Can’t We PLEASE Talk About Something Else?!

I’m sure you’re probably familiar with the sermon illustration of the Sunday School teacher who wanted to talk about squirrels. I have no idea who wrote it originally, but here’s the version of it I found on several sites. If you know the original author, leave a comment, and I’ll update the reference.

A Sunday School teacher wanted to use squirrels as an example of prepared workers. She started the lesson by saying, ”I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.”  The children were excited to show her what they knew and leaned forward eagerly. “I’m thinking of something that lives in trees and eats nuts …” No hands went up. “It can be gray or brown and  it has a long bushy tail …” The children looked around the room at each other, but still no one raised a hand. “It chatters and sometimes it flips its tail when it’s excited …”   Finally one little boy shyly raised his hand. The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Okay, Michael. What do you think it is?”  “Well,” said the boy, “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.”

It’s a funny story, and it could very well be true. All too often we teach our kids that the right answers in studying the Bible are either Moses or Jesus (Moses for OT, Jesus for NT). There are a couple of pitfalls in teaching kids that we can fall into, “All Answers Must Be Jesus” or we’re tempted to reduce all lessons to “Dare to be  a Daniel.” Of course, all of our study of the Word should ultimately point to Jesus, but you get my point.

Moving away from children’s ministry and on to women’s Bible study, I’m concerned that we’re in danger of falling into a new trap where the punchline would be “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Biblical Womanhood.” Yes, I know that our modern culture is woefully deficient on a Biblical understanding of sexuality, gender, marriage, submission, etc. But surely this is not the only topic we need to discuss in women’s Bible studies. I’m not even sure that it’s the most pressing topic we should be discussing.

Like a person who enjoys lifting weights, but keeps skipping “leg day,” I’m afraid we’re so hyper focused on the topic of Biblical womanhood that we’re creating a generation of Biblically lopsided women. Hannah Anderson, in her book Made for More, talks about limiting women to the “pink” passages of the Bible:

Too often as women, we have restricted ourselves to the “pink” parts of the Bible. … And we forget that these “pink passages” were never intended to be sufficient by themselves. (105)

Women need to know ALL of the Bible and to know that ALL of the Bible is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, NASB). All of the passages addressed to believers are meant for both men AND women. Specific passages to husbands, fathers, pastors, etc. may not apply particularly to women, but the majority of the biblical guidelines for living as believers applies both to men and women.

There is a great need in our churches today for women with a strong foundation in Biblical orthodoxy. If we’ve learned anything from the Trinity debate last year, it’s that so much of what is marketed to women is at best weak and at worst heretical. And it’s everywhere. As Aimee Byrd warns in her book, No Little Women, the greatest danger for women today is likely coming from books and materials marketed for women by Christian publishers and authors.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? … Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives? (22)

We should not be afraid to delve into the Scriptures and even to teach women doctrine. I’m sure that some churches and leaders may be hesitant to take this approach with women’s Bible studies. But according to recent articles and studies, the people in the pews are hungry for the Word. And, yes, it may be a stretch for some women who are used to the popular book studies with floral artwork and script fonts and pastel colors that let women know they’re “safe” to read. Women are regularly challenged by popular culture to try new things that might seem difficult or different to begin with. We all know the hardest days of diet and exercise are the early days before we develop new good habits.

In the same way, switching from a diet of fluffy books to more challenging material will be an adjustment but so worth it. And in studying the Word, going through books of the Bible, there will be opportunities to address topics of gender, sexuality, morality. But the opportunities will be organic and not forced. Although we should be careful not to focus our studies of the Word so that all roads still lead to Biblical womanhood.

Which leads to my other concern: What exactly is being taught under the heading of “Biblical womanhood?” From my reading of numerous books and articles on the subject, I’m becoming more and more convinced that much of what is being taught as Biblical womanhood is actually middle/upper-class Victorian ideals that owe more to the ancient Greeks and Romans than to Scripture.

For example, the discussion of the domestic and public spheres of dominion comes not from Scripture, but from secular culture. The concept of men and women occupying separate spheres goes back to the ancient Greeks and Aristotle, but it gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution and Victorian Era.

The idea is that men inhabit the public sphere which includes government, business, etc. and that women inhabit the domestic sphere of child-rearing, housekeeping, and education. A popular Victorian Era poem called “The Angel in the House” exemplified the ideal Victorian woman, and the image of the wife and mother who was pious and submissive came to be referred to as “the angel in the house.”

Unfortunately, this has next to nothing to do with the Bible. Aristotle’s idea, which carried over into the Victorian Era, and into modern Biblical Patriarchy, was that women are by nature inferior to men. However, even these Victorian/Greek ideals only ever applied to the rich and powerful. Women slaves and servants were necessary to keep the system running, and these women were not afforded the same protections or respect. They were not held up as examples of womanhood.

The same is true today. Women who work outside the home to help provide for their families are shamed for not living up to the impossible standards set by those who have the time and money to write books about what Biblical womanhood looks like.

Our study of the Bible and our application of it should be timeless and cross-cultural. A young Christian woman in the US should realize that she has more in common with an elderly Christian man in Asia than she does with the non-Christian women in her neighborhood. And the only way she’s going to recognize that is if she is steeped in the Word.

What if what we’re teaching women under the heading of “Biblical womanhood” isn’t substantially different from what they could get from other religions? For example, here are some quotes from Helen Andelin’s book, Fascinating Womanhood. It is extremely popular in certain circles. It attempts to teach women how to be good wives. The catch is that Andelin is Mormon. Do any of these quotes sound familiar?

The masculine and feminine roles, clearly defined above, are not merely a result of custom or tradition, but are of divine origin. It was God who placed the man at the head of the family when he told Eve, “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” The man was also designed to be the protector, since he was given stronger muscles, greater physical endurance, and manly courage. In addition, God commanded him to earn the living when he said, “In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground.” This instruction was given to the man, not to the woman.  (p. 124).

The woman was given a different assignment, that of helpmeet, mother, homemaker. (p. 124).

Her homemaking role is assumed: She must nurture her young and run the household, to free her husband to function as the provider. (Gen. 2: 18) (pp. 124-125).

The masculine and feminine roles are different in function but equal in importance. … They are complementary. (p. 125).

Contrary to much of what is taught as “Biblical womanhood” the greatest problem for women is not that they don’t submit. According to the Bible, the greatest problem for women is that we are sinners and that apart from Christ we are separated from God and have earned eternal punishment for our sins. That is our fundamental problem.

And the solution isn’t that if women submit then there will be peace on Earth. The solution is found in salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, by faith alone. This is of first importance. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4, NASB).

I’m concerned that our focus on Biblical womanhood in women’s Bible studies has put us in danger of forgetting the gospel. We are saved by the blood of Christ, not by adherence to a standard of womanhood that may or may not be Biblical. If we are not teaching Christ, crucified and resurrected, we are not helping the women in our churches. I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach on topics related to sexuality, gender, morality, marriage, but maybe we should watch what percentage of our time is devoted to these versus the rest of Scripture.

I am very concerned for the women in our churches. They need to be taught the full counsel of God. They need to know the Word of God fully. They need more than a truncated version of the gospel that focuses mainly on “Biblical womanhood.” Let’s teach women to study the Word, to love the Word, and to apply the Word. All of the Word. 

I’m thankful to be in a church where the women study the Word faithfully and the leaders of the church encourage it. I wish that all churches were this way.

Humble Roots: Finding Rest for Your Body and Soul

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

In Genesis 2:2, the Bible tells us that after finishing the work of creation, God rested from His work. In Exodus 20:11, God explains that that rest is a pattern for us to follow. One day out of seven, we are to dedicate to worship and to rest from our labors. Jesus later explained that the Sabbath was given for man’s good: Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NASB). It seems now more than ever we need to remember the Sabbath. We are a nation full of stressed out, overworked, restless people.

But even in remembering the Sabbath, we need to be careful. I read a comment recently that reminded me of conversations I’ve had in the past with Reformed types about the proper observation of the Sabbath. The gist was that God’s rest wasn’t inactivity, and neither should ours be. Granted, many people attempt to defend sleeping in on Sunday and not going to church because it’s the only day they get to sleep in.

But I think we should be cautious about comparing ourselves to God regarding rest, our need for it, and what our rest should look like. We are not God. We were made to worship Him, and we were made to need rest. Our bodies, our minds, our souls need rest. But how do we find it in this busy and exhausting world?

I recently had the privilege to read Hannah Anderson’s new book, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul. Hannah starts out her book explaining that we are a tired and stressed out group of people. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. We all know that.

We are tired, because we do not rest. We are stressed, because we do not acknowledge our limitations. We are anxious, because we are relying on ourselves. Our pride tells us that we can be like God, but we can’t. We must learn to rest in Jesus and to trust God to care for us. Hannah explains:

You’re not God. I’m not God. None of us are God. … We are made in His image, but we are made nonetheless. (10-11)

Using the Matthew 11 passage quoted above, Hannah explains that what we need is to acknowledge that we aren’t God and to humble ourselves to serve Him:

When we disregard our natural human limitations, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we insist that our voice and our work is essential and must be honored, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we believe that with enough effort, enough organization, or enough commitment, we can fix things that are broken, we set ourselves in God’s place. And when we do, we reap stress, restlessness, and anxiety. (42)

But there is rest to be found in trusting Jesus:

So what does it mean to trust Jesus for rest? How does seeking His kingdom free us from anxiety and worry? He frees us from our burdens in the most unexpected way: He frees us by calling us to rely less on ourselves and more on Him. He frees us by calling us to humility. (32)

This is not a call to do more or to be more or to rely on ourselves and our own actions. This is a reminder that Jesus is our rest:

When Jesus calls us to take His yoke, when He invites us to find rest through submission, He is not satisfying some warped need for power or His own sense of pride. He is calling us to safety. The safety that comes from belonging to Him. The safety that comes from being tamed. (43)

Jesus is also our example for true humility. As Philippians 2 describes, Jesus is the very model of humility. But Hannah warns that we must not give in to the temptation to simply try to be more like Jesus:

We are not called to embody Jesus ourselves. He has already been incarnated and is still even now! No, we are not called to be Jesus; we are called to fall at His feet and worship Him. … And it is through this worship, through recognizing His rightful place, that we are finally humbled. (76)

Through worshipping Jesus and accepting our limitations, we can finally rest like the Psalmist says:

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord From this time forth and forever. (Psalm 131 NASB)

Hannah goes on to expound on how this rest through humility can give us rest for our bodies, our emotions, and our minds. She explains how this humility teaches us to trust God with our resources, our plans, our pain, and eventually our death.

Our bodies can find rest because we recognize our limits. We know we are created and in His acceptance we can find peace. How many of us look in the mirror (or avoid it) each day and hate what we see? Why do we do this? Why are we ashamed of our bodies? (Hannah notes here, and I want to be sure to add, that the discussion here about shame is not about the results of physical or sexual trauma. This is the more general sense of body image shaming so common in our culture.)

Humility reminds us of our limits; humility teaches us that we are physical beings existing in a broken world. Not only are we limited and imperfect ourselves, but our bodies and our sense of our bodies have been shaped by false messages around us. … What will free you from shame is humility; what will free you from shame is accepting that you are not and were never meant to be divine. And once you do, you are free to embrace your physical nature. You are free to stop obsessing over your imperfections because you know that to be human is to be imperfect. You are free to enjoy your unique genetic makeup that has been generations in the making. You are free to reject the lies that have made you ashamed – whether they come from the media, friends, and family, or your own head. You are free to hear the voice of the only one whose opinion counts. You are free to hear God declare you body “good.” (89)

Our emotions can find rest because we understand that how we feel is not the last word on reality. This is a great reminder for me. Many days I wake up anxious for no real reason. On those days, I have to remind myself again and again that though I feel like something is terribly wrong, my emotions are lying to me. Hannah explains:

In other words, we do not resolve our emotional uncertainty – our stress and anxiety – by focusing on our emotions themselves. We resolve our uncertainty by getting to the root cause. We resolve it by learning from Jesus, who is meek and lowly of heart. The premise of this book is that much of our emotional inability is rooted in pride. Not simply pride in our intellect or our physical bodies, but a pride that prioritizes our emotions as the source of truth. … Humility teaches us that we don’t have to obey our emotions because the only version of reality that matters is God’s. (103-104)

Our minds can find rest because we realize that we are not saved by having the right opinions or ideas. Public/private/home school? Vaccinations or not? Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/None of the above? Our salvation doesn’t depend on getting these answers correct. We don’t have to be afraid of being wrong, and this is such encouraging news.

When we believe that our righteousness comes from having the “right” opinions or taking the “right” position on an issue, we can never move from that position. And so, like an animal backed into a corner, we fight and scrap and lash out against anyone who would try to make us. And as James predicts, this kind of rational pride – this “earthly wisdom” – ultimately leads to anxiety and disunity … . If God accepts us based on our being right about every issue, then we must fight to prove ourselves right; but if God accepts us based on our being right, then none of us have any hope. If, however, God accepts you based on Jesus’ being right, then you are safe. … And then you can finally rest. (126-127)

Humility teaches us to trust God with our resources because we acknowledge that all we have is a gift from Him both to enjoy and to honor Him through:

If we take a great deal of satisfaction in how little we need, in how much we reject abundance, simplicity becomes nothing more than an asceticism that, as theologian J.I. Packer puts it, is “too proud to enjoy the enjoyable.” Instead of rejecting our resources, humility teaches us to receive them as gifts and to use them for God’s glory and the good of those around us. (147)

Humility also teaches us to trust God with our plans because we recognize our limitations and know that while we aren’t in control, He is. How freeing it is to know that God is in charge. Even when things don’t necessarily go the way we want, trusting God with our plans leads us to draw closer to Him:

Pride tells us that all we have to do is organize well enough, plan effectively enough, and work hard enough and we can achieve our dreams. Humility teaches us that it was never up to us in the first place. The same God who gives us our desires is the God who orchestrates how, and whether, those desires come to pass. And the hard truth is they may not. … But here again, humility offers rest. If we are submitted to God’s hand, even our unfulfilled desires can be fruitful because our unfulfilled desires can be the very things God uses to draw us to Himself. (165-166)

Humility teaches us to trust God with the pains and sorrows of this life because we remember who God is:

This is how humility overcomes the world: Humility trusts God. In the midst of injustice, humility believes that God is just. In the midst of grief, humility believes that God is comfort. In the midst of brokenness, humility believes that God is health and life. … And when we remember who God is, when we are humbled before Him, we will be free to mourn the brokenness – both from within and without. (185)

We know that He sees. We know that He cares. We know that we will one day bring an end to pain and sadness:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. (Rev 21:4 NASB)

Humility teaches us to trust God even in death. Death is a reminder that we are finite and that we are not yet perfect. But even death itself will be done away with when Christ returns.

Even as we are humbled in death, God promises that death – that proud destroyer – will itself one day be humbled. Even as death boasts over us, God promises that one day death will be abased and we, who have been humbled, will be exalted. (197)

Our bodies are frail. Death reminds us that we need physical rest. It reminds us that we need spiritual rest because without Christ we are not at peace with God and are dead in our sins. Death also reminds us that as believers we have the hope of a future and more perfect Sabbath rest. (Hebrews 4) There will be a time when we will no longer struggle against sin and pain, but we will be free to enjoy God and His rest forever.

I strongly encourage you to read Hannah’s book. If you are stressed and tired and overwhelmed, come to Christ for rest. There is rest for us in humility. I hope you will be as encouraged and challenged by Hannah’s book as I was. If you are interested in winning a free copy to read, please leave me a comment here and share this review with others, if you don’t mind.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. (Psalm 103:8-15, NASB)