The Captivating Power of a Good Family

The more books I read to my kids, the more movies I watch with them, and the more Disney Junior shows they consume, I see one clear gospel message: “Believe in yourself.” But a close runner-up to this message would be a gospel about family, for instance in the powerful and popular new show, This Is Us. Many movies today, for every age and demographic, bring the moral of the story back to the family.

The workaholic dad finally finds his meaning in his family. The working mom that barely gets it all done realizes her life is really about her family. The rebellious teen ends up finding healing in his family. It’s a typical theme, moral, or virtue that is lifted up as one of many gods of our age. The family is often portrayed as the salvation of mankind. Family is where we find ultimate meaning.

It’s good, clean fun to believe in family, so nobody questions it. As Christians, we can agree with the value of family in movies and television, because we know the God who designed and blessed the family structure.

Read the rest at Desiring God >>

Advertisements

3 Gospel Truths to Teach My Sons About the City

I live in the hometown of the Fresh Prince of Belair: West Philadelphia. But unlike Will Smith, I wasn’t born and raised here. Yet like Will Smith, the playground IS where I spend most of my days — mainly because I have two little boys. Many young married couples leave the inner city when they start a family, but we did not.

Most parents are rightly concerned with sheltering their children. (Even though we need to be wary of over-sheltering.) But growing up in the city my sons will be exposed to things on a regular basis that a child living in the suburbs might never encounter. I view this as a positive thing and a tool I can use in my mothering. I’m determined to show my sons the Gospel in our city living. Here is how:

1.) Diversity

Our row home is between a halfway house and a convent. To my left the street numbers get higher and go deeper into West Philly. When I push the double stroller with my shining white children to this side of the neighborhood, we are the white dots amidst a dark sea of black faces. If I push my double stroller to the right of our row home the street numbers get lower and the face coloring changes. On this side of my neighborhood is a large Muslim population, complete with a mosque. Walking this way it’s not uncommon to see women shrouded in black fabric — even at times only revealing their eyes. There are many Indian and Asian eateries on this side, representing those cultural populations as well. Around the corner from my house is a Spanish owned “corner store” where my 3 year old dances to salsa music.

As I walk further down this side of my neighborhood it turns into University City. This part of West Philadelphia is more affluent, since it is the home of Drexel University and the Ivy League UPenn. In this area of the intellectual elite there are rows of sororities and fraternities. University City is also home to many hippies and hipsters, many of whom frequent our local Co-op — the place where I can’t determine the gender of the individual bagging my groceries.

We live in a small area of racial, religious, cultural, sub-cultural, and economic diversity. What can I possibly teach my sons about the Gospel here? Namely, that the Gospel is not just for American middle to upper class white people. The Gospel is no longer restricted to one ethnic community (the Jews), but through Christ’s death and resurrection it’s available to a wide range of people (the Gentiles). Heaven will be a co-mingling of races and cultures. The Gospel makes no room for racism or partiality to economic status; before the cross the ground is leveled for us all. Through Christ’s atoning blood the barrier between us all is broken, because when we are at peace with God we can be at peace with others.

As I walk my sons on either side of our neighborhood I can teach them about the Gospel: how God loves to redeem a diverse group of people to himself. He desires that none should perish, not even the androgynous person bagging our groceries who can receive a new identity in Christ.

2.) Comfort

The city can make people uncomfortable. Who hasn’t experienced a struggling conscience when passing by a smelly man in dirt-smudged baggy clothes holding a cardboard sign asking for money? The subway can be a place of strong discomfort when you’re packed in tightly in the heat of summer — holding on with one arm up. We try not to look each other in the eyes too closely, because God forbid we have to say hello.

When I first moved here I was uncomfortable with parallel parking, laundry mats, and the plethora of one way streets. My first year of city living was paid for in parking tickets. I had no idea what all the parking signs meant. Where do I pay for my parking spot? How long can my car sit in this space until I see that white paper on my windshield?

Sometimes my boys and I walk by people who scream at each other or a car zooms past blaring rap music laced with obscenities. Often times we run into the crazy man from the halfway house who mumbles under his breath as he shuffles by on the sidewalk. Talk about feeling uncomfortable.

And yet the Gospel is never about personal comfort. Jesus left his heavenly comforts to make a home in uncomfortable surroundings. His entrance into this world began cramped inside a womb, and he was laid in a wooden manger among the filth and foul odors of barnyard animals. We can tell Jesus felt uncomfortable in the Garden of Gethsemane as he wrestled with the most uncomfortable decision of all: dying on a Roman crucifix. And yet Jesus put all his comfort aside to literally take up his cross and die. I can remind my children of these truths on our next subway ride, because we must also be like Jesus and sometimes sacrifice comfort for the sake of the Gospel.

3.) Safety

Many women ask me if I feel safe here. Our family asks why we don’t move to the suburbs with our boys. At our previous residency our next door neighbor had a break in — encountering the robber face to face. Our current home was previously inhabited by a sexual predator who stole the house from its rightful owners. The bank put the house up for sale when the man was arrested and charged with fifty felonies. Recently a young woman was murdered in her apartment a few blocks from us, and there was a shooting on our Pastor’s street.

My family and I are never truly safe, and yet we are ultimately safe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The stories I see on the news show me that no matter the place of residency none of us are safe from physical harm or death. But we can be confident that in Christ our souls are eternally safe. Though we turn on our security system every night, I can teach my sons about the true security found in the Gospel. If they believe by faith in Christ crucified and risen from the dead they will be saved from the reign of their sin and the flames of hell.

By raising my children in the city I can teach them that the Gospel shines brightly in diversity, it is no respecter of personal comforts, and that our ultimate safety is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is good news to share on either side of the neighborhood.

Living in Her Shadow: Domesticity and Proverbs 31

She looms over us like a menacing shadow. A shadow casting much taller than us, so we are constantly trying to measure up. Who is this lady of mystery? It’s the Proverbs 31 woman.

If you’ve grown up in the church, like me, you’ve probably heard a lot about her. There are countless books written about her, sermons preached on her, and numerous interpretations of her. We throw the term around loosely: “I want to be a Proverbs 31 woman,” “She is so Proverbs 31.”

She is the epitome of womanhood, so we must do exactly what she did, right? Not exactly. A lot of times we confuse the Proverbs 31 woman with June Cleaver from the 1950’s TV show Leave it to Beaver. We think domesticity and the virtuous woman go hand in hand, and they can at times, but don’t always have to. What I mean is this: no where in the Bible are we commanded as women to be cooking recipes from scratch, making sure our houses are spotless, cleaning up after our husbands, or cleaning dirty dishes and laundry.

These are good things to do for our families, but are not things that necessarily make us good wives and mothers. If doing these household chores comes from a heart of service and love for our husbands and children, then great! But if we are excelling in these domestic endeavors, while simultaneously yelling at our children, manipulating and controlling our husbands, complaining, and angry then we are not being virtuous women. We are just good cooks and maids.

More than Maid Service 

The Proverbs 31 woman is much more than a maid and a cook. Rachel Jankovic says, “The state of your heart is the state of your home.” Proverbs 31 is not an unreachable example of a domestic goddess, but a heart lesson in being a virtuous woman in the home. She is nothing like June Cleaver.

These are the June Cleaver’s of today: fake, always smiling and perfect looking even when everything is crumbling around her, a social construct and not a Biblical example, she avoids conflict by pretending everything is ok, does everything without effort and with ease, feigns love towards her husband at the dinner table, but then slanders him to the women in the salon.

This is the Proverbs 31 woman: real, hard-working, most likely dirty and sweaty from back breaking labor, does not manipulate, control, or deceive her husband, she does not talk bad about him to others. This is how she does him good and not harm. This is the very reason her husband can trust her. “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (vs. 11-12.)

She is an entrepreneur (vs.18, 24), she is intelligent and wise with money (vs. 16), she is strong (vs.17), she is generous and compassionate (vs. 20), she plans (vs. 21), she is not lazy (vs. 27, 13-15), she is frugal (vs. 22), she speaks with wisdom and kindness (vs. 26), she is not anxious and fearful (vs. 25.)

The Virtuous Woman

As you can see, being a virtuous woman is deeper than being domestic. The domestic endeavors of the Proverbs 31 woman flowed from a heart of virtue. Her story isn’t about being a better housewife, checking off lists, living naturally, or getting a lot accomplished. Her story is about being more Christ-like.

Of course we can’t attain to Proverbs 31 status if we think of her as June Cleaver and reduce womanhood to domesticity. But we can attain to the real Proverbs 31 status, because Christ has redeemed us and given us the grace to live for him. We can be more like Him, because He died for us and empowers us by His Holy Spirit. We just need to humble ourselves and ask for His grace.

Proverbs 31 is not an overwhelming list of things we should be doing as housewives, but an oversupply of grace as we see what God can do in us. We don’t need to be praised for how well we take care of our homes, how good we cook, how many homemade cookies we can bake, how many crafts we can do with our children, how many books we read to them (though these are good things), we should be praised for our fear of the Lord in how we live in our homes and treat our families.

“…But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (vs.30.)

Close to the Heart of Christ

When I was younger I wanted to be a missionary. I had idealistic dreams of living somewhat rustically, learning a new language, and being in a far off land sharing and living the Gospel everyday. I went on three short-term mission trips, read many books on missions and missionaries, and went to hear missionary’s speak. Overseas missions work still has a place in my heart, but the Lord rerouted my life and kept whispering in my ear along the way.

Every time I picked up a brochure about overseas missions work I felt a gentle nudge of no from the Lord. I didn’t understand, but I listened. He kept showing me hints of His plan for me instead. The hints pointed in the direction of being in the ministry, but not in the way I imagined it. My part would be a supportive role; a hidden role at times. The Lord pointed me in the direction of marriage, but I was afraid of my gifts being squelched. I guess I liked the limelight more than I thought. Maybe I wanted a little more recognition.

No luck there. I finally met someone and the Lord smashed all my preconceived ideas of marriage and invited me to follow him, my Shepherd, into the uncharted territory of love and commitment. I put up a decent fight, but God is a much better fighter than I; he always wins. He wins, because he loves me and knows what’s best for me…I just needed to believe it.

My Unseen Ministry Opportunity

I married this ‘someone’ and realized this was my ministry: to support and help my husband in his already established ministry. His business is also a ministry by spreading the Gospel through art and music. We even went on a music tour/missions trip together last summer to Poland. This summer he will be going with a few other men to tour Europe on an outreach.

My ministry has also expanded to motherhood. I’m on the greatest mission field in my home as my husband and I start a family. I have the greatest influence on my son (and future children.) I’m not just my son’s mother. I’m his teacher, counselor, trainer, and evangelist. I have the opportunity to share Jesus with my son every day for the rest of his life. I get a unique opportunity to mold a human life. Right now it’s just nursing, diapers, and naps, but soon he will understand more and I can slowly teach and share with him. I am still living the Gospel every day.

I was naive to think my only way of living and sharing the Gospel was overseas. Every day I lay down my life for my son by changing another poopy diaper. Jesus washed his disciples feet, I wash my son’s bottom; both an act of humility and servant hood. By putting my son first I’m showing him and others that Jesus put others first by dying on the cross. He did not think of his own convenience or comfort and neither should I. Every day I deny myself these two things, I’m pointing to something much greater than I.

Mother Missionary

Make no mistake motherhood is a mission field. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard to think of others first and it’s hard to have almost the same routine everyday, scrub the same toilet every week (or more), wash the same dishes every day, do the same laundry every day, and the list goes on. My ministry is as hard and rigorous as training to be an overseas missionary. It’s hard, because it’s refining and character building for me. It’s hard to not always get recognition or a medal for what I do, but that’s part of my ministry as a wife and mom. I’m serving behind the scenes to make others great. This lifestyle is as close to the heart of Christ as one can get.