Missional Motherhood Study: Weeks 5 & 6

Today was the last day of my moms group and I thought I would cover our discussion from weeks 5 and 6. Two weeks ago we mainly talked about the “thousands of little deaths to self” we do as moms everyday. This idea is drawn from 2 Corinthians 4:11:

“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

We also discussed the idea that evangelism is a mom’s work, but the giving of faith is Gods. There is freedom in knowing that it isn’t all up to us to save our children. We do have a great influence on them, and God uses us in mighty ways in our children’s lives, but only God can make blind eyes see and awaken a sleeping heart.

In today’s group we talked a lot about homemaking and the difference between making our homes an idol and making them a place to display the gospel to others (in our family and outside our family). Gloria says, “Titus 2 is not about how Christian women need to be domestic goddesses; it’s about how Christian women point people to God.” We manage our homes, in our own unique ways, to love and serve and give freely to others. Gloria speaks to this as well, “Homemaking is a strategic everyday ministry designed by God to adorn his gospel in this age….We don’t manage our homes because our homes are our hope. We manage our homes because Christ is our hope.” 

We ended the discussion today with the assurance that God will fulfill his mission in the world and in his Church, because he tells us so in his Word, and has made it evident through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and by giving us the Holy Spirit. He designed us and equips us for missional motherhood to our own children and other disciples. It is his work.

 

The Daily Work of the Spirit

Growing up in the church I was familiar with ministry nights. I also grew up experiencing the full gamut of Christian conferences and retreats. These events included extended times of prayer and worship accompanied by serene guitar strums and low lighting. Sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit felt as effortless as the melodies falling softly on my ears. These felt like special times when God would reveal himself to me in my stillness, and the Spirit would convict me of sin and help me set my sights on Christ.

These organized events can be refreshing and beneficial, but I’ve realized I should be seeking ministry from the Holy Spirit at all times. The Spirit’s ministry doesn’t have to be still, quiet, peaceful, and at a scheduled time. The Holy Spirit works in the mundane everyday moments of life — the nitty-gritty daily grind.

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Christ & Culture Series — Culture Follows Philosophy: Why You Should Read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

By Ryan McLaughlin 

This is a continuation of the Christ & Culture Series. The first post in the series was an interview about juggling artistry, business, and theology, and the second post was an interview about education. This guest post is a piggyback of the previous post in the series titled, The Law Follows Culture.    

Ryan McLaughlin is a math teacher, husband, and father of three. He lives with his family in the Tampa, FL area, and is a member of St. Andrew-the-First-Called Orthodox Church. He has been an enthusiastic fan of Dostoevsky since he was a teenager, and has taken classes on Russian literature. He even had an essay that he wrote on Crime and Punishment published in Vestnik: the Journal of Russian and Asian Studies. Not bad for a math guy!


In his excellent post, Jacob Phillips made the argument that “law follows culture.” I couldn’t agree more, and today I want to make a follow-up point: “culture follows philosophy.”

It’s not always easy to see, but philosophy—that dusty, abstract, impractical subject that you didn’t major in because your parents told you that at some point they were going to cut off your allowance—is actually what runs the world. Good philosophy reaps innumerable benefits for culture, and bad philosophy wreaks devastating consequences. If we as Christians are going to engage effectively with our culture, we’re going to need to understand what philosophical assumptions are driving it and critically evaluate them in the light of the Gospel.

To provide you with a model of how to do that, I’m going to suggest—perhaps counter-intuitively for some—a really dark murder story written by an epileptic with a gambling addiction…

A Novel with a Sharp Edge

Fyodor Dostoevsky was a 19th century Russian writer widely regarded as one of the greatest novelists that ever lived. His novels—including The Brothers Karamazov, The Devils, The Idiot, and our topic for today, Crime and Punishment—are considered to be some of the all-time classics of world literature. Dostoevsky was also a passionate Eastern Orthodox Christian with a great deal of prophetic insight into the dark turn that Russian culture was taking in his day.

The plot of Crime & Punishment is relatively simple, if rather dark: A young, impoverished law school drop-out decides to commit an axe murder to prove a point about his philosophical ideals. He roams the streets of 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia, slowly descending into mental illness while being pursued by a relentless detective. His only hope for redemption seems to be a young woman who has been forced into prostitution by her family’s abject poverty and her father’s raging alcoholism.

The young law student, named Raskolinikov, believes that “superior” men are above notions of right-and-wrong. He has bought into the philosophy of ethical nihilism, the idea that ultimately there is no such thing as an authoritative reality. He allows this idea to direct his actions: to prove the point to himself, he kills an old pawnbroker woman. Ideas have consequences, though, and Raskolnikov finds that the “culture” around him cannot withstand the philosophy he has embraced.

A Culture Slowly Killing Itself

Dostoevsky’s Russia was at a turning point. Hitherto, it had been a devoutly Christian country whose philosophy and culture reflected a profound faith in Jesus Christ. Increasingly, though, Western philosophies were influencing the brightest minds of the younger generations—the Enlightenment ideas that had spilt the blood of so many in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars were gaining traction in the East. Dostoevsky was deeply concerned about this—it could be argued that he foresaw Bolshevism and the coming of the USSR—and wrote his later novels in the hopes of turning back younger minds from their folly.

Raskolinikov—the law student that commits the murder to prove a philosophical point—is the main focus of the novel. His philosophy leads him directly to murder. But Crime and Punishment isn’t just a prophetic warning about the consequences for an individual who thinks himself above the normal rules of society. It’s about a society that thinks itself above the normal rules of morality. Remember, Raskolnikov is “an impoverished law student”—he is a stand-in not just for a legal system impoverished by its lack of culture, but for a culture impoverished by its gradual embrace of a radical, nihilistic philosophy. Everyone in Dostoevsky’s fictional portrayal of 19th century St. Petersburg is suffering from the break down of morality—the alcoholic father and his starving family, the young woman forced into prostitution, etc.

As we look around and see our own 21st century American culture suffering through so much—racial and social injustice, abortion, addiction, growing teen suicide rates, and more—we must ask ourselves: what are the philosophical assumptions that drove our culture to this point? Who (or what) were our “Raskolnikovs”? Which old pawnbroker women have we killed along the way to get to this point? And here, by “we” I don’t just mean broader society; we as Christians must look at ourselves with a repentant eye and first examine the cultures we’ve created within our churches and families. As Jacob pointed out in his post, plenty of born-again Christians initially praised the Roe v. Wade decision. What philosophy did Christians adopt (perhaps subconsciously) to reach that point?

A Story About Lazarus

One of the turning points in the novel comes when Raskolinikov visits with Sonia, the young woman who has been forced into prostitution. Guilty of murder, pursued by the authorities, Raskolnikov makes a simple request of Sonia: find the passage in the Bible where Lazarus is raised from the dead, and read it aloud.

I won’t give away any more of the plot.   But suffice it to say, cultural redemption comes through Resurrection. You cannot make minor corrections to fix the dead; they must be brought back to life again. For Dostoevsky and for us, radical repentance and a radical submission to the Resurrected Christ are the only way out of the cultural cesspool that bad philosophy has created. We must be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

A Call to Examination

In commenting on another one of Dostoevsky’s novels, the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said:

“[Dostoevsky] wanted to take men along the ways of wildest self-will and revolt in order to show them that they lead to the extinction of liberty and to self-annihilation. This road of liberty can only end either in the deification of man or in the discovery of God; in the one case, he is lost and done for; in the other, he finds salvation and the definitive confirmation of himself as God’s earthly image. For man does not exist unless there be a God and unless he be the image and likeness of God; if there be no God, then man deifies himself, ceases to be man, and his own image perishes. The only solution to the problem of man is in Jesus Christ.”

In what ways does this describe our culture today? In what ways are we ourselves guilty of giving in to “wildest self-will and revolt”?  How will we answer this type of thinking with the truth of Jesus Christ?

I hope that you’ll give Dostoevsky a careful read and then, inspired by his example, you’ll engage with the philosophy behind our culture.

Two ways to be Rich Everyday

There is a show on TLC called Extreme Cheapskates. Each episode shows people using bizarre tactics to save a buck. A few episodes I happened to see awhile back showed cheapskate millionaires as well. They fearfully hoard their wealth in a feeble attempt to control their lives, and in the process they make themselves and others suffer needlessly.

In the same way we can be spiritual cheapskate millionaires. We have abundant riches at our disposal daily, but don’t plunge ourselves into the waters of our inheritance.

Ephesians 1:7-14 says,

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Christ is our rich inheritance, given to us by the Father. He lavished the riches of his grace on us through the gospel. Yet, it didn’t stop on the day when we first believed in him. The riches of his grace are available daily to us. We must not selfishly hoard them. We must use them for ourselves and others.

How do we tap into our spiritual wealth? What does this mean in our daily lives?

1.) Read and Hear Truth

What are you soaking in? Are you soaking in your own personal thoughts, feelings, mood, and emotions? Are you soaking in full daily doses of media and worldly philosophies? If we steep in those things too long without truth we’ll become bitter. If we want our life brew to taste more palatable we need daily doses of truth in our lives.

The first place to find the capital T truth is God’s Word. Yet, we can also find glimpses of truth in creation, art, music, and literature, but they must be informed by the capital T truth. God’s Word is the baseline we look to to judge everything in our lives. When we do this we are delighting in and using the riches God has given us in Christ.

We need to know truth in order to deal with our daily circumstances: a demanding boss, catty co-workers, needy children, and even housework. If we don’t have truth anchoring our lives we will get swept away in whatever current comes our way.

2.) Pray for Help

We all hear about (or know personally) the newfound independence of toddlers. “No, me do it,” can commonly be heard in a household with small children. Are we doing this with our heavenly Father? He has given us his riches in order to help us daily; avail of them through prayer.

If my toddler son gets frustrated with something I tell him to use his words and ask me for help. I tell him to say, “Help, mama!”

It’s that simple. Say to God, “Help, daddy!” And he will help you. You don’t have to say a special prayer with a certain number of words that sound fancy and smart. Just say, “help!” You don’t have, because you don’t ask.

Christ became poor in death, so we could have the riches of life daily. We can now approach his throne of grace with full confidence, and know he will answer any prayer that is aligned with the truth of his Word.

As it says above in Ephesians, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance. We are not left alone without the power of the Spirit’s help. God will deliver on his promise through his Holy Spirit, until we fully acquire possession of our inheritance in heaven.

Weary moms need lots of help, so ask for it daily. Pressures in the workforce can be stressful, so ask for help. Life can be mundane and unsatisfying, so ask for help. We are rich, so let’s use it in our aid.

Through truth and prayer we can put our riches to work daily. We are too easily content with substandard conditions; replacing our royal robes with paupers rags. We’ve been given so much, so let’s not turn our backs on it like the Prodigal Son. Don’t exchange pig slop for the rich food at our Father’s banquet.

Wendy Horger Alsup sums this up well:

“Do not be content to simply read through these thoughts and then tuck them away like a miser. Your spiritual inheritance is useful right now in the issues you face daily in life. Spend your inheritance hour by hour of each day, raising your children, loving your husband, adjusting to co-workers, supporting your roommate, dealing with your family, dealing with your church. Your inheritance in Christ is of infinite value and relevant to what you are facing right now. You will never spend it all.”

Where is Your Road Going? The Gospel and Social Justice

Two hot words today: Social Justice. It’s become a big part of Church culture. I’m not here to bash this issue or say it isn’t important, isn’t validated in scripture, or that it doesn’t matter to me. But I am here to bring some clarity and focus around the issue.

As Christians, we can be pulled in so many different directions when it comes to Social Justice. Well, we could get involved with human trafficking, sidewalk counseling at an abortion clinic, helping battered women and children, sponsoring children in other countries, feeding the homeless, and the list goes on and on. I believe the Lord does lay these social burdens on his people’s hearts, and some are called by Him to strongly pursue one or more of these endeavors. I’ve even been involved with a few of these ministries myself. Yet, as we run down one of these roads we must make sure we aren’t running away from the cross, but that our road is running to it.

Social Justice is not the Gospel

It’s easy in Church culture to substitute the myriad of ministries with the Gospel. We must not let a ministry that is important to us cloud our vision of the Gospel. Church ministries are not the Gospel. Social Justice is not the Gospel. These might be avenues towards the Gospel, but they are not one and the same. The Church (the body of Christ) should be all about the Gospel. However, each local church body can explore different ministries to express this truth.

Every good story has a strong climax. This is the part where the protagonist (main character) has to make a decision that affects the rest of the story and the final outcome. The Bible is not exempt from this type of storytelling. In fact, everything in the Old Testament points to the climax in the Bible. What is it? Jesus choosing in his manhood to die a brutal death on the cross and then proving his Godhood by rising from the dead. This is the focal point of the whole Bible, so it should also be the focal point of our lives and our ministries. 

Jesus and Social Justice

In Mark 2:1-12 Jesus is speaking to a large crowd of people, a crowd so large that four men had to lower their paralytic friend through the roof of the house just so Jesus could see him. The first thing Jesus does is tell the man that his sins are forgiven. Why? Jesus knew it was more difficult to be washed clean from filthy sins than to heal bodily ailments. He also knew through the power of his death and resurrection he would be able to give that man a much greater healing; healing from sin. He offers the same to us today. Every church ministry and social justice issue should be about the great healer who gives forgiveness of sins.
Yet, Jesus didn’t deem the mans paralyzes as unimportant either. Jesus was establishing his credibility to heal based on his authority as the Son of God. He still healed the lame man. He took care of his soul and also his body. Let us do the same for others.