing everything about everything not just on the macro level but also on the micro. He knows all there is to know about the past and the future—your past and future. God’s ways are beyond understanding—they are unfathomable or past finding out. She quoted John Piper who once said, “In every situation, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know.” And so she progressed through the passage, providing teaching about each of the phrases.

And then she ask asked what the response is to be to all of this. Paul’s response was simple: To him be glory forever amen. The response is to put God in the spotlight where he belongs. We worship him and give him the glory, submitting lives to his holy, eternal purposes. What does this have to do with being a true woman? It has everything to do with it and DeMoss offered three points of applications.

1. A true woman lives a God-centered life. She lives for God’s glory and pleasure and not her own. When the true woman sees the magnitude of God’s greatness, it gives context to her puny challenges (even challenges that may seem so huge).

2. A true woman trusts God. We live in a fearful world but God has a plan and his plan cannot, will not, be thwarted. God is the one who defines good and the true woman trusts in him and in his definition of what is good.

3. A true woman says “Yes, Lord.” You can’t call him “Lord” and say anything other than “yes.” The true woman recognizes that her life is not her own and she lives for the glory of God. She affirms that God’s purposes for creating male and female are good and wise. She accepts the way God made her and who she is. She does it with a grateful heart. Saying “yes” may mean saying “no” to a lot of other things.

It really comes down to this: trust and obey. The pathway may be scary since we walk by faith and not by sight, but like Paul, eventually we will get to the heights and take in the beautiful vista of God’s will and plan. And then we will stand and be amazed.

At this point DeMoss asked the women to take from the tote bags they were each given the white hankie. This is to be used throughout the event as a symbol of surrender—a symbol of saying “Yes, Lord.” As the women find themselves surrendering to what God is teaching them, they can wave this flag as a visible symbol of a spiritual, inward reality.

And with a final hymn, the first day of the conference came to an end. And just like this, my day needs to come to an end. I’ve been awake for a long, long time now. I’ll be back tomorrow with more updates.

October 09, 2008

The first session of the True Woman Conference was led by John Piper who spoke on “The Meaning of True Womanhood.” He made it clear that he counts it a privilege to address the most influential people in the world (distinguishing, he said, between privilege and authority). There is massive power in this room and he does not take this as a light responsibility. This message is offered as a foundation for the True Woman Manifesto which will be unveiled on Saturday (“a magnificent document” Piper called it).

He began with an assumption: wimpy theology makes wimpy women. The opposite of a wimpy woman is not a brash, pushy, loud, uppity, arrogant Amazon, but a woman of character (and here he provided several examples of faithful, suffering women). Wimpy theology does not give a woman a God big enough or good enough to deal with the realities of life and still rejoice. This poor theology is plagued by woman-centeredness; it does not have the granite foundation of God’s sovereignty underneath; it does not have the structure of a God-centered purpose for all human life.

The ultimate meaning of true womanhood

God’s ultimate purpose for the universe and for all of history (and for you) is to display the glory of Christ in its highest expression in his dying to make a rebellious people his bride. This is the reason the universe exists. Everything exists so this can happen and to make much of it. This is based on texts like Revelation 13:8 (which shows that, before anything was made, before sin existed, God had already planned the death of his Son). Why? Ephesians 1:5-6 says that all was done to the praise of his grace. Putting this together with Ephesians 5:25-27 we see that the ultimate purpose of all things is the praise of God’s grace through the death of Christ.

What does this all mean for true womanhood?

There is nothing wimpy about what God has done; he offers a place to stand when everything around gives way. Proper theology leads to a mind-boggling understanding of true womanhood. What we’ve seen just in these texts (and there are many more) is that masculinity and femininity belong at the center of God’s ultimate purpose. These are not an afterthought of creation and are not peripheral to the purpose of the cross. They are right there at the center at Calvary. So we need to be done with small thoughts about God’s design for womanhood. It is only when we understand God’s design for womanhood that womanhood takes on its true significance.

People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that God made man and woman and then went looking for some kind of analogy to explain what he had done. But nothing could be further from the truth. When God designed this human creature in two kinds, he had the cross in his mind already. This is the very reason that he made us this way! We know this from Ephesians 5:31 where Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 and shows that marriage has always referred to Christ and the church. Thousands of years before the cross, God said that it is about the most important event in history—this is why he made men and women as he did.

What is the ultimate meaning of true womanhood?

“True womanhood is a distinctive calling of God to display the glory of his Son in ways that would not be displayed if there was no womanhood.” When God described the work of his Son as the sacrifice of a husband for his bride, he was telling us why he made us male and female. He made us this way so this relationship would describe more fully the relationship of his son and his son’s blood-brought bride. If you reduce woman to biological features you not only reduce the value of womanhood but reduce the glory given God. We must understand that, in opposition to what the world teaches, womanhood is not incidental to personhood.

Application Question:

Piper offered a couple of questions of application: What does this look like for married women? What does it look like for single women?

Married Women

Marriage is meant to display the covenant-keeping relationship between Christ and the church. Here Piper offered a word on headship and submission, defining both. Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant-leadership and provision and protection in the home. Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. These two correspond to true manhood and true womanhood in marriage. These differences are essential by God’s design so that marriage will display more fully the glory of the sacrificial love of Christ for his bride and the admiration of the bride for her husband. If you can embrace this truth that your true womanhood ultimately means that your distinctive role in marriage is meant to magnify the glory of God’s grace expressed in the covenant keeping love between Christ and his church, you will have a compass that can navigate hundreds of questions.

Single Women

The Apostle Paul loved his singleness. He loved it because it gave him such radical freedom to get arrested month after month and to be beaten and lashed and shipwrecked. Singleness is a high calling. He celebrated it and called many to follow him in it, even with the beauty of all that marriage displays. Why would he lure some out of pursuing marriage if he made marriage as such a magnificent portrait? In this season of history since the Fall, the natural order God established is not absolute. The reason that rejoicing in singleness is not an assault on God’s glory is that in this world there are truths about Christ and his kingdom that can be more clearly displayed by manhood and womanhood in singleness than in marriage. He offered three things single womanhood can say better than married womanhood:

  1. A life of Christ-exalting singleness bears witness that the family of God grows by regeneration by faith, not propagation by sexual intercourse. The main thing we’re about is growing this family!
  2. A life of Christ-exalting singleness bears witnesses that relationships in Christ are more lasting than relationships in families.
  3. The Christ-exalting singleness of a woman bears witness to the truth that marriage is temporary and finally gives way in the end to the reality of what the portrait points to. A single woman who lives with this in view says something very powerfully about her Savior

Offering a final summary and challenge, Piper said that true womanhood is a distinctive calling to display the glory of the Son in ways that cannot be displayed in any other way. This is true whether a woman is married or single. No matter whether you’re married or single, do not settle for wimpy theology. Do not waste your true womanhood, for it was made for the glory of Christ.

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