Why Girls Purl

We were hanging out with the Allies recently when Lauren raised an interesting point: we’ve seen many more girls leave fellowship than guys. As we listed the cases, it became clear that her observation was accurate. “Why is that?” we all wondered, and came to a quick conclusion that bad boyfriends was the common factor. This seemed true, but I felt compelled to ponder the question more because I’ve lost many female friends in ministry, and I want to better understand what draws them away from the Body of Christ. And I’m going to minister to women for the rest of my life, so I should probably seek to better understand this female-drop-out phenomenon. My goal is not to analyze non-believing women who came to meetings but never came to Christ. I’m considering those who were believers (as far as anyone could tell), were part of our fellowship, and then left for good.

First, a brief history: Lauren recalled a time before I knew her, when she lived in the ministry house with Diana. Those two are the only remaining members. Four others left before I came to the KSU Bible study. Lauren and Diana are also the only girls who came out of the Bedford high school ministry into college.

Women were vastly outnumbered at the college Bible study I attended my freshman year. A number of girls came in and out of our women’s group that year. Those who remain are Diana, Lauren, Melanie, and me. At least six others faded away.

Next year brought more stability to the women’s side as Jen, Sara, and Leah Z. joined us. Melanie moved to Columbus but was in fellowship there. I may be forgetting those who drifted in and out, but this is when we started to see our women’s ministry grow, and experienced fewer losses. The following year saw even great growth as Amy, Nicole, Kathryn, Sarah D., and Kay joined. Melanie returned. Again, I’m probably forgetting some. But we successfully split cells and then home churches.

Since then many women have joined us and we’re more in danger of being a chickified church than the testosterone-dominated scene of Lake and College St. days. But we’ve also lost Sarah D. , Lisa, Carey, Kay, Jen, and Yana. And several more in the other home church. This problem is evident in the high school ministry as well. None of the girls I worked with two years ago were still around when I
rejoined the ministry this summer. And our girls ministry charts have changed significantly since July.

On the guys’ side, I can think of six losses from the KSU home church. I’m sure there are others, but certainly the body count is much lower.

So why do girls purl? After examining this case-by-case, unhealthy romantic relationships seem to be the most common reason. Variations include immorality, unequal yoking, or break-ups with in-fellowship guys. Several suffered from emotional problems, such as eating disorders, major depression, and bipolar disorder. Many sold out to worldly values and choose school, career, and materialism over healthy relationships. Girls seem more likely to be overly-concerned about their college G.P.A. Cultural factors like divorce, dysfunctional families, body image pressures, and increased incidence of psychological problems surely play a role. And perhaps women come in with more baggage then men—more unhealthy friendships and family and dating relationships, more emotional instability, and less self-worth. This means they desperately need Christ, but it makes it harder for them to follow Him as true disciples.

There is no easy answer to why girls purl. Perhaps it’s tied to the age-old questions of “what women want.” But I don’t want to see more women sell their souls to immoral men and the world system. I don’t want to lose more dear friends to these harmful forces. Perhaps we need to take more care to ground women in the Word so they can learn what real love looks like. Some ideas to try to fight this problem:

1. Study Spiritual Relationships that Last.
2. Teach identity in Christ and its implications.
3. Study and practice love ethics material—this is crucial!
4. Be willing to confront unbiblical values early on.

Any other thoughts or suggestions?

Perspective on Persecution: Practical Suggestions

My heart is heavy as I write, but at the same time it is buoyed up by God’s Word and His work in our midst. Although we were saddened by the signage outside CT, how much greater is the joy of two salvations in one week!

Blogging about persecution is all the rage, so I’ll piggyback off Tom’s, Dar’s, and Joe’s recent blogs. I have a few anecdotes to add, but mostly I want to suggest specific ways we can learn to handle to persecution faithfully and graciously.

First I want to share my experiences with the limitation of Christian free speech, which I would not call persecution, but which illustrate the anti-Christian atmosphere in the education system. I taught British literature and the textbook included an excerpt from the King James Bible. The parable of the prodigal son appeared along with offerings from other sacred texts, which had nothing to do with British lit. I was excited about the opportunity to teach the prodigal son since it’s a beautiful picture of God’s grace. When the kids opened their books to it, they asked, “Are we allowed to read this?” and “Can we talk about God?” The latter question came up throughout the year when there was a connection between their reading and a spiritual topic. I assured them of our right to free speech, and pointed out the parable was in the textbook, after all.

Another instance occurred in the teacher work room (the new name for the teacher’s lounge) between two teachers who often touted their liberal beliefs.

The teacher work room replaced the teacher's lounge.

The conversation went something like this:
“One of the juniors I had in government was driving me crazy today. I wish she could just go to study hall.”
“What was she doing?”
“She wanted me to come to her church fundraiser.”
The teacher’s eyes rolled. “They just don’t understand that not everyone’s interested in supporting that stuff.”
“I know. I told her no and she didn’t understand. I wanted to say, ‘Your church is nice for you, but not everyone wants to be a part of your religion.’”
“These Christians are just so clueless. They think everyone should believe as they do and worship their judgmental God. It’s so intolerant.”
“Yeah, I’ve had kids ask me to sponsor missions trips and all kinds of crap like that. Why would I want to support you going to proselytize in someone else’s culture?”
“Exactly.”
Intolerant, huh? These politically correct, Democratic educators wouldn’t speak about Jews, Muslims, blacks, or Asians that way, but they saw nothing wrong with cursing Christians in the presence of others who might (and do) follow Christ. Argument seemed fruitless so I remained quiet, but I wish they knew they insulted me under the banner of tolerance.

Second, I wanted to comment on Dar’s balanced view of American Christian persecution. We don’t suffer like those in many countries, where conversion to Christianity is a crime. But certainly we experience a degree of oppression, especially in the free speech arena. I think we need to learn about the consequences other believers face by signing up for Voice of the Martyrs free monthly newsletter. You also get a free book, Tortured for Christ, when you sign up at persecution.org. Here’s why I think everyone should receive and read these newsletters:

Voice of the Martyrs Logo

1. We should be aware of what global persecution looks like to get a perspective on our own suffering.

2. We should pray for these fellow believers who are facing dire circumstances. Our prayers can help them to be released from jail and/or torture, comfort them in their suffering, and increase their spiritual fruit. We should just pray against persecution, but that they would remain faithful and that God will work powerfully through it.

3. We can learn so much from how they view and handle persecution. It is clear in many of the issues that Christians in other countries expect persecution and view it as completely normal. When they accept Christ they realize they will likely be beaten or imprisoned for their beliefs. And they truly “consider it all joy” despite the pain and suffering because they experience God’s love and often see more people come to know Jesus. They also pray faithfully for their persecutors, and some have been led to Christ.

Third, we need to learn what the Bible has to say about persecution. I suggest we not only become familiar with the theology of persecution, but also memorize a few verses about persecution and spiritual warfare. Dar’s blog included 1 Peter 4:1-19 and there’s a video of Keith’s recent teaching. There is almost an overwhelming amount of verses on the topic, but that just shows how normal persecution is and how important it is that we handle it correctly, as an opportunity for the gospel.

I want to share Ephesians 6:10-18 because we need to remember that our struggle is not against people—school principles, police officers, or angry parents—but Satan and his forces. Certainly the evil day is upon us and the devil’s schemes are against us. This passage reminds us to fight with righteousness, truth, faith, the gospel of salvation, the Word of God, and prayer. In a word, we battle with love:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

My last suggestion about learning to handle persecution is to read books about missionaries. Many wrote first-hand accounts of the struggles they faced on the field. A few suggestions:

Watch this movie with a box of tissues nearby.

1. Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. She was imprisoned and malnourished but clung to God, and He came through.

2. Through the Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot. It’s the first-hand account of the story depicted in the film End of the Spear and illustrates Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statement that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Although written by a woman, this is not a “girly” book and includes many excerpts from the husbands’ journals about their flights over the Amazon jungles.

3. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. She wasn’t a missionary but this Dutch Christian hid Jews during the Holocaust and paid the price for opposing the Nazi Germany.

4. Secret Believers by Brother Andrew. This fictionalized compilation of true stories shows the conversions, growth, and persecution of Muslim Background Believers (MBBs). It’s an eye-opening look at what Muslims face when they come to Christ.

5. Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s grandson and wife. He pioneered the Inland China missions movement of the 1800s and is the spiritual grandfather of the rapidly growing underground church movement in China. He experienced many obstacles in war-torn, third-world China and his diaries share the spiritual secret that kept him going.

6. The Peace Child by Don Richardson. He took his wife and young children to the Indonesian jungle to reach a cannibal tribe whose highest value was betrayal. The author will likely teach at the upcoming Perspectives course (perspectives.org).

There are many more books; please post other suggestions in the comments. Reading about these ordinary people who lived William Carey’s admonition to “expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” can give us the courage to enter with them into the “fellowship of Christ’s suffering” (Philippians 3:15).

Vive La Revolution!

By nature I’m inclined to follow the rules. My teenage rebellion was quiet, internal, and not against my parents or institutional authorities. Conformity seems like a good way to keep the peace. And “being good” seems easier than getting in trouble. So I grew into adulthood, with plenty of sin but little worldly rebellion. No sex, no drugs, only my father’s rock ‘n’ roll, and precious little fun of any other variety.

Then I went to college, decided to stop rebelling against God, and started attending a fellowship which is sometimes accused of being a cult. People smoked, cussed, had a beer after Bible study, and talked about radical grace. What’s more, they actually loved each other. They formed deep friendships, spent most of their evenings together, and spoke into each other’s lives. No wonder people thought such a tight-knit community of biblical love was cultish. It makes for a strange phenomenon in our individualistic society.

Vive la Revolution!

Out of the Mouths of Babes: Vive la Revolution!

While I still whisper in the library and stop at yellow lights, I’m learning that many rules are in fact made to be broken. So many orders are issued by The System in order to keep life running smoothly, with cold efficiency that avoids the messiness inherent in close community. For example, the rules of political correctness and so-called tolerance require that faith be a private matter. It is forbidden to ask an acquaintance about their spiritual beliefs and so risk offense! Such social rules keep people at an arm’s length, oiling the machine of The System.

In response, the American church has retreated into their sanctuaries, agreeing to follow the rules as the culture defines them. Instead of impacting the world around them, they dream up odd efforts like the “30-Day Leviticus Challenge” during which a congregation followed portions of the laws given to Israel in Leviticus. I’m assuming no one chose to sacrifice animals, but somehow they arbitrarily and individually selected specific rules and rituals to follow for a month (Christianity Today, August 2008). Spiritual disciplines represent a new set of Protestant ritualism. And major Christian magazines advertise cover topics like “Racing for Jesus: the inside story of NASCAR ministry and the spiritual of speed” and endlessly conjectured about “Election 2008: Whom will evangelicals choose?” Others create websites like “idontcelebrate.com” to protest the phrase “Happy Holidays.”

Here is my rebellion: I refuse to withdraw and spend my days in spiritually useless endeavors. The church should not have a vague and vapid presence in the world. Neither do we need to “reclaim the culture for Christ” by simply becoming more influential in politics and media. We need to rebel against The System and instead fight for The Kingdom. “And our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, we’re not fighting people, or the police, or the education system, or Washington D.C. or any other earthly institution. We’re supposed to fight against the lies and schemes of the devil and his System and his hold on human hearts.

Keith and I have been working on a little booklet about leaving the System and joining the Revolution that is God’s Kingdom. I can hardly wait for it to be ready. I hope lots of high school and college kids read it and see The System for what it is: slavery. I think they already sense that it’s a cold, hard System which doesn’t care about them. But the only useful rebellion is found in God’s love, grace, and truth. I hope they see this and accept freedom in Christ and join the Revolution!

Vive La Revolution!

By nature I’m inclined to follow the rules. My teenage rebellion was quiet, internal, and not against my parents or institutional authorities. Conformity seems like a good way to keep the peace. And “being good” seems easier than getting in trouble. So I grew into adulthood, with plenty of sin but little worldly rebellion. No sex, no drugs, only my father’s rock ‘n’ roll, and precious little fun of any other variety.

Then I went to college, decided to stop rebelling against God, and started attending a fellowship which is sometimes accused of being a cult. People smoked, cussed, had a beer after Bible study, and talked about radical grace. What’s more, they actually loved each other. They formed deep friendships, spent most of their evenings together, and spoke into each other’s lives. No wonder people thought such a tight-knit community of biblical love was cultish. It makes for a strange phenomenon in our individualistic society.

Vive la Revolution!

Out of the Mouths of Babes: Vive la Revolution!

While I still whisper in the library and stop at yellow lights, I’m learning that many rules are in fact made to be broken. So many orders are issued by The System in order to keep life running smoothly, with cold efficiency that avoids the messiness inherent in close community. For example, the rules of political correctness and so-called tolerance require that faith be a private matter. It is forbidden to ask an acquaintance about their spiritual beliefs and so risk offense! Such social rules keep people at an arm’s length, oiling the machine of The System.

In response, the American church has retreated into their sanctuaries, agreeing to follow the rules as the culture defines them. Instead of impacting the world around them, they dream up odd efforts like the “30-Day Leviticus Challenge” during which a congregation followed portions of the laws given to Israel in Leviticus. I’m assuming no one chose to sacrifice animals, but somehow they arbitrarily and individually selected specific rules and rituals to follow for a month (Christianity Today, August 2008). Spiritual disciplines represent a new set of Protestant ritualism. And major Christian magazines advertise cover topics like “Racing for Jesus: the inside story of NASCAR ministry and the spiritual of speed” and endlessly conjectured about “Election 2008: Whom will evangelicals choose?” Others create websites like “idontcelebrate.com” to protest the phrase “Happy Holidays.”

Here is my rebellion: I refuse to withdraw and spend my days in spiritually useless endeavors. The church should not have a vague and vapid presence in the world. Neither do we need to “reclaim the culture for Christ” by simply becoming more influential in politics and media. We need to rebel against The System and instead fight for The Kingdom. “And our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, we’re not fighting people, or the police, or the education system, or Washington D.C. or any other earthly institution. We’re supposed to fight against the lies and schemes of the devil and his System and his hold on human hearts.

Keith and I have been working on a little booklet about leaving the System and joining the Revolution that is God’s Kingdom. I can hardly wait for it to be ready. I hope lots of high school and college kids read it and see The System for what it is: slavery. I think they already sense that it’s a cold, hard System which doesn’t care about them. But the only useful rebellion is found in God’s love, grace, and truth. I hope they see this and accept freedom in Christ and join the Revolution!

I Can See Clearly Now the Sin is Gone

I only wish the title was truer for me. Last night I traveled to Columbus to hear the great Ralph Ankeman teach a Love Ethics class. After Dar called to invite me I was so excited to see this legendary figure who counseled the venerable Katey Downs, who in turn helped disciple our fearless leader, Keith McCallum. What an example of real spiritual significance.

Dr. Ankeman, a medical student-turned-missionary who now practices biblical love therapy in a secular psych ward, did not disappoint. He began on a note of wonder: “How closely the gospel of Christ fits the way human beings are,” he reflected. His teaching, at once quirky, comical, and insightful, was brimming with stories and examples illustrating the application of biblical love rules. The rule that stood out the most to me is that “I can’t make you do anything, but I can tell you what lies within my power to do.” For example, I can’t make you stop neglecting your kids, but I can call child services, as painful as that might be for me.

Keith’s teaching was equally good, if somewhat shortened for the sake of time. He’s updated the material a bit to clarify the concepts of fences and gates. But I think he’s writing an article on it, so I’ll save the details for now. I’ll just say his teaching got me thinking about what God is showing me about other people. I tend to be very negative about, well, everything, and my negatively quickly escalates into judging others. “Why can’t they just get it together?” I wonder. Keith’s teaching offered an interesting possibility. Perhaps it’s my own heart that’s getting in the way of others’ growth.

What an odd, counter-intuitive thought. And it must be rightly understood. I can’t make anyone do anything, as stated above. But if I’m seeking to help someone, and yet judging them at the same time, is it not reasonable that God would withhold insight from me regarding the other person? If I’m seeking to motivate someone’s change for impure reasons, perhaps to bolster my reputation or just because her sin annoys me, it makes sense that God would not honor my efforts. But when I sincerely want to help that person only for her own sake, it then becomes safe for God to reveal her heart to me, thus showing me how to spur her on toward love and good deeds, as Hebrews 11:24 says.

I feel like God is showing me things about “what lies beneath the surface” of my old home church and my new cell group. I don’t know exactly what to do about it; no doubt my heart needs further purifying. But I did not sleep well after my return from Columbus. I felt like God was laying burden after burden upon me. I arose this morning feeling weighed down and a bit confused. What did God want me to do with all of it? My first response is to worry, and I set right to work with an ever-hardening knot in my stomach.

But I knew this wasn’t right, or pragmatically helpful. After all, Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. As I started to trust God one worry at a time, I realized God showed me these concerns not to weigh me down, but bring treacherous undercurrents to light. I know I’m not the only one with these insights, as many of them were gathered from conversations with others. I’m not special. I’m just convicted. And my practical nature is itching to do something about it, and there will be plenty of time for that. But I won’t know what to do unless my heart is right.

And that’s the last point I wanted to comment on. Of course with all the heart-clarifying, there will always be a measure of sin this side of paradise. God in his grace grants us revelation even in our imperfection. But the clearer the heart, the clearer our spiritual eyes: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).