Thursday, May 19, 2016

50th ANNIVERSARY - Trevor's Story

On the occasion of our 50th wedding anniversary we both had the thought of writing a post about our journey from our own perspective. Liz has covered a good deal of that in her post and I had written a post too but before mine could be published the computer somehow confused the two and mine disappeared? Have had several goes at finding it but it looks as though I am going to have to revisit my thoughts and write the whole post again.

I think that the key thing to the longevity of our relationship has been its genesis. We had both decided before God that we would not enter into a relationship, on a dating basis, unless we were sure that God was in it, or had orchestrated it. For Liz this came about when she was in her mid teens, so she busied herself in work and church life waiting for God to bring someone of his choosing along. For me it was a little different. I was in the Royal Australian Navy and for a time was a typical sailor with a girl in every Port. My Christian life and convictions had slipped by the wayside and I wasn't living as a christian in the early part of my naval career. However God did not give up on me and touched my life in such a deep way that I wanted to live for him alone.

I was convicted about the wrongness and insincerity of the various girl friend relationships that I was still engaged in and wrote to all of the girls to tell them of my renewed relationship with God and that I could not keep up the pretense. It was then that I made the promise to God that I would not enter into another relationship unless I was sure that God was in it.

In finding my way back to God I attended a church in South Perth, Western Australia where I had previously heard of the preacher from my youth in Adelaide, South Australia. It was there that I was connected with an enthusiastic youth group and the leader was Liz. When I went overseas young people from the group prayed for me and wrote encouragingly to me and the intermediary was Liz. On one of my shore leaves in Perth Liz invited me to partner her to a wedding, feeling that I would benefit from the Christian fellowship. Shortly after that  I was drafted to New South Wales and I continued to correspond with Liz as the connecting person with the youth group.

Liz began to develop an emotional attachment and went to speak with her Pastor about it and he suggested, from hearing of our lengthy correspondences, that I was in denial of my own feelings of a growing attachment. When I spoke to God about it he showed me that Liz was indeed the one that he was bringing into my life. We were both convinced that God was drawing us together but we had never so much as held hands or kissed. I asked her father for permission to marry Liz and we made plans to get engaged when I came to Perth on annual leave.  That all happened as planned in a 10 day whirlwind courtship.

Not very long after that Liz cut all ties with her Perth home and church life to join me in New South Wales with a view to preparing for an early marriage. We were married in June of that year after knowing one another under 12 months but most of our getting to know one another was through lengthy letters where we shared our hearts and the expectations we had for how we would live out our married life together. Much of this detail is in Liz's account of how God orchestrated events and her own growing into that awareness.

The key thing in all of this to me is the certainty of God being with us in the beginning and then proving his presence and faithfulness throughout our married life together. It has not all been plain sailing, we have had serious challenges, but we have never had any reason to doubt one another's commitment to each other and to God. From the very beginning, even though our understanding of marriage, at that time, was basically complementarian we had a marriage of equals. In fact Liz was far more experienced in church life and living with and for God than I so I had a great deal of learning and catch up to do. There was no way that I could assume a headship role, nor would I have wanted to.

How did we survive 50 years of marriage with all the ups and down that life brings? We not only survived but triumphed because throughout the whole journey we are best friends.     

Monday, April 04, 2016

50th ANNIVERSARY YEAR - Liz's Story

As we approach our 50th Wedding Anniversary, we continually marvel at how God brought us together and has kept us loving life and each other through all the ups and downs of life which now includes 4 sons and 8 grandchildren.

God organised for a sailor from Adelaide to arrive at a church in Perth where a bank officer was happily involved in many facets of a large thriving community of believers. With only a short time together including Trevor accompanying Liz to the wedding of a Christian friend and a handful of meetings, there began a lifelong friendship. Not long after  their meeting, Trevor embarked on a trip away and the prayer group led by Liz prayed for this sailor who was isolated in his Christian faith. On his return, he was drafted to a base in NSW and the letter-writing began. Over 4 months and much correspondence (some 20 pages long) they realised that God had brought them together for more than Christian fellowship and so Trevor made a short trip back to WA to spend a precious 10 days with his soon-to-be fiancĂ©e.

Two months later, Liz was on the train to NSW, leaving behind her parents and childhood home of 20 years to launch into the unknown, but very sure of God's leading them together. Looking back, it was amazing that she so readily left her church involvement and security for a future with a man she barely knew. Meanwhile, Trevor had applied to Kenmore Theological College in Qld where he would train to be a pastor. Since Liz also felt called to full-time service for God it was an easy decision to look forward to a life ahead fully trusting God for his provision and guidance.

The fact that Trevor was able to leave the Navy without completing his full term is a story in itself - the only condition being that there could be no leave between leaving the Navy and entering college. So, the wedding was brought forward a few months in order for them to experience married life before commencing a whole new life in another state and without the usual support of family and friends. This proved to be a wise idea as the 18 months was spent in house-sharing with other couples where privacy was limited and different dynamics seen in the other couples. This all encouraged them to rely on each other and learn to pray about everything and see God provide for all their material needs.

Three years and three children later, the couple moved back to WA where Liz's Mum was not at all well and perhaps not expected to live much longer. Again, God provided all they needed through Liz's parents, work for Trevor and a church appointment. What a busy life they led as along with their 3 boys they provided a home for several boarders who needed a home. More lessons were learnt as together they prayed through their first experience of church conflict  and discovered the harsh reality of church life where things didn't go smoothly. What they learnt though was that Jesus was all they needed and living close to God was the most important thing in the world in spite of what was happening all around.

In time they had another son and eventually settled in another suburb where they were involved in a church ministry for over 35 years. Surprisingly, it was Liz's dad who died first and so the family home was sold, Mum went to live with them and a huge extension was built after they purchased their rental. It was another 14 years before Liz's mother died, having spent 12 of those years in their home.  With a multi-generational household, a busy church life and 4 teenage boys, life was full of challenges and reasons to continually rely on God and each other for support and encouragement.

As the boys began leaving home, Liz was able to be even more involved with church than before and it was expected that she would be able to share in the ministry alongside her husband. This was the beginning of the realisation that in the church 'all people were equal, but some were more equal than others' And so began many years of negotiating church protocol, constitutions and long-held beliefs while all the time being considerate of the feelings of other people. By the time they retired, Liz was now a pastor alongside her husband and able to utilise her gifts with much more freedom than over the preceding years.


Monday, December 22, 2014

ON THE COMING OF JESUS TO THE WORLD


It is interesting to observe that 'in the fullness of time' (when God had planned) Jesus humbled himself and came to earth as a baby; conceived in a miraculous way and born in unusual circumstances far from his parents' home. When the time came for God to send the angel Gabriel to advise of the way Jesus would arrive in this world, Mary was the one who received the message. Even though it was a terrifying thing to see the angel and the news was so astounding, Mary was able to question Gabriel about the circumstance of her having a baby and after hearing the explanation she accepted the word from God and affirmed that she was the Lord's servant.
The Jewish scholars and pious priests had been reading about the coming Messiah for such a long time and had formed their own ideas about how this would be accomplished and what Messiah would do once he arrived. God chose to reveal his plan to a humble unmarried woman and some time later, Joseph had confirmation of what was to happen through the Lord appearing to him in a dream.
We can assume that Mary told Joseph what God had revealed to her but Joseph still made his own plans to divorce her quietly  so she would not come into public disgrace. Human reasoning could expect that the coming of Messiah would be revealed to the Jewish leaders and particularly to the man who was to be Mary's husband and would have to name the child in the expected tradition. In all this, God chose to whom he would reveal his plan and went against religious and cultural expectations to see that his plan was carried out.
Earlier, the angel Gabriel had appeared to the priest, Zechariah as he performed his duties in the temple. Gabriel brought news of a son to be born to Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth even though they were older in years. This child was to go before the Lord to prepare hearts for the coming of Jesus. Zechariah questioned the message as it seemed unlikely that he and his wife could have a child. Gabriel called his questioning 'unbelief' and because of this Zechariah was unable to speak until the child was born.
Elizabeth accepted the news and credited her pregnancy to the Lord's doing and no doubt by then, Zechariah realised that what he had heard from the angel was indeed happening. When their son was born Zechariah's voice was restored as he made the pronouncement that the child's name would be John as had been told him by the angel.
Mary's question was 'how will this happen?' - Zechariah's question was 'is it going to happen'. Mary's question showed belief that what God had said would come true - Zechariah had a consequence for his unbelief.
Another group of people were informed by an angel of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and they believed without question and went straight away to see the event which had been told them. Maybe it was easy for these shepherds to believe when other angels appeared and began praising God. Once again, no-one could have predicted that God would tell a group of humble shepherds about the birth of the Messiah and as far as we know, they were the first people to see Jesus in human form, apart from Mary and Joseph. Not only did they visit Jesus not long after his birth, they went out from there and told everyone about their experience before returning to mind their sheep, all the while giving praise to God for all they had heard and seen.
Several weeks later when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for the purification rites required by the law, there were two more humble people who were there to speak about the Messiah's appearance. Simeon is described as a righteous and devout person who had the Holy Spirit on him and he was directed by the Spirit to go to the temple on the day Jesus arrived. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and spoke words of confirmation of God's plan for Jesus while he was on the earth.
Anna was also there and she is described as a prophet who worshiped day and night in the temple. A widow for eighty four years, she  also recognised who Jesus was and giving thanks to God spoke to all who were anticipating the redemption of Israel.
In all these accounts God chose how and when he would reveal his plans and to which people he would give the knowledge of his arrival into the world through Jesus. It took many people by surprise and revealed the hearts of those who heard the message. In the end of each story, the people praised God for his intervention in their lives and the fulfilment of all that was told them about the coming of Messiah.
At this time in history, we have the privilege of knowing how the coming of Jesus happened and can read all the accounts which make up the complete story. These people were remarkable in that they believed even though they didn't have our benefit of hindsight. These stories also show us again that God so often does things in ways which are unexpected and chooses humble people whom he knows will believe and obey his plans. We may not have an angelic visitation telling us what God is going to do but we have the bible and the indwelling Holy Spirit who shows us God's ways and gives us insights just as was experienced by Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, un-named Shepherds, Simeon and Anna.

God has his ways of getting his purposes accomplished - may we be ready to be a part of that wonderful plan.





















Friday, July 18, 2014

Wives, 'Respect' Your Husbands.

 From time to time we hear of the responsibilities outlined in Ephesians 5 verses 22 - 33 concerning husbands and wives respectively. Often the language gets reduced to a catch phrase like, "women want to be loved and men need respect." It is as if this phrase defines all women and all men for all time. It is as if this phrase sums up all that is required by all women and all men. It is assumed that for men, love is not an issue, all that they require to be completed as men is respect. Equally, for women it is suggested that love, of the emotional, 'touchy feely' variety is all that women crave. While this may be true for some men and women it does not hold that it is true for all, as many writers would have us believe. Indeed most writers who claim such are of the opinion that men and women are designed this way and that all we need to  do is accept this and act out the roles to which we have been assigned by virtue of our gender. To reduce this profound passage to such popular psychology is to do it a terrible injustice.

Paul's instruction to wives here is not unusual at all in that women of that era would have been expected to be in a submissive position to their husbands as the patriarch and provider of the family. It would have been very rare indeed that a woman would have been in a professional position where she could contribute to the family income. There is a sense though in which liberated Christian women may have been tempted to overturn this established family structure to their detriment in that culture. Paul therefore encourages them to honor the culture and honor their husband's privileged role within that culture. The real rub comes in Paul's instruction to the men. They are to 'love' their wives, to the point of personal sacrifice. This was an unheard-of demand within that cultural setting. This is nothing short of radical, even revolutionary, in the thinking of the time.


Such nurturing, sacrificial love, as demanded of husbands here, would have been unheard of in that cultural setting where women were often treated as a mere possession and the bearer of heirs. Paul's instruction to the Christian husbands of Ephesus is  above and beyond anything they will have encountered prior to their being followers of Jesus. The sense of 'oneness' encouraged in verse 31 is equally profound given the expectations within the host culture. These requirements speak to me of a love expressed in terms of such gentleness and softness that would have been  entirely foreign to  the men to whom it is being addressed. It may have even aroused within these husbands the thought that they were being emasculated by such demands. It may even have shocked the Christian wives that such a radical approach to affirmations of her worth were demanded of her husband.


For me, such an insight into the radical nature of this Christian expectation of the husband/wife relationship as portrayed in this passage gives new meaning to Paul's closing statement in verse 33. "However, each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." The last part of that verse, the part directed to the wives, is what captures my complete attention, "... and the wife must respect her husband." In that culture this command to wives seems like a given in that wives will have been expected to respect their husband's unassailable position, authority and privilege within Ephesian society. But what if these men do as Paul suggests and love their wives in the radical way that Paul has proposed? Will it not be noticed and will not the other men of those times ridicule the softness and consideration that Christian men are showing toward their wives? Will other men accuse these Christian husbands of abandoning their masculinity? Further, is there a hint here that some of the Christian women may feel that their husbands have become less than real, testosterone filled, stereotypical men? Perhaps, just perhaps Paul's encouragement to the wives here is to 'respect' their husbands who are transitioning into the kind of men that are true followers of Jesus and who display the fruit of the Spirit.  


Is there a possibility that this could also speak to us in our own cultural setting where there is an expectation of men to fulfill a prescribed masculine role rather than pursue a godly character as defined in Scripture? Is there a possibility that within our own cultural setting some Christian women may feel that sensitive, emotional, communicative men are not real men and therefore do not deserve to be  respected?

For me these are the real issues behind this passage of Scripture and not the trite, 'women want love and men need respect' versions that I alluded to at the beginning of this post. What do you think?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Biblical Love should not be determined by gender.

Our pastor is beginning a new ministry series for the new year. He feels constrained by the Spirit to speak on the love of God and how our being loved by God should impact upon our ability to genuinely love others. In the introductory message he touched on some texts that really got me thinking about how it is that the Biblical injunction to love should not be determined by our gender. One of the passages that he referred to was Ephesians 4:1-3, which, in the TNIV reads:

"As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

As these verses were being read it occurred to me that our tendency would be to immediately translate those verses to incorporate gender. The Biblical imperative, as encouraged by the Apostle Paul in verse 2 is, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Note here that there is no instruction as to which gender would do this better, yet we may immediately categorise this as, this is something that would be more natural for women to do. Paul doesn't even go there. His emphatic instruction is addressed to the whole church and concerns all human relationships. Just because men are culturally conditioned to be rough, tough, proud, loud and more naturally gifted to take the initiative we might presume that for them to be completely humble, gentle, patient and put up with others in love is beyond the expectation of the male ego.

This is precisely why I am an egalitarian. To approach the biblical instruction to love unconditionally in any other way causes us to be unduly influenced by cultural expectation or church tradition. The suggestion that men are hard-wired in a certain way and that we need to make allowances for what men can and cannot do, to me, is bringing compromise into the clear teaching of Scripture. There is no hint of pink and blue in the passage under consideration here. This injunction to demonstrate our love, in this particular way, (by humility, gentleness and patience) is universal and therefore encouraged as an essential practice of every follower of Jesus, regardless of gender.

It disturbs me when I hear of other christian leaders, either by instruction from the pulpit or through a plethora of written material, making excuses for men because they believe that men are gifted by God to be the leaders of both the home and the church. What we are being called to here, by the Apostle Paul, (a love expressed through humility, gentleness and patience) is something much higher than gender stereotyping would have us believe. It takes a real man to move against the status quo and humbly admit to a failure to love as he ought. It takes a real man to be gentle in his dealings with others when both the church and the world cast him as the tough, no compromise individual whose steel will must be obeyed. It takes a real man to be patient with, what he conceives to be, the bumbling efforts of others. It is just these kinds of men that the Apostle Paul is appealing to here. Men that will stand against the tide of public opinion and stand up as real men who will obey Scripture with a total disregard of their privileged status as males.

I have to admit that a part of the reason that I am a believer in and a follower of Jesus is that I believe him to be, and see him as, just this kind of person. One who was willing to put everything on the line and not bow to public opinion. One whose sole purpose was so much to do the will of the Father that he would not bend to either religious tradition or cultural expectation. For me, to have any other view of Scripture than that which promotes full Biblical equality, that is, where the same expectations fall on both men and women, is unworthy of the great God whom we serve.  It seems to me to be right and proper that all Scripture can speak to all believing humanity with equal measure and that we are all bound, regardless of gender, to obey and walk in the light of what has been revealed to us.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Additional Modern Marriage Concerns

I would like make some additional observations on the topic of Modern Marriage Concerns by taking up a statement that I made in the closing paragraphs of a previous post on this subject.

"I for one do not want to go back to gender hierarchy but I can readily understand it if my complementarian friends are quick to say that this 'individualism' is where egalitarianism takes us and is the very reason why they are so against it. Egalitarianism is not meant to manifest itself in rampant individualism. In fact it is meant to do the opposite, that is to work against individualism, especially as it related to a male privileged environment. It would be a tragedy if the empowering of women led to the neglect of the men in their lives." 

While I may not want to go back to hierarchy myself that is precisely where young marrieds, who are intent on pleasing God in their marriages, are inclined to go. There are a significant number of well respected Bible teachers who advocate for male headship in marriage and male only leadership in churches. There are a plethora of books available on this subject declaring that a woman's role, in both the church and the home is to be submissive to male leadership. Add to that the amount of material that is so readily available online and you have an incredible mix of possibilities that are tantalising to struggling marriage partners. 

We have experienced that for couples where a tested theology of Biblical equality is lacking, combined with the woman having been liberated in her workplace, and where this liberty may have manifested in independent living, expressed in life choices that are no longer inclusive, there is a very real danger of the relationship being attracted to hierarchy.

You may question how such a huge turn around in life experience could occur. If the couple had simply inculcated into their life and marriage the freedoms of equality and individualism, experienced in secular life, without being exposed to the depth of theology justifying egalitarianism they could quite easily fall prey to a teaching that encourages them that in order to truly follow God the husband must take the initiative by leading and the woman must submit to his leadership. This couple may well then be convinced that their way of relating to one another previously has been a "worldly" way of doing marriage and now they want to do it God's way. We have witnessed for ourselves many gifted women joyfully surrendering their obvious giftedness in order to, in their words, "... more fully honour God and be true to his Word (The Bible)."

Because this couple may not have personally journeyed through mutual submission and experienced the interdependence of working out their domestic issues inclusively they may be attracted to the very opposite. It might be considered more easy for them to agree to empower the husband to take up this newly perceived, 'God given role,' to be the initiator and leader. We have seen strong women beg their men to 'man up' and take the lead, even though they are being fiercely independent in the process. In a sense they are throwing down the gauntlet and daring, a previously accommodating partner, to put them in their 'place' and take charge. Often such women are attracted to the 'roles' that they now see as essential to stability and harmony within marriage and family life. There is an expectation that the husband display a more overt spirituality, like taking charge of family devotions and all family based decision making.

I see this trend as a tragic step backwards but the younger couples that I know who are presently flirting with this return to hierarchy are often quite disparaging of others who do not approach their marriages in the same way. I am still waiting for some of these young couples to experience more of married life and discover for themselves the virtues of a mutually submissive relationship that is thoroughly grounded on a sound theological understanding of God's Word. Sadly, more often than not, many of these marriages have failed before reaching this more desirable outcome which means that the couples give up on their marriage altogether and go their separate ways.  

I'm wondering if there are others of you out there for whom what I'm sharing here makes a lot of sense.  Perhaps some of your church friends, or even family members, are grappling with these very issues.

 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Modern Marriage Concerns

It would seem that my wife and I have come from a vastly different background to modern day egalitarians who have grown up in a more secular egalitarian culture. What I mean by that is that we arrived at a stance of Biblical equality after having been deeply enculturated in evangelical conservatism. While the church in general has been slow to come to terms with the acceptance of women in leadership positions and marriage equality this is generally accepted as a norm throughout the civilised world. It was not so when we began our journey. 

While it is understood that women in executive positions, who arrived there on the basis of merit, still struggle to overcome the entrenched male domination that exists in these corporate sectors, great advances are being made and the more commonly accepted rule of equal opportunity either prevails or can be called upon. In the secular world, equal opportunity at its worst, has given rise to the modern day cult of individualism. So much so that many modern marriages are affected by this trend as each partner opts for their own personal space, separate banking accounts, 'individual' hobby pursuits and circle of friends.

This poses a real problem for the 21st century christian world because people coming into the life of the church are so deeply influenced by the host culture. 

When my wife and I discovered Biblical equality it arose out of the recognition that we were spiritual equals who could express our equality through mutuality. By mutuality I mean shared responsibility and shared accountability. We could do marriage together, without one person being expected to take the lead. We could parent together, without one person being expected to be the one acting in the best interests of the family, both physically and spiritually. We could be considerate of one another, listening, sharing, caring. Putting the needs of the other before our own and thus benefitting together with this new found sense of interdependence. Equality gave rise to a greater expression of mutuality.

I'm concerned that this aspect of equality could be lost on our modern churchgoers and marriages. How so? Because I sense that people who have grown up in a secularised, 'me first', environment may have only perceived egalitarianism as an opportunity to claim their individual 'rights', not only in the workplace, but in the home and church as well. In this respect Christianity is a paradox. While advocating for the well being and rights of others Christians are expected to be following in the footsteps of their master Jesus and lay down their lives to benefit others. Philippians 2 is a classic passage of Scripture in this respect.

Is this only something that I am imagining might happen, or is it becoming a reality? Our present experience with couples in modern marriages has brought us to this conclusion. We are seeing firsthand christian marriages that are foundering as each marriage partner pursues an individualised spirituality without journeying patiently with their partner. We are seeing situations where one partner is acting inconsiderately and unkindly towards the other partner while believing that they are walking close with God. We are seeing young couples consumed by their busyness for God while neglecting the obvious needs of their marriage mate. At one time we might have said that only males could indulge this passion but in an age of equality women have far more freedoms to also neglect their partners. 

When we talk to some of these younger married couples about the need to listen to the felt needs and expressions of concern from their partners they often respond by saying that they are tired of being the person who must take the initiative. They want the other person to simply get with the program and shape up to their new found expectations without any sense of mutuality, kindness or gentleness. This is a very disturbing trend that manifests itself in the impatient way that we deal with others in both church life and leadership. 

I for one do not want to go back to gender hierarchy but I can readily understand it if my complementarian friends are quick to say that this 'individualism' is where egalitarianism takes us and is the very reason why they are so against it. Egalitarianism is not meant to manifest itself in rampant individualism. In fact it is meant to do the opposite, that is to work against individualism, especially as it related to a male privileged environment. It would be a tragedy if the empowering of women led to the neglect of the men in their lives. 

This is where mutuality comes in, each marriage partner working toward a oneness in their relationship. If we have failed thus far to have identified the benefits of mutuality within both our marriages and church life, or see it as a Biblical imperative, we will not strive to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into this kind of experience. This will do Biblical equality much harm.