Here’s the latest thought-provoking reads seen around the Web lately.
In Christ, We Have Direct Access to God, HT to Challies. “Is it inconsistent for the Bible to teach us that God ‘dwells in unapproachable light’ (1 Tim. 6:16), while at the same time exhort us to draw near to him? If God dwells in the white-hot light of his holiness, how can sinners like you and me ever hope to take even one baby step toward him? If God is so pure, so completely undefiled, so sharply separate from sin, how can we approach him? Indeed, it seems, he is unapproachable. Yet the author of Hebrews strongly encourages believers to not only approach God, but to do so with ‘full assurance.'”
Still, HT to Challies. This is beautifully written. “Is it true that the quiet valleys of this world harbour stillness like some treasure to be dug up? Quite possibly. But I’m not convinced that is what the ancient song-writer is calling us to. Rather, it strikes me that there is a tone of command here, a tone better heard if we had sat with the desperate disciples on a wind whipped lake, the night dread gripped their hearts.”
Keys to Knowing God’s Will for Your Life. “Of all the issues related to Christian living, few receive greater attention than knowing God’s will for our lives. Many believers, and especially younger ones, agonize over knowing what God means for them to do and how he means for them to live out their days. Many end up leaning toward a low-grade form of mysticism, longing to receive some kind of a sign from the skies or some kind of a word in their hearts.”
What Makes a “Strong Woman” Strong? HT to Challies. “‘Strong woman’ is a phrase heard often these days, and because I admire both words and women, I’ve been paying attention. It’s used in politics, on campuses, in the media, and even by little girls who know at a very early age to describe themselves as ‘strong.’ It’s made me think about what strong actually means—what is the implication when people say ‘strong woman’?”
We Don’t Need to Rescue Biblical Characters from Themselves, HT to Challies. “If we understand that the Bible is not a book of heroes to emulate, but sinners in the need of Jesus, our outlook changes a bit. We don’t need to rescue the biblical characters from themselves so we can emulate them, we can take comfort in the fact that even our very greatest heroes in the Bible were not perfectly faithful. They, as much as us, needed Jesus. The Biblical characters are not there principally as examples to us to emulate, but as examples to us of God’s grace.”
Two Letters and a Cute Dog Photo, HT to Challies. “My mind turns to the commute home and the evening ahead. Oh, that’s right: tonight is Bible study night. I was already feeling physically and mentally tired, and now I realise I’ve got to get home, do a quick turn around on dinner, then up and out in the cold to head to my home group. Or … I could stay home, get those nagging chores done, quickly watch the next episode of that Netflix series I’ve been enjoying, and get to bed at a time more in keeping with the level of fatigue I’m feeling. I’m sure my group and the leaders will understand. They always do. Here are five quick reasons to intentionally derail that train of thought and go to growth group.”
Not What I Expected, HT to Challies. “One of the most shocking television moments I ever witnessed was on L.A. Law in the 1980s. A character everyone loved to hate, Rosalind, stepped through her law office’s elevator doors mid-sentence and unexpectedly plummeted to her death. That’s kind of how I felt when I became a mom…like I was falling. I stepped forward and the floor wasn’t there. The drastic life change was so much harder than I expected, in ways I didn’t anticipate.”
Teach Us to Number Our Drives, That We May Gain the Hearts of Our Children, HT to Challies. “Even though I know this comes with the territory, I struggle to enjoy it. This season of spending lots of time together in the car is fleeting, and I need to take advantage of having a captive audience. But while I love my kids with all my heart, and I’d jump in front of an oncoming train for them, some days I don’t want to lay my life down to drive them across town.”
Here are some of the noteworthy reads discovered recently.
What Changed After C. S. Lewis Came to Christ? We think mostly of Lewis’ intellect, but other areas of his life changed as well. “Lewis was always submitting his life to Christ to be changed. He was always renewing his mind. He understood the New Testament concept of the atonement as involving dying with Christ. He continually submitted habits and attitudes to be killed . . . “
Why I Stopped Calling Parts of the Bible Boring. The theologian she quotes is not my favorite, but otherwise I like this. “Scripture is history, drama, and art. And more importantly, it is the surprisingly simple story of God redeeming his creation. But if in our simplifying or systematizing we end up relegating entire portions of Scripture to boring irrelevancy, we have lost the plot of a God who chose to reveal himself to us in the form of a breathtaking story.”
Helping Our Kids Put On the Armor of God, HT to The Story Warren “Every parent yearns for their child to stand in the face of peer pressure, evil enticements, false claims, and even amidst their own disappointments and losses. Fitting them in these six pieces of spiritual armor will help equip and enable them to stand.”
Cinderella, Strong Women, and the Courage to Be Kind, HT to The Story Warren. “Most of us are strong in ways that go unlauded, and maybe we don’t see our daily routine as strength because of it, or we think we have to be fighting for something—whatever that might look like. But we are strong women when we practice virtues like kindness, when we are patient, when we show compassion and turn away wrath.”
Biblical Submission Does Not Justify Abuse (Or Even Permit It). “Her submission is not your responsibility. Loving her like Christ loved the Church is your responsibility, and abusing her in action or word is a gross violation of the direct command that God has given you. Demanding submission as a cover for acting abusively is a loathsome sin and God notices.”
Midlife, Christ Is. “In midlife, Christ is a consolation for all the things I wish I’d done differently. He doesn’t change my past, but he can redeem it. . . . In midlife, Christ is a companion through all the worries and stresses.”
God Loves Your Perimenopausal Body. “To tell you the truth, the shock as this reality began to dawn in my life left me feeling as though my body might have heard the gospel for the first time even though my heart, mind, and soul had been committed to Jesus since I was a teen. All that time, I’d gotten the message at church that my body was a problem, not a gift.”
Lies That Keep Women from the Word: Busyness Is Not the Problem, HT to True Woman. “Imagine if you thought that in order for a green bean to nourish you, you had to eat it in a calm place with nice lighting and no kids. What if a shower cleaned you only when you had a journal on hand to write about it? Or what if toothpaste worked only in Instagrammable moments?” Silly, yet we do the same thing with Bible reading. Good stuff here.
The Christmas Rush. From the first Christmas to now, people rush by the most important aspect of Christmas.
Someone Needs to See You Suffer Well. “Don’t assume your suffering is a detour. Suffering may hinder or even halt a hundred things in our lives, but God loves to use our griefs to magnify our small visions of him. And suffering makes the gospel run with a pace unknown in prosperity.”
Some Kids Barely Survive Christmas: Celebrating the Son with Special Needs. “Special needs can isolate families. When a child’s sensitivities preclude even a routine trip to the grocery store, the usual avenues of fellowship — birthday parties, baby showers, church-wide dinners — become unfeasible. But love and fellowship from other believers, offered without judgment, can provide parents a cool cup of water as they labor through arid terrain.”
Why Did God Give My Kids a Sick Mom? HT to True Woman. “For mothers struggling with chronic pain, fatigue, physical or mental illness, our inabilities can be soul-crushing. . . . We want our kids to see us smile, even though it’s hard. . . . Whether or not you’ve struggled with significant illness, we all have seasons when we worry we don’t have enough to give to our children. And we can all be encouraged that God has good purposes for us and our children in every season.”
A friend and I were discussing the two half-sisters in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Marian Halcombe is gracious, smart, strong, and capable, but ugly. Laura Fairlie is pretty and sweet, but somewhat weak and fragile. You can guess which one gets the guy.
That discussion led to thinking about other women in literature. Dora, the first love of David Copperfield, was pretty, sweet, and charming, but childish and totally inept as a household manager. She even told him to think of her as a “child wife.” After failed attempts to strengthen Dora, David had to just accept and love her as she was. But Agnes, his friend whom he later came to love after Dora’s death, was steady, capable, strong, and mature, and they could support and help each other. Lucie Manette from A Tale of Two Cities came up in the aforementioned discussion as a Victorian ideal of the weak damsel in distress, but I disagreed. I think she had to be very strong to take in a father who was mentally disabled after so many years locked up unjustly in the Bastille and and nurse him back to health. Then she traveled to France at the height of the French Revolution to find out what had happened to her husband when she feared he was in danger. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility is another strong literary woman. She was steady, had to manage the household frugally even when the rest of the family complained, had to reign in her emotions to do the honorable thing, as opposed to her sister, Marianne, who gave free reign to her emotions and whims. Ma Ingalls is another: I honestly don’t know how she dealt with the sheer hard work of her life as well as the loneliness of being away from other people so much.
I am not a feminist by any means, but I do like to see a female protagonist who does have some umph to her, who adds more to the story than a pretty face.
Besides literary examples, we have a plethora of strong women in the Bible. How could Mary, the mother of Jesus, endure all she did without His strength? Other strong biblical woman are Jochebed, Moses’ mother, who defied Pharaoh to protect her son; Rahab, who took a great risk to hide the Hebrew spies because of her faith in their God; Deborah, a judge who went to battle; Hannah, in grief over her barrenness, yet knowing to whom to turn; Esther, who risked her life to intercede for her people before the king; Priscilla, who helped her husband in business and in discipling; Mary and Martha, strong in different ways; Joanna and the other women who ministered to Jesus’s needs, and so many more.
Being strong is not an unfeminine trait. In fact, Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms,” and “Strength and honour are her clothing.”
She is strong in character: excellent, or virtuous in some versions (verse 10), trustworthy (verse 11), does her husband good (verse 12), kind and compassionate (verses 20, 26), characterized by honor (or dignity in some versions) (verse 25), praiseworthy (28-31).
She is strong in industriousness and initiative: She “works with willing hands” (verse 13), she gets up early to start work and serve others (verse 15) – she’s not still in bed late in the morning waiting on someone to serve her (except maybe on special occasions), she weaves and knows her products are good (verse 18-19), she works into the evening (verse 18), she makes nice clothing (verse 21-22, 24), she makes products to sell (verse 24), she looks well to the ways of her household and is not idle (verse 27).
She is strong physically (verses 17, 25): she plants (verse 16),
She is strong mentally and intellectually: she seeks good products and prices (verses 13, 14, 16), she plans ahead for bad weather (verse 21), she is wise (verse 26).
She is strong spiritually: she fears the Lord (verse 30).
We can sometimes get discouraged just thinking about this epitome of womanhood, but as I like to say, she didn’t do all of that in a single day. And I don’t think we have to take up weaving, plant a vineyard, or have a home business to become virtuous women. But taken as a whole, the tenor of her life is that of strength, industry, and honor. She is definitely not a “damsel in distress,” but she doesn’t need to assert her strength by challenging her husband or stepping into his role.
Admittedly we all experience times of weakness, tiredness, and weariness, and there are times we do need rescue. I’ve so appreciated the times my husband has come to my aid when I’ve gotten stuck or over my head in a project, behind in getting ready for company, overwhelmed with a ministry activity, etc. As a family we all pitch in and help wherever needed rather than standing back and saying, “That’s your responsibility, not mine.” There is nothing wrong with a husband helping and serving his wife: if he loves as Christ loves the church, Christ helps and serves us. But I did struggle in early marriage with wanting my husband to help me in every little thing and having to remember that I am supposed to be a help meet for him. We don’t depend on our husbands instead of the Lord, but we do depend on their God-given assets and strengths. Our husbands also need to depend on us to be able to stand strong in the Lord’s strength. And God enables us to minister to others and give of ourselves even when we feel depleted.
We don’t usually step up to the brink of adulthood or marriage strong in all the ways we need to be. Strength of character has to be developed just as physical strength does. When you first start exercising physically, the first thing you notice is how weak and out of shape you really are, but starting to exercise even in weakness is the first step to developing strength. Often God develops strength in us by putting us in situations where we are totally weak. I could not have endured my husband’s many travels without learning to lean on the Lord for strength, but I was pretty much a basket case at first. I can remember the dismay of realizing as a young mother that I couldn’t just take to my bed when I was sick when I had little ones to take care of. I was probably overly dependent on my husband at first, but had to learn how to make decisions and take care of things while he was at work and out of reach.
Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth were missionaries to China from1888-1936. She had written his biography, and then by request wrote Climbing, one of my all-time favorite books, about missionary life and furlough from her perspective. She writes not as a “super-Christian,” but rather as a woman “of like passions” as we are. She writes in one place:
It was while I had a large family of little children about me and mission work was pressing heavily upon me, while feeling burdened and that strength was insufficient, I sought to find in God’s Word whether there were any conditions to be fulfilled for the receiving of divine strength. The result of this study was a surprise and joy to me, and later a blessing and help to many to whom I passed it on, for every condition the weakest could fulfill!
The key is in Hebrew 11:32-34: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9-10).
The song “I Could Not Do Without Thee” by Francis Ridley Havergal says it well:
I could not do without Thee,
I cannot stand alone,
I have no strength or goodness,
No wisdom of my own;
But Thou, beloved Savior,
Art all in all to me,
And weakness will be power
If leaning hard on Thee.
May you “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10) today.