What I Don’t Know

Life has a way of moving at breakneck speed. Last week I worked every day filling in some shifts at my previous job, and had no time to write. Life is different when I am working, but I enjoy having opportunities to vary my schedule on occasion.

I’ve also been working on some home improvement projects, which I LOVE. I love perusing Pinterest, cataloging ideas and then coming up with ways to do it on my own for as cheaply as possible. I love a good challenge and an opportunity to be creative. Last week I remodeled my bathroom. My bathroom has been looking dingy and depressing for so long, and now it is all fresh, white, clean and organized. It’s lovely and it makes me happy every time I walk by it. Organizing, decorating and making things more beautiful and functional is definitely high on my list of favorite things to do. I even like painting!

During my time of working and DIY projects, I thought about my blog and what I should write about next. Each week I ask God to give me an idea, and His answer was a bit different this week. He told me to write about some things that I know nothing about, and/or are still in process with.

In some ways this is nice.. It gives me space to process things “out loud” without having to do a bunch of research and have conclusions or definite opinions. In other ways, it is scary to not have the answers that, in many cases, I would really like to have. It’s writing from a place of vulnerability, and that is scary. I’ve been in many circumstances where I was told that I should be open about places where I was in process or struggling through things. I was told I should always share these things. I’m a rather introverted person and an internal processor, so sharing mid-process is difficult and even sometimes impossible. It’s difficult to verbalize words to thoughts and feelings you don’t even know you have yet, but that was the expectation.

Sometimes these conversations went well, but other times, I felt crushed by the responses I got. Verbally smashed down for the things I was thinking or the feelings I was having. I was told I was wrong a lot. I learned there is very little grace or freedom for being in process when my thoughts/feelings were in disagreement with, or challenged other people. This is particularly painful when you thought you were in a safe place to be able to share openly.

Being unsure and without answers is a scary place to be- especially when talking to others about it. However, God told me to do it, and I’m certain that I can’t be the only one struggling with some of these things, so without further adieu, here are some things I DON’T know.

Politics

You would have to be hiding under a rock these days to have missed the political climate in America right now. I bet there’s a lot of us that would prefer to be under said rock at this point, though. I have to say.. I care VERY little for politics. Very little. Very, very little. In fact, it would be quite difficult to get me to care any less about it. I don’t find it interesting. And to be honest, I don’t believe it even matters that much. It all feels to me like what Solomon would describe as, ‘chasing after the wind’ in Ecclesiastes.

This election however, has started to get under my skin, and I am starting to have feelings about it. I won’t share them because that’s not the point, but call it intuition or whatever, but warning bells are going off in my head and my heart about what is going on in America and it’s concerning.

The problem is, there is absolutely no one trustworthy whose opinion I can believe. I don’t know where/how to research to even begin to come to a semi-knowledgeable opinion. Everything written is skewed to one side or another and usually has an agenda. To fully understand what is going on would take years of study and none of us have that kind of time. I guess when it comes down to it, we all just have to be responsible to do the best we can with our vote and leave the results up to God.. which is the answer in every election I suppose.

I guess what I’m saying is that it kind of matters to me right now, and there’s nothing I can do about it and I’m frustrated about that.

Friendship

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in Starbucks trying to think of something to write. I was chatting with a friend and asked her if she had ideas. She suggested I write about friendship. I just about spit out my Frappuccino. The thought of me writing anything knowledgeable or helpful about friendship is laughable.

The longest friendship relationship I’ve ever been able to successfully maintain is the one I have with my husband. Obviously, relationships take two people to maintain, and I’m certain he has much more work in maintaining me than I do at maintaining him. We’ve made it 18 years this December, and we’re going strong. I have no earthly idea what has made my marriage so much longer and healthier than any other relationship I’ve had. Perhaps my husband has a unique God-given ability to put up with me and give me grace that no one else has.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of friendships. Some long, some short, some surface-y, some deep. I know that love, grace, freedom and forgiveness makes up the most important elements of a healthy relationship. I know that the opposite of those things cause disfunction in a relationship. I’ve come to a few conclusions over the years about friendships, but I feel sadly lacking in the practical outworkings of a healthy friendship. All I know is;

  • Relationships are hard.
  • Both parties have to be willing and capable of giving sacrificial love (which includes grace, freedom and forgiveness) in order for it to work.
  • Boundaries in relationships are absolutely necessary, and knowing what your personal boundaries are is helpful.
  • Friendships last for a season. Sometimes long, sometimes short, but God is working and in control of all of it.
  • Sometimes God removes people from your life in order to protect you/them.
  • Watching my daughters (who are 9 years old) and my son (in high school) deal with some of the same things I deal with as an adult brings me to the comfortable/uncomfortable conclusion that it may not ever get any easier.
  • It’s worth it. (I think)

Who I Am

As a kid, I never considered that by the time I hit mid-30’s, I would continue to struggle with knowing who I am and who God created me to be. Why don’t I just know already? I feel as though I am still learning about who I am. I’m still learning what my gifts and skills are, what my likes and dislikes are, what my boundaries need to be. I struggle with even knowing what my needs are, much less voicing them. Worst of all, it seems everyone around me knows who they are, and are living out of that knowledge. So, why can’t I get it together?

What I Want To Do With My Life

Because I don’t know who I am or what makes me tick, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I am content right now not knowing, but eventually I’m going to need some direction. I’m considering going back to school. I’m considering becoming an ordained pastor, or a seminary professor, or an author/speaker. I just don’t know. I’m hoping that God will make it clear what path He wants me to go down at some point, and the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.

Well, how about it? Am I the only one who is struggling with any of these things? How about you? What are you struggling with?

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What is Love?

.. Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more..

Just kidding. You were all thinking it though, weren’t you? When Haddaway wrote that song, he asked a valid question. What IS love? What does it look like? What does it mean? What does it require?

Our world has attempted to answer that question over the last few thousand years with many, many different ideas. In this moment in history when school shootings, police brutality, racism, protesting, and wars permeate our daily news, it is a good time for a reminder of what love is.

Ultimately, the answer to the question of “what is love?” is God. God is love. It is who He is, and we cannot understand Him apart from it. He is the author and creator of love. We see what love looks like in the walking around, everyday world when we look at Jesus. His sacrifice of leaving heaven to come to earth and suffer and die at the hands of the people he was coming to serve is the ultimate example of love.

A few years later, Paul has a nice succinct list of what love looks like. We’ve all heard it, but right now especially, it’s worth repeating and really thinking about again. We’ve seen this love lived out in the life of Jesus, and because of that, we are free to love others in the same way.

Love is patient, love is kind.

Are you patient? Are you willing to lay down your desires and needs in order to give people the space they need to grow, or change or mature? Are you patient with people you disagree with? How are you at waiting for the things you want? Are you kind? Do you treat people with kindness and graciousness? Is grace your first response to people? How would people describe you?

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

How do you feel when something good happens for someone else? Are you quick to celebrate with them? Or is there a part of you that feels gypped that you didn’t get that good thing? Do you feel entitled? When it’s your turn to get something good, how do you treat others in light of it? Do you lord it over them? Do you brag? Do you think that suddenly you’ve arrived or are now superior them in some way?

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

How do you speak about people behind their back? Can people trust you to stick up for a friend if someone else is dishonoring them? What about after a conflict when your emotions are strong and you feel hurt? Do you tell stories or use life examples when you speak that highlight you and the good things that you do? Are you always the victim in your story? Is it of ultimate importance that others think highly of you? When someone disagrees with you or does something you don’t like, are you quick to jump to anger and attack them? How short is your fuse? Do you hold the sins of others over their heads? Do you bring up people’s sin repeatedly in conversations? Do you think of people’s sins first when you think of them?

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

How do you react when someone brings up something you have done to hurt them? How do you react when someone shares an experience with you that is hard for you to hear? Do you rush to justify or defend your actions or the actions of others? Do you turn it around and blame the other person for feeling hurt? Are you grateful for hearing the truth, or would you prefer to stay in the dark?

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

How are you at protecting the people in your life? Physically, emotionally, spiritually? Are you doing your best at keeping them from harm, from yourself or others? Do you live your life in such a way where you are free to trust that God is sovereign and in control of your life, others’ lives, and in situations? Do you trust that He is good and He will work it out? Or are you seeking control? Do you look at the lives and situations of yourself and others and see hope? Are you willing to see the best in them? To hope for the best in them? Or are you quick to discredit when you don’t get what you want? Are you willing to continue to love people even when you don’t like them much?

Love never fails.

People fail. All the time. People hurt us. We hurt people. But God doesn’t fail. Love doesn’t fail. God’s love doesn’t fail. God’s love does all of the things on this list perfectly. God is working His perfect plan of love all the time. We can trust Him. We can trust His love, His goodness, His plan.

 

Christian, it’s time for us all to live as if we believed that.

 

An Excerpt From My Book

I haven’t talked much about it here on my blog, but I am [very, very slowly] writing a book. It is a book that God has placed on my heart to write. It will help pastors understand the importance of including women in church leadership and practical help in how to do it. This is a little excerpt from the first chapter. Hope you enjoy it! -Kristi

…..

I was raised in the church my whole life under what I would call complementarian theology, but truthfully that wasn’t even a term I’d heard used until I was into my thirties. I have been active in the church for most of my life. The relationship between men and women and what that looks like in a marriage and in context of the church was not something I ever remember talking about. My family life growing up was better than most I would say, and both my parents did the best they could, but wasn’t a prime example of a healthy marriage. (Is anyone’s really?)

My implicit theology would always have been that as a woman, God loves me equally to any man, but my explicit theology, what I actually experienced and felt as a result, would have been that men are more valuable to God than women. I don’t believe that this was a result of any particular thing that was said or done to me over the years, I think it was more about what I observed (or didn’t!) and what wasn’t said. I don’t remember anyone ever really talking much about how God feels about women specifically and the result was, I filled in a lot of the blanks myself.

Because of this belief I subsequently did not have a proper or healthy understanding of submission, or what to do with the fact that, while much smaller in stature, I am much louder than my husband and my skill set and gifting is much different than his- I tend towards truth speaking and teaching and his tend towards empathy and loyalty. For years, I lived with the belief that the way I was made was WRONG and I must work hard to TONE IT DOWN in order to be submissive to my husband, or my church. I also believed that it was wrong on some level to disagree with my husband (because he was “superior” which would automatically put me in the “wrong” category) or God forbid EVER disagree with a pastor.

For years I wrestled with this tension of desiring to be a Godly woman and thinking that the only way I could do that was to squelch who I was, but also hating that I had to work so hard to be someone that I was not created to be.

As I began to learn more and more about what submission actually is, I began to realize that there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to what a marriage and family structure should look like or how they should work functionally. The ultimate judge of health in a marriage I believe is if the wife feels loved and is flourishing and allowed to grow to become the woman God created her to be, and when the husband feels respected, honored, encouraged and supported by his wife to become the man God intended for him to be. Learning what this looks like in the practical everyday-ness of our marriage has helped tremendously in the context of marriage, but theologically, I still felt lesser-than as a woman.

When I first heard the word ‘complementarianism’ it was defined as, ‘The belief that God created both male and female with equal value and worth, but with different complementary roles.’ This made a ton of sense to me. I rejoiced in the fact that God created women equal to men, but with a different role to fill. I remember diving into the study of what it means to be a wife and mother- with fervor as is generally my style (because that’s pretty much the extent of what I was doing at the time) and learned just how much God honors the role of motherhood! It’s all over the Bible. It is a high calling! This, I thought, is what it means to be a woman.. the most important thing we can do for God is to raise our children and make disciples. Which of course means being a stay-at-home mom.. Who else can you trust to teach your children about Jesus? It is definitely the BEST, most Godly way…

Except, it isn’t. One of the great lessons I’ve learned over the years is that if your theology doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t work. And my theology at that time was more along the lines of, women are of equal value and worth and have a different role to fill [motherhood]. And the best way to fill the role of motherhood is to; stay at home with your kids, homeschool your kids, cook dinner every night, keep up with the laundry, keep a tidy home, etc into infinity of whatever your personal values were. You could certainly build an out-of-context scriptural basis for all of those things, but then what do you tell the single woman with no kids? What do you tell the single mom who has to go to work to provide for her family? What do you tell the mom whose husband is un/under employed who has to go to work in order to put food on the table?  Do you tell them that they are not fulfilling their God-given role? Do you tell them that they have inherently less value in the sight of God because they’re not doing it right? Do we really want to tell women that their value in the kingdom of God comes primarily marrying and having a functioning uterus?

That’s not good news. My theology did not work.

A few years later, I was called to a leadership position within my church. Over the course of the two years of my position there was good, bad, beautiful, ugly, painful and redemptive. I have wished many times that I had not served in the capacity that I had. But with hindsight now, I am glad for it. It was immensely painful in ways that I am still healing from.. but it also caused me to seek answers in scripture, and learn and grow and fall more in love with Jesus in ways that I would not have without this experience. And for that, I am grateful.

During my time serving at my church what I personally experienced was an IMPLICIT (inside, theoretical) theology of women are equal to men, and can do anything short of being a pastor within the church. Unfortunately, there was an EXPLICIT (exterior, practical, what actually was practiced) theology that communicated that women were of less value than men, were less capable than men, were not able to lead in the church, and in fact were, in some ways, quite dangerous to the men in leadership and should be held at arms length most of the time. AND- if you came across a woman who was capable and gifted, one just didn’t know quite how to handle that.

This explicit theology was hurtful to me, and other women in the church and I needed to understand the truth. I needed to understand God’s heart.. I wrestled with the scripture. I studied scripture and asked Jesus to show me his heart for women. Why were we made, what was our role, how do we best reflect Him, and most importantly, how does He feel about us.

To my great delight, He answered me… Sort of. In a way that I didn’t expect, as is usually the case. There are some theological ideas that I will never know the “right” answer to. For example, Paul’s admonition about not allowing women to teach or have authority over a man. If you read it literally, it seems like it’s straightforward, but it isn’t. I have read and studied both sides of this issue and both sides present a clear, convincing, historical and Biblical argument to support their side. The more I study about it, the less I’m confident in the answer, which, if I’m honest is super irritating.

But perhaps that is what God intended. Perhaps He has intentionally put things in the Bible with no clear answer, so that we are forced to lean into Him, build our relationship with him, get to know Him and His heart better. Maybe there is no right answer because there is no one right answer, and He has given us freedom to make the decisions we feel are best for our specific churches. And maybe there is no right answer because if we study and study and study and have less answers than we did when we started, maybe then it’s easier to have grace for someone who comes to a different conclusion than us. Maybe it’s more about trusting the Holy Spirit and building unity and learning from one another, than it is about being right.

…..

 

Jesus and the Sinful Woman

“…So I tell you this. Her many sins have been forgiven. She has shown that she understands this by her great acts of love. But whoever has been forgiven only a little loves only a little.” Luke 7:47

Her story inspires imagination. The woman described in Luke 7. Who was she? What is her story? What was her childhood like? Did she have parents who treated her with kindness and respect? Had she been hurt or abused somehow in her young life that resulted in poor life choices, either her own, or others choices for her? Did she feel used? Did she feel trapped?

If I was writing a fiction story about her, those would be the questions I would answer. We must ask ourselves these questions, I think, when we come to scripture like this. It is so easy to judge. So easy to think ourselves above her, or find ourselves immersed in “chronological snobbery” as C.S. Lewis would say. When we put ourselves in her place, imagine walking in her shoes, if only for a moment, that is when grace begins to infiltrate our dreary souls. We are all desperate for that infiltration. We are desperate for that Grace.

The Bible leaves out the details about who she is. We don’t even know her name! We know only that there was a woman, well known for being ‘sinful’. Most of us have assumed or been taught that she was a prostitute. The Bible does not label her that way, but the rest of us have. Whatever her sins were, she has clearly been defined by them. Everyone knew she was a sinner. Herself included. Seeking grace and forgiveness from the people around her had clearly not panned out. She carries the labels people have placed on her wherever she goes.

This woman’s very foundation is shaken when she meets Jesus. She finds out where Jesus will be dining, and she decides to go to Him. It does not matter to her that He will be at the home of a highly educated and religious man. A man who could have been the one who gave her the labels in the first place. It doesn’t matter that she was uninvited and would be breaking every social rule. She is drawn towards Jesus. She is drawn towards His goodness. The grace and truth that He is. She longs for it.

Walking into that home, uninvited and unwelcome must have taken a great deal of strength and courage for her. She knows that she must walk through that crowd of people with their opinions and judgements, in order to get to her savior. Bravery begins to build in her soul as she gets closer to Him. The weight of her own sin, the weight of the judgements against her begin to lift. She feels the love, the acceptance, the grace from Jesus as she gets closer. By the time she reaches Him, she can no longer hold it together. She is overcome. She throws herself down at His feet and weeps.  She anoints His feet with her tears; sorrow and joy overflowing. The tears mingle with the expensive perfume she pours, and together they slowly wash away the dust and grime from his sandaled feet, and create an offering that she, and she alone can give. She lets down her hair in gratitude and freedom and wipes away her tears of sorrow.

Interestingly, the more freedom she feels in this moment, the more shocked the people around her were. A woman’s hair in that day was considered to be her crowning glory, sensual. No one was meant to see a woman’s hair except for her husband. For this woman to have such a public display of emotion towards a man who was not her husband, is scandalous. Even worse, taking down her hair in front of the group of religious men, goes against everything that would have been considered proper.

The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this. He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him. He would know what kind of woman she is. She is a sinner!”

How many times have I myself seen someone feel free in Jesus to do a particular thing and judged them in my own heart, for thinking that they dared have the “perceived” freedom to do that thing! And how many times have I myself felt judged by others, when I was feeling free in Jesus to do a thing. I am both the sinful woman and the pharisee, Jesus help me!

We must wonder to ourselves at this point in the story, why Jesus’ feet were still dirty. We take for granted here our paved roads and close-toed shoes, but at this time, there were only dirt roads and open-toed shoes. Culturally speaking, when guests entered into someone’s home, a good host would have a servant ready to wash the dust off of the guests feet. If they didn’t have a servant, the host would offer to do it, or have it available for them to do it themselves. To invite someone to your home and not offer this, was poor hospitality and a slap in the face to your guest.

When our friend enters the room and begins to cry at Jesus’ feet, she sees that His feet have not been cleaned. This host has not treated Jesus with the respect that He deserves. He invited Him in, but did not care for Him. This emotional woman weeping at His feet, gives Jesus the honor that He did not receive from His well educated, religious host, who certainly knew better. This is what we should be shocked about. The other men sitting with Jesus are shocked by this woman. They are shocked at her actions, her freedom. They are shocked that Jesus does not send her away.

How many of us are shocked at the wrong things? The things that offend our own sense of “rightness”, rather than be shocked at the things that offend Jesus.

Jesus’ response to the woman at His feet is beautiful and breathtaking. He is not shocked. He does not treat her as “just a woman”. He does not rub her sin in her face. He does not tell her to leave, or indicate that her presence is unwelcome. He does not tell her that her emotional response to Him is wrong or inappropriate. Jesus takes a moment to look at her. He sees her for who she is. He sees her sin and her emotion and her repentant heart and He honors her. In front of the arrogant, religious men, He esteems this woman for doing what they did not do, and being what they were not.

Then he turned toward the woman. He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?

Do you see this woman? Do you see her? Do I see her?

Look. Look at her. Look in her eyes. Don’t look at her sin, look at her soul.

Her sin after all, is not the point.

Jesus knew who she was. He knew what she had done. He acknowledged that this woman was a sinner, EVERYONE knew, especially her! But Jesus affirmed this woman, accepted her, SAW her in the midst of her sin and forgave her. Jesus loved her.

This is the Kingdom of God breaking through to earth. This is the Kingdom of God come to walk among us. This is the God who sees. This is the God who knows. This is the God who looks deep into your eyes and says, “I see you. Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

This unnamed woman gives us such a beautiful picture of faith, courage and love. She walks through the labels and oppression in order to throw herself at the feet of her savior, and in doing so is received with grace, love and acceptance. She faces her fear in order to learn that He is safe.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.. Hebrews 12:1

 

Just Breathe

Breathe in. Breathe out.

It’s all going to be okay.

 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Nothing is impossible with God.

 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

You are under the shadow of His wing.

 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

He is hiding you in the cleft of the rock.

 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

You are safe.

 

Sometimes we need to be reminded that it’s okay to stop and breathe for a while.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are not the saviors of the story and do not need to carry the weight of that responsibility.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God does not condemn us, and anything that feels like condemnation is not from God.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that the Gospel is beautiful. The Gospel encourages the fruit of; Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control. When we are not growing in these things, it is not the Spirit that we are listening to.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that the victory has already been won through Christ and we do not carry the weight of responsibility for how things turn out.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God’s grace is big enough for our situation, for our relationships, for our sin.

 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

 

God’s grace is easy. Comfortable.

God’s grace engulfs us, surrounds us, swallows us up. We can wrap ourselves in it like a warm blanket on a cold day. Best of all, it is already ours and it is free.

There is no such thing as too much grace. Grace begets relationship. Grace begets love. Grace begets safety. Grace begets truth. It all begins with grace.

 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

God’s grace is enough.

 

Confessions of a ‘Dirty’ Feminist

Why am I here? What am I doing on this blog? I want you guys to know my heart, so I’d like to share some things with you. The name of my blog is Redeeming Freedom. The tagline under the name is, “A fresh look at faith, food and biblical feminism.” The decision to use the word “feminism” was one I wrestled with. I decided to go for it, even though it is a ‘dirty’ word in Christian circles. I like to live on the edge. I’d like to explain why.

The church has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I attended AWANA. Through the years I participated in church on Sundays, church events and youth group. My husband and I continue to participate in church, through small groups, serving and leadership in various ways. We’ve brought our children to church and encouraged them to serve as well as they’ve gotten older. I have labeled myself as a ‘good, Christian girl”.

When you hit your thirties, God starts doing crazy things. Life altering, pendulum swinging, foundation crumbling, paradigm shifting sort of things. I’ve watched it happen to others, and I am no exception. A pattern of freedom and redemption has emerged in my life due to God’s work in the last few years. (Redeeming Freedom. Get it?). He needed to set me free from sin- others’ sin against me and my own. Much of this sin has come in the form of religion.

That may sound funny to you, the idea of needing to be set free from religion. It would have to me a few years ago. Religion in this context can be defined by the legalistic rules that we add to the Bible that HINDER us from having a genuine relationship with Jesus. As Jesus works, I am finding myself more free to be in relationship with Him. I am less hindered by all the things I think I have to do. Or even worse, the way I have to BE. A particular area where God is continuing to free me is in the area of men and women.

A year or so ago, God told me to start studying the women of the Bible. Who were they? Why are their stories in the Bible? What did they do? What are we to learn from them and their stories? How does God feel about them? As I have studied these women, God has opened my eyes. He has shown me the incongruency between His view of women and my own.

Years ago, a friend said to me, “Kristi, if you weren’t such a Godly woman, you would be a raging feminist.” I’ve thought about that comment over the years and I’ve thought a lot about the idea of feminism. You may not believe this, but as my heart aligns more with scripture and with Jesus, I’ve actually become MORE of what you might call a feminist.

Secular feminism, or feminism without Jesus leads to dark and ungodly places. Man shaming/hating, abortions under the guise of sexual equality, and damaging generations by pushing an agenda of “equality means sameness” by not affirming that God created men and women to be DIFFERENT, to name a few. It is no wonder that feminism is a dirty word in the Christian culture. These things are NOT the heart of God, but without Jesus, this is probably where I would be.

The thing is, I LONG for value and worth. Not in spite of being a woman, but BECAUSE I am a woman. I LONG to know and believe that there is not anything lesser about who I am because I am a woman and not a man. Without Jesus, I certainly would be fighting for that on my own and stomping on anyone who stood in my quest for it.

What I’ve come to learn is that my longing for worth is good and it is right, and it a God-given desire. Jesus longs to fill that desire for me. All I needed to do was ask, but for so long I didn’t know! I believed my desires for value and worth were contrary to God’s word. My fear was that if asked Jesus about it, He would tell me my desires were sinful, or worse, that He really did think women were less valuable than men!

Oh, how I was wrong! In Genesis, Eve was given instructions to rule with her husband. Women were named as rulers and queens and prophets in the Old Testament. In the New Testament women traveled with Jesus and learned from Him just like any man. Jesus dignified them, and freed them to work alongside of Him and His ministry. And this was counter cultural! Jewish leaders at the time believed women to be little more than property and not worthy to teach. Paul also worked side by side with women to spread the gospel. He honored their work and sacrifice, and named them as leaders. (Romans 16)

If we define the word ‘feminist’ as the dictionary does, (Adj: advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. N: an advocate of such rights.)  then it’s pretty clear that Jesus Himself was a counter cultural feminist! Let that sink in for a moment! Jesus affirmed the worth, value and dignity of women in the face of religious men.(Luke 7:36-50) Jesus did NOT have to stomp on the value of men to show the value of women, and nor should we. Jesus stood firm in the truth of the original creation story. Equal value for both men and women. Partnership. Ruling and subduing the earth, side by side.

This is why I chose the word ‘feminist’ for my blog. Jesus was a feminist, and He shocked people with it. I want to be like Jesus. Jesus came to set captives free. Male and female both. He called both men and women to ‘pick up their cross and follow him’. He called both men and women to be leaders. And He called both men and women to be warriors.

I now know that I am free to be fierce. I am free to be a warrior. I am free to fight. I am free to be a feminist. I am free. Jesus has set me free.

 

The Importance of Bible Study

Biblestudy

My blog has gotten off to a rather slow start. I started it about 6 months ago, wrote a few things, and then life happened; our basement flooded and we had some remodeling to do. Everything in our house (as well as what felt like our whole life!) was in chaos for a long time. I haven’t written nearly as much as I would have liked to by this point. I have discovered that reading and studying about different women of the Bible takes a LOT of time, especially if one wants to be faithful to the text and what it is actually saying- but that’s okay. I will keep plugging away and hope and pray that it goes wherever God wants it to go in whatever timing He wants.

The first Bible woman I wrote about when I started my blog was Deborah. I was utterly fascinated by her. I still am. From Deborah, I moved to Jael, which I haven’t finished yet, and then I posted a shorter-than-I’d-like version of Jesus’ mother Mary. Over the last months, I have realized that my fascination with the women of the Bible has blossomed into a much deeper love of the Bible itself, which has lead me to a much deeper love of the Person that the Bible is really all about. I am learning more and more about how to study the Bible as opposed to just reading it every morning like a newspaper.

Reading the Bible a little bit each day or having regular quiet times whenever I can fit them in is a really good thing. It is good to get into the habit and disciplining myself in this way. If this is my only method of approaching the Bible though, I can get myself into a lot of trouble.  When I was in high school years ago (let’s not talk about how many), I vividly remember meeting regularly to do “Bible study” with a group of kids in my high school youth group leadership team. I use the term “Bible study” really loosely here in case my sarcasm doesn’t come through clearly via blog post.

While I’m sure that whomever had the idea for student-led high school Bible studies had the greatest motivations behind it, let’s be honest… Why do 99% of high schoolers get together, ever? To hang out with the opposite-sex of course! It’s not bad, or wrong, it’s just true! So here we were, a group of (albeit fairly responsible) teen-agers, mostly there because of the opportunity to spend time with the opposite-sex, with no Bible knowledge or training, attempting to read through books of the Bible and understand what it was saying, in order to be better Christians. Cute, right?

I don’t remember exactly which book we were going through, but it was one of the books with a passage about wives submitting to husbands. We thought, in our wise 17-year-old brains, we knew what the passage was communicating. Our conversations consisted of, “well, I think it means this!” and “this is what this passage means to me”. There were a few 17 year old boys trying to explain what it means for a wife to submit to her husband to a few 15/16 year old girls. Can you say, recipe for disaster? I don’t remember if I said it out loud or not, but I distinctly remember saying to God, “No! I’m not doing that. I’m not that kind of girl, and that will never be who I am!”

You know what though.. I was right. The idea of submission as presented to me by a couple of 17 year old boys (one of which turned out to be my husband a few years later, funny enough) was not the idea of submission that Paul (or God) had intended to communicate in that passage, and I was right to not succumb to that.

It’s a funny story now. Unfortunately, this still happens. To read a passage of scripture and decide ‘what it means to me’ without knowing who it was written to, why it was written, what it meant to the people in that time and in that culture, and what the theme of the overall book was, is dangerous and irresponsible. At best, it is naive, or maybe lazy; at worst, it is the foundation of some of the tremendous evils of the world. How many wars have been fought over theology? How many millions of people have been mistreated and oppressed because of misinterpreting passages of scripture?

Reading, studying and interpreting the Bible is an immense amount of work. But it is extremely important. We must sit in the scripture for a long time and allow all the different flavors to permeate our heart, soul and mind. Sort of like the spaghetti sauce I made for dinner last night. The flavors of all the ingredients on their own don’t taste very good. And even when I combine them all together, there is no depth of flavor until the ingredients have simmered together for a long time. Only then do the ingredients release their flavors and their aromas and combine together to make a flavorful sauce. The longer they are allowed to seep together, the better the sauce will be.

It is similar to the Bible. Unless we do the work to answer the questions about who, what, where, when and why the books and passages of the Bible were written, and then give all those things time to saturate into each other, and into us, the results will be gross and unpalatable. I have learned some methods and found some great resources for how to do this that I would like to share some with you on my next post. But I’d love to hear from you- what resources do you use to help you study the Bible?

Of Clinging and Faith

faith

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 10:39-11:1

There is a tension that resides inside of me. During some seasons of life I feel it a little every day, some seasons when I feel it weekly, and other seasons when I feel it every moment of every day. The season I currently find myself in is the latter, and I tell you what.. I am tired. I am tired of trying to figure it all out.

The tension is made up of the ‘already and not yet’ place we live; in the redemption and sanctification cycle, and yet it’s more than that. It’s a tension between God’s will for my life and my own plans; of wanting my life to matter, wanting to get it right, and resting in God’s sovereignty in the midst of it all.

Some days, in some moments I feel as though my paths are laid out for me in a straight shot; I can clearly see where I’m going and what I need to do to get there. Other days, the path is overgrown and bends around corners and I can only see one step at a time. Sometimes I am walking my path in pitch darkness which causes me to trip and fall because I have no idea where I am or where I am going. The worst though is when I can see more than one path in front of me, and not everyone agrees with me on which to take.

Recently, I read a fiction book where God speaks to a quiet, unassuming church-going lady and tells her to do some crazy things she would have never considered on her own. Reluctantly, she follows these Holy Spirit leadings and her life turns upside down. Unfortunately, most of her church community does not understand and tries to talk her out of doing these things, but she chooses to do them anyway on her own. Have you ever had moments like that?  I have definitely heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me to go in a specific direction, or do a specific thing, and when I have followed, sometimes people don’t understand, or they don’t support the choice.

It’s hard to know what to do in that situation. On one hand, I believe strongly that God places community around us and those people speak for him at times. That’s part of being a Christian, and I have definitely benefitted from other people’s wisdom. But I also know that community doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes they respond out of misunderstanding, or their own fears. They do not always speak on behalf of God.

How does one know the difference? I wrestle with that. Ultimately I suppose, the answer is in the quiet voice who is faithful to answer when I ask, comfort when I cry, and give courage when I am weak. That quiet voice is enough.. But I wish for more sometimes.

When Jesus came, the Jewish leaders had been watching and waiting for him to come. They had longed for him for years. They expected a warrior, but instead they got a peacemaker. They expected someone to come and annihilate their enemies, but instead they got someone who showed them their enemy was the sin inside themselves. Their expectations caused them to miss Jesus because He wasn’t what they were looking for.

I don’t want to miss Jesus. I want my eyes to be open, so I see Him. I want my ears to be open, so I hear him. And I want my heart to be open, so I can feel him. It doesn’t always look like what I want. But it is always what I need.

It is that small, quiet voice inside that I cling to. That’s where Jesus is. He is often not what I expect, and if I’m honest not always what I want. But I cling to Him, because He is good. I cling to Him because He loves me so. I cling to Him because I know He will not drop me or let me go. I cling to Him because I trust Him. I cling to Him because my faith grows in the clinging.

 

 

Mary, Jesus’ Mother

The story of Jesus’ mother Mary is both over-told and under-told. Or perhaps it is just not told in the correct way. On one hand, we have an entire religion that has raised her up to the level of God-like worship; prayers are sent up to her in heaven, and she is treated as worthy of our devotion and praise for her role in the coming savior of the world. On the other hand, other religions, while wanting to dispel the notion that Mary should be worshipped as God, have gone through the trouble of dismissing her and her example of faith.

Both tracks are wrong, and both lose sight of the larger story that Jesus tells with the details of his life and the people who surround it. When we elevate Mary to the level of God, we lose sight of her example of great faith and the courageous spirit that we are all given through the power of the Holy Spirit. If she was, in fact, God-like it is easy then to lower the standards of faith and obedience for ourselves. But when, in hopes of dispelling the idea of her divinity, we gloss over her story, we miss an important and relevant part of what God is telling us about the honor and glory he bestows on women, the importance of women in the spreading of the Gospel story and the picture of the Kingdom of God he gives us in the story of this seemingly insignificant woman.

Mary was a young, virgin girl, who lived in a small and insignificant town. Because of the culture at the time, it is easy to assume that, like most young women in her town, she was looked upon as an afterthought. Marrying, bearing children and keeping house was her lot in life, the highest honor given to any common woman. According to society, there wasn’t anything particularly special about Mary. Nothing that made her stand out. Nothing praiseworthy about her. A quiet and dutiful girl, she seemed ready to accept her role in society, as it was laid out before her.

Mary’s parents are not spoken of. Some have speculated that she may have been an orphan, but no one knows for sure. It is possible, and even likely that she was descended from King David, but since her parents are not mentioned, we can’t know for sure. The only thing we know about her is that she was a virgin, living in Bethlehem and betrothed to Joseph.

The story in Luke about Mary is interesting in the fact that her story follows immediately after the story of Zechariah the priest, a faithful man of God, who was told his wife would become pregnant with a prophet who would proclaim the coming of the Lord. Zechariah didn’t believe it could happen in their old age, and because of their inability to have children, and the angel rebuked him and rendered him speechless because of his unbelief. The story of Mary follows the story of Zechariah, and Mary’s faith is intended to show a stark contrast to Zechariah’s faithlessness.

When the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant as a virgin and give birth to the savior, she is utterly amazed, but fully submits herself to the will of the Lord. This was a bold and brave move for Mary. A young girl’s virginity was a value held higher than a young girl’s life. It would have been an easier thing for her to give up her life for her savior, but she is asked to give up her virginity- or at least her reputation.

Giving up her reputation in this way, could have lost Mary literally everything. She could have lost her fiance, any hope for a marriage in the future and thus her entire value in society. Not only that, but she could have literally lost her life- it was common to stone women to death who had engaged in unlawful sexual behavior. Mary indisputably puts everything on the line when she submits to the will of God. What a beautiful example and display of courage and faith.

One of the things we need to see in this story of Mary is the way in which Jesus’ life is heaven invading earth and bringing to us, the Kingdom of God. Not just on a large scale, where the savior comes for all of us, but in the details of the individual life of Mary. On earth, in her society, Mary was of little value, worth, and was marginally acceptable as a young woman. But when Jesus came, it was clear that this was not how God saw Mary. God sees Mary as precious, honored, worthy, brave, and He knew that she contained a vibrant faith and a warrior-like heart. No one else esteemed Mary like God did. And what a beautiful picture of how God feels about all of his daughters.

When you spend your whole life, as Mary did, hearing that you are lesser-than, that your value and worth is small, that you will never measure up, that you, because of who you are, will never amount to anything important, even if you begin to believe it because that is the message you have always heard, there is still something deep down inside of you that yearns to believe the truth. The truth that you are valuable and worthy and loved.

Perhaps this is why Mary reacted to the news the angel brought her in the way that she did. Maybe there was a longing in her heart to be valuable and to do big things for God. Maybe she was desperate to believe that she was worthy and loved. Maybe she clung to this news with all her might because it was the first time she had ever been told these things and she did not want to let it go. Maybe this is part of what she pondered to herself in her heart.

I think this is why Mary was so brave. She had heard the truth, maybe for the first time, that she was valuable to the Kingdom of God, and she was told, maybe for the first time that she was loved unconditionally and she responds with passion, gratefulness and bravery. Can’t you just feel it? Have you ever felt that way? 2 Timothy tells us that the Spirit of God does not make us fearful, but gives us power, love and self control. Mary understood that and was filled with a love and a power that made her brave.

Even after the birth of Jesus, Mary’s story is not over. She is not simply chosen as a holy birth canal, but she is also chosen to be the mother of the savior of the world, and with that role comes authority to which Jesus willingly submitted himself to during his growing up years. Jesus even performed his first public miracle because his mother told him to!

Mary’s life WAS significant. Not because she was ever a leader within her society, but because God raised her up and allowed her to teach and influence Jesus and the rest of the world as a result. Not only that, but Mary also contributed to the writing of the book of Luke!  The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel not written by a personal eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry- Luke spent years of travel and writing and research, interviewing eyewitnesses of Jesus in order to put together his gospel, in order to get a more complete picture of Jesus’ life, who he was and what he was about. One of those eyewitnesses was Mary, which is why Luke is the book where we see the most detail of Jesus’ birth and childhood.

Interestingly, Luke is the Gospel that speaks the most about the poor, the needy and the marginalized of society, and how Jesus comes, not just to care for them, but to save them, rescue them and give them value and worth in the Kingdom of God. It shows Jesus in the most compassionate light. It tells the highest number of stories about Jesus and women in general. This must be because Luke (and Paul as well, as they did a lot of ministry together) understood the importance of women to the story of Jesus and allowed them a place to tell their stories. He knew they were important and that they would tell us something about Jesus that we didn’t already know. I pray that, like Luke and Paul, we can all be moved towards that same understanding.

With his dying breath on the cross, some of Jesus’ last words are making sure that his mother is cared for after his death. He esteems her with his last breath. In the end, we see that Mary’s story is a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God coming to earth, not just in a general way, but in a way that is deep and personal for each one of us, particularly the daughters of God who long to be treated with value and worth, and often aren’t. It is a story about how, regardless of society, God raises women up and puts them on the front lines of the spiritual battle, because that is where he always intended them to be.

A Short Essay

I had an opportunity to share in front of church the other night a little about the story that God is writing in my own life. I thought it would be fun to share it here as well.

One of the things that Isaiah says in the book of Isaiah when he’s talking about the things that Jesus will do when he comes is he says that he will come to set captives free.

And that, I believe sums up the story of what God IS doing in my life, what he HAS been doing, and what he will continue to do.

I grew up in the church and in a Christian family and I desperately wish that because of that I could stand up here tonight and tell you that there was no sin that I had done, or that had been done against me that I needed to be set free from. But it would be a lie.

I have always believed that there are rules. Rules of behavior, rules of what I can and can not do, and about who I should and should not be. I have always believed somewhere deep down that my ability to follow the rules determined my value in life.

The problem is that I can’t always follow the rules. Sometimes I’m unable to, sometimes I’m unaware that there ARE rules, and sometimes I just think they’re dumb! But when I can’t or don’t follow them, I fall into the trap of feeling like I have to justify to myself and others why I didn’t follow them, or pay for my lack of measuring up.

This is ultimately called self-righteousness, and it is the captivity that God is working towards setting me free from. The truth is that my self-righteousness hurts the people around me, but even more importantly it hurts the One who suffered and died in order to set me free from this exhausting cycle of myself. To become aware of my self-righteousness and to choose to lessen my grip on it is scary because it’s familiar. It’s the only tool I’ve ever really had in dealing with pain.

My youngest daughter is three years old and is terrified of elevators. On her own, she would never set foot anywhere near one. However, when I am standing in the elevator and invite her in and hold on to her as the doors close and the elevator changes floors, she will get in. Because her trust in me is bigger than her fear of elevators.

God is big enough, loving enough and trustworthy enough for me to let go of my fear and choose to step on the elevator. I know that I am safe in his arms.

And the great news is that where I am safest, I am also the most free.