Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What I Really Think About Submission

Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body. [Ephesians 5:22-29]
The Humanity of Submission

To be totally honest, the word submission makes me cringe. It can carry an antiquated feeling, recalling to mind the days when women were viewed as property belonging to their husbands. It reminds me of marriage vows in which the woman pledges to obey her husband. For an independent, headstrong woman like myself, I initially think, "Gross. No thank you." I'm no one's property and no one better think they're going to tell me what to do.

But that's submission tainted by humanity. It's looking at it through a lens of human history, personal experience, poor examples, and sin. When we think of submission, we hold it up against the examples we've witnessed in our own lives, the lives of people we know, and the lives we've learned about through history. All of those examples have one thing in common: they're broken.

Our view of submission is skewed because we're looking to imperfect representations and using them to make a decision. We base what we're going to do off of what we've seen other people do in the past. We look at men who have messed up, who have been poor leaders and even poorer husbands and we think, "We're supposed to submit to them?"

However, I recently did a Bible study that helped to reshape my perspective on submission, even though that wasn't the focus. It caused me to look at the concept of submission from a different angle. Instead of looking at the broken, human version of submission, it called me to look at a holy version of submission.

The Holiness of Submission

I think the biggest disservice we can do to submission, to marriage, is to make humanity our primary example. We need to stop looking to a failed and broken example and look to a perfect one. Therein we will find all the motivation and example we will ever need.

In the verses of Ephesians 5 listed above, we see that the church is the example in how it submits to Christ. But I want to take it a step further and look at the example of submission set by  Christ. Jesus modeled submission throughout His entire life and ministry, but I want to focus on perhaps the most striking and visible instance of submission, Jesus' final moments before His arrest.

The events of this period of time are recorded in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46. Jesus has gone to the garden of Gethsemane and taken Peter, James, and John with Him to pray. 
Then He said to them, "My soul is swallowed up in sorrow—to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake." Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, "Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." [Mark 14:34-36]
Jesus prays this prayer more than once and even has a physical response to His distress. Luke 22:44 says, "Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground." The Bible makes it perfectly clear that Jesus really didn't want to go through what He was about to experience. But after praying, He knew God's will, and He went without a fight (see Mark 14:43-53).

I think this passage, and Jesus' example, can teach us a lot about the holy, good, and right aspects of submission, the truth  about submission. Some of those things include:

1. Submission doesn't = silence. Jesus shows us that just because someone submits doesn't mean they can't voice thoughts and opinions. Submission doesn't mean you have to be quiet and just do what you're told. You still have a voice--an important  voice--in any situation.

2. Submission isn't for the weak. Jesus' sweat became blood; it was an intense situation. God called Him to do something that was excruciating. We won't always be called to such high-stress situations, but submission isn't for the faint of heart. It's for strong people who are able to tackle challenges and difficult times. Submission requires strength.

3. Submission isn't just for women. Hello, Jesus was a man. Yet he was willing to humble Himself, to come under the authority of God the Father, and to submit to God's will. Submission isn't just about gender. Yes, Ephesians 5:22 assigns submission to women in a marriage role, but it also assigns it to the church, which is made up of women and  men. Men are called to also submit to Christ, to the will of God, and to commands found in Scripture. Submission is for all of us.

4. And submission isn't just for married women. This fits under the previous point, but I wanted to make sure it stood alone. Submission isn't just a practice for the married among us (Jesus was single). To surrender our desires to God, to seek His will for our lives, that is something we all must practice. We often talk about submission within the structure of marriage, but by doing that, we minimize it. We talk about it like it's just for the ladies with husbands. But it's not. We can't keep leaving out those who are single, submission is also for them.

Holy Submission in Real Life

So the big question is, how do we bring the concepts of holy submission into real life and marriage? When we're looking at submitting to the God of the universe who undoubtedly will call us to things that are difficult and will include suffering, how do we shrink that down into a relationship between humans?

I think the biggest thing to remember is that submission is an opportunity to model Christ in our lives. Submission gives us an opportunity to live like Jesus, to give of ourselves and our desires, and to look to the greater good (the good of the Church body, the good of the community we're in, the good of our marriage). It guides us to look to the call of God in all aspects of our lives and relationships.

Earlier in Ephesians 5, verses 15-21 tell us this:
Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
What a great reminder that submission should accompany all the things we do together as Christians. It is a way we can die to ourselves and look to the life that God wants us to live. It is not a negative aspect of relationships, nor is it a lesser role. It's not a call to simply be meek and quiet. But it is a call to something immensely challenging in that it does require us to give up our selfishness.

So what do I really think about submission? I think it's a word and concept that we as Christians need to reclaim. We need to end the stigma that submission is a bad thing, or a calling just for married women. I think we all, regardless of gender, need to make it a priority to model Christ-likeness through giving of ourselves. We need to actively surrender things--desires, rights, privileges, wants--to God for the sake of His call and His body. We need to look beyond ourselves to those around us whom we can love and serve while modeling the traits of Christ.

I think we need to throw out the old concepts surrounding submission and we need to embrace submission as demonstrated by Jesus. I think this can only take us to good places, places we need to be as the hands and feet of Christ.

Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. [1 Corinthians 12:27]

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What I'm Learning About Hard Truths from Scripture

Let's be totally honest here. Some parts of the Bible are challenging. They can be really difficult to read and to understand. Some of the verses I struggle with are passages that talk about women, like 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

Usually when I read that particular passage, I like to get through it as quickly as possible, especially verse 11. There is something a little painful about reading those verses, they make me cringe. But at the same time, I know if I was honest, there is something for me to learn in that passage just like every other verse in the Bible.

The reality is, we like to use the Bible to fit our views, to make us comfortable, to affirm our beliefs. We focus on the sections that we like and ignore or write off the portions we dislike or don't understand. But the truth is, the Bible isn't here to make us feel good, the Bible is here to tell us hard truth, to instruct us, to teach us about God and the things we need to know, obey, and live by. The whole  Bible.

One argument some people like to take against certain passages--like this one in 1 Timothy 2--is that it was cultural and thus not relevant or applicable to our culture and time. Women today shouldn't be bound to a command that was issued under a different cultural setting, some say. This may be completely true, but I would also argue, why dismiss a verse so quickly without allowing time to reflect, study, and ask God why this particular passage was included in the Bible? Just looking at it in cultural context can be too easy. What does God want to teach us through the tough passages, the parts we want to gloss over or skip all together?

I love how the Bible is described as "living and active" in Hebrews 4:12. It's a beautiful picture of the complexity and depth of the Scriptures. We can read the same verses over and over and receive new understanding and new enlightenment each time. Each time the Holy Spirit can show us something we haven't seen before, something we didn't know, if we open our hearts and minds to His leading.

I think God wants us to do that, to approach His Word with openness to whatever He may want to teach us. To come expectant that we will find not what we  want, but what He  wants, and in so doing, be transformed into men and women of God.

Too often we come to the Bible with an agenda. An agenda dictated by our society, by others' views, or our own thoughts and expectations. We use that agenda as a screen through which we view the Bible, and truthfully, it poisons everything we read. Allowing the world and people in it to dictate your view of the Bible and what you want to read in it is a level of conformity. Romans 12:2 says this about conformity:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This verse should be our guiding goal as we come to the Bible. We should be looking for transformation and renewal in our minds, seeking the will of God. The Bible should mold us in the truth, not be molded by us. It should be our guide and instruction in ultimate truth. Biblical transformation and renewal enables us to be able to discern God's will, which will answer our questions about social issues, morality, justice, even our roles as men and women in the church.

Which brings me back to 1 Timothy 2:12 which says, "I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent." No, I'm not particularly fond of this verse. Yes, it may be intended to have a strictly cultural application in a time when women were less educated than men. But I know and believe God wants to teach me and the church from it, both women and men.

Can I just be honest with you and unpack what I've been learning? No, I'm not going to tell you what women can and can't do. I'm not going to tell you what you should think when you read this verse. I'll let God handle that. I just want to share a few things that have been on my mind, that I've observed, and that I've learned by allowing God's Word to instruct me more than outside opinions.

This passage causes reflection on church leadership, positions which come with great responsibility. James 3:1 says, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." If someone assumes the role and responsibilities of a teacher in the church, he or she also assumes the consequences of failure within that role: stricter judgement.

I think any person who wants to be a leader in the church should do so carefully and somberly, not from a place of declaring, "I can and will do what I want," but from a place of asking, "God, what do you want from me?" There is no harm to being careful to obey God's Word, but there is harm in rushing ahead to do something just because we can. Just because a man or woman can preach, doesn't always mean that he or she should. Wisdom comes in knowing the difference.

I often hear an argument for women to be pastors coming from a place of progressive thought. We view it as a sign of growth, modernity, or moving forward out of the "dark ages" when women were treated as less. This progression isn't inherently bad--particularly in society--but it can become bad when we look to it before we look to the Word of God, particularly in the church. It can become bad when we see it as a right we have to fight for. We so quickly forget that ministry, the Church, God's kingdom, isn't about us or our "rights."

James 3:13-18 speaks to this situation well:
Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.
These passages also cause me to examine myself. Could there be something in 1 Timothy 2 or James 3 that I need to internalize, that I need to learn? The short answer is yes, I do feel like God has been showing me some things that I struggle with and some things I need to let go. The lessons are hard, but also sweet. I want to have humility, I want to have a gentle spirit, I want to have wisdom. I want to be known for Christ-likeness.

Like I said before, I'm not going to tell you what to do. I'm not going to say women shouldn't be pastors. I'm also not going to say that women should be pastors. I don't think blanket statements of that nature are good for deciding who should and shouldn't be a church leader. I definitely don't think men should assume church leadership roles based solely off of their gender, but the Bible speaks to that as well (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

Regardless of what I think, I leave those decisions to God's guidance and leading, because I know He calls those He wants to call, men and women. I do encourage you to seek Him before you make a decision about this either way. To move toward a decision out of a place of anger, intolerance, self-promotion, or condemnation will do more harm than good, to you and others. I think that if we are open, there are hard truths God wants to teach all of us from Scripture.

I would love to one day have a greater role in the church. My spiritual gifting is first pastor/shepherd and second administration. But I don't see that as a right, I see it as a privilege I hope to use for God's glory. What that will look like and how that will manifest itself, I don't know. But in the mean time, my main goal and objective is to know and glorify God, and to simply serve Him wherever I am, however I can.

My hope in sharing all of this is to encourage men and women, and myself, to always return to the Bible. Look to the guiding word of God before you act, before you jump on a social bandwagon, before you broadcast a platform. The Bible is and always will be relevant, instructive, and authoritative.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

FIRST LOOK: Michael's Senior Portraits

I got to spend part of Labor Day taking the first round of my brother Michael's senior portraits. We plan to do more in some different locations when the weather cools down a little and we have some more time. When I initially when through the 300+ photos I snapped, I pulled out a few favorites to quickly edit and share. I was mostly excited to get these photos out because it's the first real session I've done with my new camera!

I can so easily see the difference in the beauty and quality of these photos compared to the ones I took with my old camera. The operator is still the same, my eye hasn't changed, but the photo quality itself is a million times better! I feel like it backs up my training and practice as a photographer.

I bought my first camera as a broke college student, so at the time it was pretty great for what I could afford. I was taking a photography class and rather than share one of the school's few rentable cameras with classmates, I opted to buy my own. It paid off not only in doing my homework for the class, but getting the opportunity to start taking photographs for friends and family.

Over time, however, the quality of my camera began to decline as the quality of others improved. Camera companies were constantly adding more megapixels and camera features. Anyone and everyone was suddenly becoming a "photographer" simply because they had a nice camera. Don't get me wrong, I love that cameras are opening a door to helping the masses take great photos. But at the same time, there's no replacement for training and years of practice.

I'm so excited to explore the options and possibilities of photography with this new camera. I love when photographs can freeze a moment of our lives and convey emotion, personality and passion. It's something we can't quite replace as time rushes forward and life moves on. We now have this great ability to keep pieces of our past forever, in a beautiful and rich representation.

For this particular shoot, I really enjoyed getting to capture my brother in this stage of life. Senior year is like a deep breath before everything changes. It's the threshold of adulthood, a slice of time in which you're still a kid living at home, and yet you're preparing to move on to a new, totally different reality.

I love that everyone's story is different after high school ends. A lot of people move on to college, but each one is so different, different places with different people and different experiences. I can't wait to see what my brother's story will be, and I'm excited to be apart of this time of transition. I get to capture some special moments and cheer him on at the same time.

I know that Michael will go on to do some really great things. He's a special person with amazing gifts and talents. He's creative and funny, intelligent and musical. Things always seem to come easy to him, so I know he'll be able to succeed at whatever he wants to do.

Congrats on making it to senior year, Michael! Finish strong and don't forget to have some fun! I love you!
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