August 28, 2010

My Photo Culture: 'Pied Beauty'...

                           "GLORY be to God for dappled things—
                          For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

              For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
                      Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

      Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
                And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

                          All things counter, original, spare, strange;

                       Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

                     With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

                         He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him'
-Gerard Manley Hopkins-

August 21, 2010

Complementarity and Team Partnerships (pt3)

 This is the 3rd post in my series on ‘Complementarity and Partnership’ (the first two can be found here  and here ). In my last post I began a sequence of proposals exploring how our theology of complementarity may be expressed in teams, with men and women in relationship together in servant ministry.

Here is proposal 2….

Proposal 2: Partnership means valuing and affirming each other’s unique contribution as men and women without rivalry, competition, resentment or self-promotion.

I’d like to begin with a simple his and her story…

Her story:

“For decades our church was silent about the design and calling of women and we’re reaping the results. 

Our women’s ministry operates with a high degree of skill, but also a high degree of independence.
They keep separate from other church ministries and are not accountable to our male leadership. 
Strong personalities lead this ministry, and many women choose to not be involved rather than risk potential conflict. At one point we tried to bring the ministry into the mainstream of the church but our efforts were met with resistance and criticism.” *

His story: 

It’s true, some are preaching Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 
The latter do so in love, knowing I’m put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I’m in chains. 

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice”. (Phil 1:15-18)

Two stories, one ancient, one modern, one male, one female, one anonymous, the other well known. Two woefully disappointing tales of Christians caught in the insidious grip of rivalry, ambition, autonomy and competitiveness. Perhaps most notable is the glaring absence of any true and genuine partnership in the gospel or in the ministry of the church.

They're both images that are so very far from what God intended, images that in fact reflect the very antithesis of what gospel partnership in ministry ought to be, whether it be same or mixed gender partnerships. 

The scriptures call us to foster together a profoundly different way of operating.
Consider these words from Paul:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:1-4)
Here, and in the preceding passage, Paul exhorts the Philippians to live a life worthy of the gospel, a life not marked by division, separation or individuation, but by being ‘united’ in all things.

In chapter 1 Paul urged them not to stand alone but together, to make every effort to strive side-by-side, to contend “as one man for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). With arms linked in solidarity they are to visibly, almost tangibly, present an ‘outward’ united front before a hostile and unbelieving world.

In chapter 2, he repeated his theme, this time calling them to exercise Christ centred unity, not just to those outside of Christ, but ‘inwardly’ towards their brothers and sisters in the faith. He calls believers to actively demonstrate the unity they have in Christ by being ‘loving’, ‘like-minded’ and “one in spirit and purpose” (2:2).

Did you notice that although the image of unity begins corporately in vs1-2, as we shift to vs. 3-4 the onus is placed slap bang on the individual, on you and on me for its effective execution? The practise of Christian unity actually begins with me!

Demonstrable unity takes shape as I begin to throw off my ‘selfish ambition’, as I disrobe of my "vain conceit”, as I unshackle a self-absorbed focus from my own interests”, and readily fix my attention on “the interests of others” (v4).

Paul makes it patently clear, that a life lived worthy of the gospel cannot be one that’s factional, independent, self-seeking or self-promoting, but one that’s humble, Christ centred, and ‘other person focussed’. A Christ-worthy life is one where I abandon self-autonomy and self-glorification and unite myself in common purpose and partnership with fellow brothers and sisters, so that “with one heart and mouth we [together] may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:5-6).

The image presented here, this antithesis of worldly ambition, pride and self-promotion, is not a spiritual state that comes naturally to us though is it? The temptation to become preoccupied with ‘my patch’, ‘my ministry’ and ‘my success’ means we don’t always sit easily with sharing ourselves, our lives or our ministries with others.

For those of us in ministry, it’s this struggle with ‘me-ism’, with competitiveness, envy and rivalry, that are the real partnership killers. These secret ministry sins tempt us to engage in autonomy over inclusivism, to pursue personal success over corporate effort, to subtly seek self-promotion overhumbly considering others better than ourselves’ (v3).  

In the book ‘Still Deadly: Ancient Cures for the 7 Sins’, envy is described asthe plague of friendship’, emphasising the fact that we don’t tend to envy those who are strangers but rather our neighbours, close relatives and friends. Gore Vidal observed this telling reality within himself declaring, “whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies”.

Jerry Bridges in his helpful book Respectable sins echoes a similar insight, noting we don’t tend to just envy people in general but...

1. We tend to envy those with whom we most closely identify and

2. We tend to envy in them the areas we value most.

For those of us in ministry it means we are most vulnerable to other men and women in ministry, and particularly if the things we value most happen to be things they represent, such as ministry success, fame, honour, status, large public platforms…

Instead of considering others better than ourselves, we find ourselves striving to be better than others. Instead of rejoicing in the success of another’s ministry we fall into the pit of comparative despair about our own. Instead of offering ready praise for another’s gifts and abilities we too readily seek to find fault and eke out points of frailty in the other. Instead of thanking God for the privilege of serving Christ where we are, we hungrily scan the horizon for that next opportunity, that bigger, grander, glossier platform to make our name known…

How true the words of Ecclesiastes…and I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”  (4:4) How quickly the heart strays from that of Christ and the example he set before us, of Christ who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” (Phil 2:5-7)

Their story:

Thankfully, not all stories are like the ‘his and her’ story. Within the pages of the N.T we see some extraordinary examples of godly partnership, perhaps the most notable between men and women would be that of husband and wife team Aquila & Priscilla.

We first meet them in Acts 18 offering home and hospitality to Paul as he goes about his mission to Corinth. 

On leaving Corinth for Ephesus, they pack their belongings and tent making business and partner with him in establishing a church, eventually staying behind to care for the infant church when Paul returns to Antioch, and later giving that same support to Timothy in his leadership there (2Tim 4:19).

But the couple did much more than assist Paul and Timothy, they were actively involved in their own ministry as a couple, partnering together to help Apollos understand the way of God more accurately” (v18-26) as well as hosting a church fellowship in their home (Rom 16:5).

The example of Priscilla and Aquila make an impressive and compelling illustration of a missionary husband and wife team working, not in rivalry, competition or self-promotion, but in partnership together, and in partnership alongside others and with Paul in particular, in the ministry of the gospel. At one point even being willing to risk their own lives on his behalf (Rom 16:4).

Mentioned together six times in the N.T, their extraordinary partnership, ministry and fellowship in the Word became renown to churches in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus. A ministry of which is said, “all the Gentile churches were grateful” (Rom 16:4).

Perhaps it’s not surprising that some of the last words Paul ever wrote were to this endearing partnership- "salute Priscilla and Aquila" (2Tim 4:19).

When men and women choose to compete with one another, generate rivalry in their ministries, envy each other, or cannot bring themselves to value or affirm each others unique contribution to the kingdom, then something is seriously wrong. We’re called to work and labour together in the gospel as fellow workers and partners, not in a spirit of autonomy or competition.
Philippians reminds us that true Christian unity comes from within; it’s a matter of the heart, it’s a practice to be cultivated by each and every believer and not just a doctrinal truth to be blithely espoused. 

So as we seek to work together in Christ centred unity, in true brotherly and sisterly partnership, let’s keep careful watch over our hearts.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
(Prov 4:23)

*Story adapted from 'Women’s Ministry in the Local Church’: J.L Duncan & S. Hunt

© please do not use without permission

August 12, 2010

My Photo Culture: 'Jewels of Jervis Bay'...

"Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither"

~William Wordsworth,  
Intimations of Immortality~


"Nature is the glass reflecting God, as by the sea reflected is the sun,
too glorious to be gazed on in his sphere"
-Brigham Young-



"Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air..."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-

August 7, 2010

'Of Apple Pie and Doing Good'...Complementarity and My Family

In my many trips to South Africa I have had the inexpressible joy of being embraced and enfolded into the Retief family. One of the family, Debbie Retief Garratt, together with her husband Daniel and their 2 children, has since moved from their home in beautiful bustling Cape Town to a small village in Norway in the far north. Their vision is to begin an Evangelical Bible Ministry there.

In Deb's blog she writes of her experience of life, love and ministry. 
I particularly love her blog because she writes with such insight and authentic christian self exposure, a quality of honesty that is at times wanting in christian circles, yet so very very helpful and so very very necessary. 

I asked permission to reproduce her latest piece on my blog, not only because it expresses something of complementarity in relationships, but also because it attempts to explore one wife's endeavor to unpack what it might mean for her to 'do good (to her husband) all the days of her life'...

Thank you my Debs!

"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."

I have been so challenged this year, in the way I am a wife.
I have, at many times and in many ways been a selfish wife.
Especially during the years I was having my babies. It is a natural tendency in us all, to work life so that we benefit the maximum out of it, especially when we are needy - like through pregnancy and new born madness. My needs have often been first in my mind. My need for sleep. My need for security. My need for affirmation and love and all good things….

And then there are the 'sin needs' as I call them, the need to be worshipped and to appease anxiety.

-with her son Kaleb-
But through God's grace and Daniel's leadership (which is also a part of God's grace) I have seen more and more that I did not get married to be served. I got married to serve. In fact, I live to serve, as Jesus has commanded. And of course, Daniel does as well, so if both of us are obedient we will both be served, as is God's wonderful plan for marriage.

But I do not need to be concerned with how Daniel is serving me, I need to be preoccupied with how I am serving him. We have no rights, our only right is to be obedient to Jesus and to be like Him. I want to throw away my rights just like Jesus did (Phil 2:5-11). I have attempted to do that. And it has been so liberating! (Except for the moments when I pick them up again, but that is the story of the Christian life isn't it, constant repentance.)

I have realised afresh, through many sources (all leading from the bible) and over a few years, that I need to actively 'do good' to my husband, as it is written above. And I have deliberately found out ways to do that. Of course this is broad, and can cover the little things - like making him his favourite meals to big things like supporting him in his ministry. The point is to have a mind set, an attitude which says: how can I do good for my husband today? How can I serve him today
It turns every situation around and makes the whole goal of the day different, not centred around me.

-Debs daughter Kristen-
I have also often fallen into the trap that my self-forgetful service is sufficient when it has stopped with the kids. Yet even if I am being Christ like and other centred with them all day, it does not excuse me from continuing to serve, by serving my husband once the kids are in bed.
-Deb's son Kaleb-

We don't need to have breaks from service. It should be like the air we breath! So I have rethought my evenings - and do much less leisure activities in order to serve my husband, which can mean anything from watching a movie he enjoys to organising food for him for the next day, to giving myself to him sexually.

So I have made some changes this year - very big changes and also lots of little changes, and I will share with you one of the lighter, less serious ones. It is small, but it is good for my husband none the less. 

Daniel loves his food. He is one of those men whose whole mood can be changed by food. (Actually I am like that too.) Anyway, his absolute favourite thing ever to eat is apple pie. The traditional apple pie, not too sweet, quite plain actually - just apples and unsweetened shortcrust pastry. Pastry always seemed too hard to make, so I just wrote it off as impossible. But this year I decided to learn it because Daniel loves it and I love Daniel and making things he loves will show him that. And it really has meant so much to him. If you have a husband who loves food, find out what his best food is and learn to make it - and watch him expand (his heart that is, hopefully it won't constrict as well)!!!! 
It speaks to Daniel in a way I never knew it would. 
He said it is like eating love (ok, he really loves his food.)
The budding Prov's 31 girl!

As women it is so easy to fall into the snare of compare - comparing our husbands to others and so being discontented with him and finding fault. Rather we should accept him as the man the Lord has given us to love and serve, and do him good all the days of our lives (not just the days we feel like it because all our needs have been met). The Lord has written into the fabric of creation certain rules - and one rule is that the more we serve a person the more we love them. It is just one of those things.

So ladies, let's use whatever gifts the Lord has given us to serve them! From making apple pie (Prov 31:15) to making love to him passionately (Song of Songs) and regularly (1 Cor7:3-5). From being his biggest fan (Phil 2:3) to tirelessly supporting him in his ministry (Gen2:18), including his ministry through secular work (whether that means weekends alone with the kids or reading long pieces of material with him). Whatever good there is to do, let us do it joyfully - to our husbands, for our Lord. If we live for ourselves instead of for Christ (which is expressed in serving others) we are robbed of the very essence of life (Matt:16:25).

Of course, it has to be said the greatest good we can do our husbands, and anyone for that matter, is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul. 
It is from that love that other love flows.

      Consider what the great C.S Lewis said:

"When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest,
I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.
In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God
 and instead of God,
I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. 
When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed
 but increased."
~ C. S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis-

.....The best good we can do for our husbands is to love the Lord.

-In Norway with Daniel-