caring for our calling

Living out my calling as an image bearer and partner in God’s purposes is the great life adventure. My calling has value, power and purpose. God offers me abundant life, but the enemy of my soul would like to restrict and control me. I have identified four threats I battle in order to care for my calling.

                                                          CLICHÉ: As I mentioned in an earlier blog, human-made “rules”, communicated as cliché men’s and women’s roles, can inhibit my calling. Although I do not find clearly delineated role lists in the Bible, I do find lists of spiritual gifts. These gifts do not have gender limitations; there is incredible variety and freedom, and they are very important for determining my personal calling focus.

If I am gifted in prayer, service, mercy, teaching, leadership, exhortation, evangelism, or discernment, my particular gift(s) will show up as I work out my calling – at home, work and ministry. Self-evaluations and confirmation by others have helped me know how God has gifted me. When I operate out of my gifted-ness, I experience both great fruitfulness and great joy.

CULTURE: Having lived and worked internationally for many years, I have heard cultural excuses for limiting men’s and women’s opportunities and responsibilities.  Although I have a deep respect for culture influences, Biblical truth is my greater standard. Every culture has wonderful richness that we can glean, but no culture is perfect. Some culture norms go strongly against God’s commands. Jesus acted very counter-culturally in His interactions with women, in His service to the disciples, and in His encounters with sinners. When I choose to go “against the flow”, it sometimes carries a price – from subtle scoffing to strong criticism – but my most important priority is to honor God… and sometimes I get to demonstrate a new healthy example for others also.

COMPARISON: I am often my own worst enemy. Problems arise when I compare my gifts and desire another’s, or “grade” the gifts with different values. I criticize and judge others (“It’s not spiritual to…”) or struggle with feelings of inferiority and less value (“I should do more of …”). I take sides and disapprove of contrasting work choices, roles in marriage, and ministry involvement rather than embracing differences and expressing acceptance to others. Comparison is a powerful and effective weapon of the enemy. I’ve learned that I can fight comparison by giving grace and encouraging others instead.

COERCION: The extreme side of control is coercion – abuse, violence, exploitation. While I have never experienced these extremes, others do – especially women. Anytime I attribute less value to another (jokes, insults, inequity), I disrespect God’s calling for that person and weaken defenses against coercion. I am learning to respect and defend God’s value and purpose for every person.

One last thought… I can lay down any of my gifts/abilities/passions voluntarily and joyfully for a season – moment, day, …years even, in order to care for or serve another. Jesus limited himself for a time for us. However, that decision should not be imposed by clichés, culture, comparison or coercion… and it should always be done in the context of my value as an image bearer and my calling to be involved in God’s purposes.

I encourage you to get to know your unique gifting – also consider personality, experience, stage of life, etc – and then engage wholeheartedly in reflecting God’s image to a lost world. Enjoy the adventure!

cleaning house, cooking meals and a greater cause

I came to know Christ personally in college and like many young single ladies, I started hearing immediately how to catch the man of my dreams be the submissive, supportive, spiritually attractive woman who would cause some dreamy man to pursue me. For those of you who know me, that was no easy task!

If you had asked me years ago about my marriage, I would have obligingly regurgitated many of the cliché Christian lingo regarding men’s and women’s roles that I had read in books and learned in seminars… woman is the “helpmeet” while man “works” and makes the decisions; woman’s job is to keep a clean home, fix nutritious meals, keep the kids under control, and be a great lover so the man is always content. If the woman is more gifted in an area than the man, she should limit herself and focus on making him look good. Somehow what the man does is always slightly more important because he is the “head”. (Disclaimer: I’m not sure that is always exactly what was actually said, but it is what I heard.)

I have been married now for almost 30 years – most of them quite happily – to my dream man (dreams can vary depending on the evening snack!). We have four amazing children. I was talking with one of them when he was home for Christmas, and we somehow arrived to the topic of marriage. As we talked, I realized my husband and I never really lived out that marriage cliché.

Instead, in our marriage, we were partners, co-workers and friends – both with equal value as God’s image bearers and part of His body. We made decisions together. We both cleaned house if needed – or even hired someone (a perk of being an international missionary) so that I could invest more time in homeschooling our children. I’ve cooked; we’ve had help cooking, and my husband does most of the cooking these days. We were both very involved with our children. We mutually submitted to each other’s needs. The truth is… we both saw home and family as a priority and a joy, but there were no specific rules about who should do what, and it often changed depending on the need.

We were also both involved in ministry. I realize now that was in perfect alignment with God’s Word… and the correct and complete understanding of that word “helpmeet”. The word translated “helpmeet” in Genesis 2:18 comes from the Hebrew words ezer kenegdoezer means help, and the word kenegdo implies a counterpart. The word is found in a military context and is used 19 additional times in the Old Testament – three times for country allies and sixteen times for God Himself when Israel needed help in battle. Since the same word that we use for women is used for God, I believe it implies incredible value and strength. God meant for women to be full-partner, strong warriors with men in the spiritual battles we fight against evil in this world.

Many of the decisions my husband and I made through the years were to enable me to participate as a full partner in the battle for God’s kingdom. I have hobbies, but much more importantly, I have a calling from God. Different life stages mean different daily tasks, but what I choose to do is important. Rather than limit my gifting, it is crucial for me to continually grow and develop, so that I can serve the Lord better at home and in ministry.

If you are a woman reading this blog, I encourage you to further study your calling as a co-warrior in God’s kingdom battle. I learned a lot from Carolyn Custis James’ book Half the Church. Your partnership strengthens God’s army. No matter your marital status, your stage of life, or your lifestyle… you have been called to be all you can be for Him! Never see yourself as less important. We all have daily tasks to do, but we should do them within the context of our primary calling. Never put limits on what you can do for Him.

If you are a man reading this, please consider being an active advocate for the women in your life. Encourage them in their worth and development, and facilitate in any way possible their full involvement in God’s Kingdom purposes.

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**I dedicate this blog to my incredible husband, Steve: my greatest fan, my most enthusiastic encourager, and my strongest advocate. You should follow him on twitter at @stickymex and read his blog: LeaderImpact or EquipoVida

I also want to thank my professor, Dr. Ray Wheeler, (Azusa Pacific – M.A. Global Leadership) for believing in me and helping me to believe more in myself.