Can Do vs. Called To Do


 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

I have recently been battling my inner Wonder Woman. This happens when I let my sinful self-sufficiency sneak up on me. And what is so amazing about the whole thing is that I have twisted Scripture to justify my sin. After all, “I can do all things…”

Lead a Bible study? Write a book? Sponsor a club? Coach a team? Mentor a teen? Support a starving child in Africa? Teach a Sunday school class? Coordinate volunteers? Raise funds? Adopt a child? Keep a home? Go on mission trips? Visit the elderly? Learn to knit? Be the perfect wife? Win the Mom of the Year Award? Clip Coupons? Save the world?

Of course I can help you! I can do all things! After all, isn’t that what the Proverbs 31 woman did? I’m just doing what Scripture tells me to do!

What I quickly forget is that my terrible interpretation of that verse is just that—terrible. Paul is not claiming to be a spiritual Superman. Paul is saying that Jesus grants us the strength to do the things He sets before us. While I can do all things through Christ, He never meant for any of us to do all things at once. He alone is the one who holds all things together, and for me to think that I am needed for any bit of His work to succeed, I have deceived myself severely.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

And there’s my problem; I think of myself much more highly than I ought. After all, if I don’t do it, someone else is just going to mess it up. The only way it will be done right is for me to do it myself. So I end up trying to do it all, and instead of doing a few things well, I do a lot of things half way. Anyone else find themselves here? So what do we do to remedy this cycle?

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong… 1 Corinthians 1:26-27

First, I must consider my calling. This has been the question on the Post-It note on my computer screen at work the last few weeks: Can Do vs. Called To Do? What things in my life has God genuinely led me to do in His strength, power, and calling, and what things am I doing simply because I am able? He has been convicting me greatly of the fact that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should be doing it. I am convinced that there have been blessings I have missed in life simply because I spend time bowing to my idols and pride and busyness.

Second, I must remember that God chooses, not me. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. Sometimes He calls us to do the things we wouldn’t naturally choose for ourselves simply to remind us that it is His work and His calling and His equipping that are successful in furthering His kingdom. He doesn’t need me or my abilities to accomplish His will, but He chooses to use us when we submit to Him and His will. And when we begin to take matters into our own hands, things fall apart. Fast. If life is spinning out of control around you, it may be because you are just trying to do more than He has for you to do. What are you doing out of self-imposed expectations? Are those self-imposed expectations godly? I find that normally, they are not.

Third, I must be weak to show Him to be strong. It is not my responsibility to save the day; He’s already done that. I am not the Messiah; but I am called to reflect the Messiah to a lost and dying world. If, at the end of the day, all anyone notices is how much work I do, then I have failed miserably. We are not called to fix it; we are called to point others to the One who has already fixed it.

Sometimes being obedient means dying to self and saying no, because I am not Wonder Woman. As a woman, that is a hard truth to swallow sometimes. God created us to be helpers and multi-taskers, but our sinful nature can so easily twist that God-given desire to help into a sinful, self-focused desire to save the day.

What things in your life do you do simply because you can do the job and not because He has called you to it? Do you live with this thought in the back of your tired and stressed out mind: “Well if I don’t do it, it might not get done.”

How different would the lives of Christian women be if we began focusing on the few things He calls us to and releasing the rest to His control? I am learning that His ability to get it all done is much better than mine, and resting in that truth is freeing indeed.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 4


This is part 4 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Third, Heyward claims that Christianity is isolating and denies community. By setting rigid boundaries concerning sexual behavior and then consequently excluding those who refuse to live by those standards, Heyward states that Christianity is proving itself dated, close-minded, and supportive of “compulsive heterosexuality” (Heyward, 12). Historically, Heyward claims that women were isolated from the Christian community by being declared “as evil, ‘the devil’s gateway’” and then systematically used as scapegoats for the sexual sins of the men around them (Heyward, 14).

What is so interesting about Heyward’s quick dismissal of all things “christian” is that God’s moral law, especially his guidelines concerning sexual relations in general, create and then reinforce exactly the sort of relationality that Heyward claims she is attempting to achieve. Relationship, community, unity in diversity, profound oneness and even wholeness are recurring themes throughout Scripture. Heyward is attempting to achieve the end of spiritual wholeness through the means of sex. Scripture teaches that even the most holy sexual relationship is but a picture of the unity and wholeness experienced in being a member of the bride of Christ (Eph 6.22-33). The foundation of Christianity is found in the words of Christ Himself when He stated, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, believers in churches across Europe and Asia Minor are exhorted to live as a unified, healthy body (1 Cor 12), as a well jointed building (Eph 2); they are told to lay aside petty differences (Phil 4) and to pray for one another and for their common goal (1 Thes 5). These instructions for community are plentiful, and they center on the common love of God and the common call of spreading His glory among the nations. There is one part of living in community that Heyward seems to miss—justice and love are not relative terms that can be interpreted to mean that believers should turn a blind eye to those things which Scripture condemns as going against the nature of God. Justice and love are characteristics of the nature of God, and God declares to His people, “For I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3.6). If God does not change, the characteristics of His nature are fixed and unchanging as well. Therefore, the principles of spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10) and of confronting one another when fellow believers are entrenched in sin (Mt 18; Gal 6; 1 Cor 5) apply to all things described in Scripture as moral laws which reflect the character of God. So long as desires are allowed to reign unchecked and people continue to seek fulfillment in things other than a relationship with God through Jesus, true spiritual wholeness will not be realized.

C.S. Lewis described this spiritual wholeness of Christ as Joy, and upon contemplating this matter of desire and pleasure made the following observation: “Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” Heyward and her intellectual companions have attempted to substitute pleasure for Joy by completely freeing human sexuality from all encumbrances of law and discipline, but they have yet to achieve the wholeness and fulfillment for which they so desperately search. The struggle to find wholeness through the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1. 25) is a confirmation of Lewis’ belief that physical pleasure is an unsatisfactory attempt to fill the “God-shaped void” in the lives of people.

This God-shaped void brings Heyward to the natural end of seeking God in God’s created order—Heyward describes sex in divine terms, completing the move from a supposedly “christian” sexual ethic to a glorification and worship of sex that is essentially pagan sex worship. In her discussion of this new christian ethic of sex, Heyward draws upon the work of Freud, who described the eroticism of sex as the “life force.” Heyward also quotes Audre Lorde’s description of the erotic as “the source of our creativity, the wellspring of our joy, the energy of our poems, music, lovemaking, dancing, meditation, friendships, and meaningful work.” For the Christian believer, this description could very well be used to describe God. In the Psalms, it is the glory and worship of Yahweh that inspires David and the other psalmists to write and dance and meditate. The entire book of the Song of Songs describes the fruition of a sexual relationship between a husband and wife when that relationship is rightly focused upon God and upon one another. Paul tells the church in Corinth, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).

The focus of the life of the believer is not self pleasure or self glorification. Rather, the believer is to focus on the glory and worship of God. To give creative or inspirational credit or worship to anything other than God Himself is to commit an act of idolatry. Heyward attempts to explain this usurpation of God by declaring, “Theologically, we are speaking of our power in right relation; from a christian perspective, the power of God” (Heyward, 15). She claims that the power of God is reached and realized through the act of sex, but God himself prohibits worshiping him through sex acts (Lev 18, 20).

These major themes—the role reversals of men and women, the search for false community, the replacement of God with an idol—work together to show that while Heyward claims that her work, heritage, and ideas are Christian, she is actually committing the very sin that she exposes in the Church; she is further removing herself from the authority of the Bible and establishing her own ethic based upon tradition and personal experience. Heyward has taken Wesley’s quadrilateral of interpretation and reversed it; instead of beginning with Scripture and clarifying it through tradition, philosophy, and personal experience, Heyward begins with personal experience and reinterprets or discounts philosophy, tradition, and Scripture. Those ideals and absolutes which go against personal experience and desire are laid aside and explained away as being culturally irrelevant. This is precisely the place that Heyward envisions: “A historical perspective on sexuality is important… because such a view enables us to envision and perhaps experience our own possibilities…. We are involved in shaping our own dreams.” By using sex as a means to channel the power of God, Heyward argues that personal, sexual realization enables humanity to make its own destiny—humanity becomes god.