Reflections on getting on in age…

“To everything, turn, turn, turn…” The Byrds, 1968
Reflections on getting on in age

I’m sure that many of you have heard of the PBS television series, “Antique Road Show.” If you haven’t, let me give you a snapshot of its presentation: a team of antique experts wanders from city to city in the USA, inviting people from the location to present artifacts, furniture and other treasures for evaluation and dollar calculation. Once an appraisal is made, the expert will then tell the individual or family what the “piece” is worth in open auction. Most times, the owner of the family heirloom or possession is told that their assumed “priceless” treasure is worth no more than a cup of Starbucks coffee. At times though, it’s one item that catches the auctioneer’s attention and the news of its high dollar value is shared with the owner with delight. Lovers of the show, at least I’m told, squeal in these moments and begin to carefully scheme how they too will one day discover immeasurable treasure buried deep within the bowels of the stack of goods they own. The point of the show is this, MOST older “antiques” are essentially useless. There are a few, and I underscore few, that end up having some sort of worth on the open market. Actually, friends, I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of this show during my life…I’d rather drink a glass of Liquid Plummer than watch another if you know what I mean.

This month, I’ll be turning the “young” age of 65. Getting older is surprisingly easy but enlightening. I look at the mirror on a day to day basis either to shave, clip my ever-growing eyebrows, or simply to be able to see how much more my face is deteriorating with a sense of inevitable resignation. Most of us, I know it’s true for me, never believe that we will get old like “those people” – what we see wandering through the halls of Long-term care facilities, buying a cheap meal at a local fast food place, or who are addicted to antique television presentations. They park in the handicap slots at the store, slowly wander through the aisles many times appearing lost at times. I know for me, I smile at most and have often offered to help many. I was always taught to respect my elders something that I do with ease.

Yet, I never see myself in their skin. I know intellectually that it is my future in one way or another but it never occurs to me that I’ll be donning the same outfit one day myself. Those “clothes” don’t fit my mental picture of myself. And although the march of time continues to drone on and the days that pass are more like check marks on a growing “to-do” list of accomplishments more than a reality that I eventually need to embrace, I’d rather live in my dream world believing that I and I alone have bathed in the fountain of youth.

I don’t feel older. Most older people that I know feel EXACTLY the same way. Yet, I know I am getting older because the guy looking at me in my mirror has a similarity to someone I know very well, but I still don’t recognize him completely. Even so, deep down in my “denial focused” heart, I know that’s me. I also feel the inevitable pains of the passage of time in the body I have been given as a gift. I wish the Lord would have given me a time table of what to expect as this aspect of my individuality and personhood starts to show wear and tear. It may have been helpful to have a warranty, like that of a car, to know how time much I could expect from my transmission and suspension. My “power train” is still showing some life but the brakes and body are simply not working the way they were originally designed. My problem is that I can’t find a good mechanic who can put slap something new on and give me better performance. All I can do is continue to live day by day with the realization that I’m out of warranty.

The “wheels” of my legs are in need of some serious overhaul…gout has deteriorated my toe joints, old basketball wounds cause my ankles and knees to be looser than is healthy, my shoulders don’t work because of countless swimming and surfing strokes, my skin (as my new dermatologist just told me two weeks ago) will continue to have to be analyzed for “issues” because of all that damn sunlight that I was addicted to for years during my younger days. It takes more work to stay healthy, I have to deny more and more types of food because they are increasingly bad for me, and the piles of vitamins and other medications that I take will soon equal the height of Mt. Everest. I was told a few years back that I couldn’t qualify for a job because I was a “50-year-old white guy” and I know that a few of my resumes have been used for “wastebasket basketball practice” simply because the employer looked at my birth date. Oh, what a world.

Seriously though, it is easy to get old. The hours and days pass gracefully without thought or intentionality. Although I still recognize parts of myself in photos and videos, there is an increasing resignation to the inevitable truth. I guess the issue that bothers me to the most has to do with culture’s worship of the young. Why we do that is beyond me and definitely beyond my pay grade. Other cultures in the world revere those with higher mileage. We in the western world look at a person’s odometer and start to theorize, quantify, and plan on the soon to be obsolescence based upon some mechanistic and utilitarian criteria. I’m getting a new computer this coming year and I realized long ago that electronics manufacturers conspiratorially plotted its demise. I feel like it is just a matter of time before society does the same to me…wise or not, educated or not, vital or not, energetic or not, willingness to produce or not…I’ll still, one day, will be deemed obsolete.

Well, society and culture be damned. I’m going to offer what I can despite the fact that my body is looking more like a melting candle day by day. I still have thoughts that need to be expressed, music that needs to be played, sermons to preach, studies to teach, love to give, laughs to inspire, books that need to be read and gifts that I can share…whether anyone wants to appreciate them will be up to them. I’ve always envied women for culture’s sensitivity to inquiring about a woman’s age. As many of you know, it is wiser to NOT ask a woman how old she is after she has reached adulthood than to do otherwise. I’ve tasted my foot in my mouth more times than I care to admit because I ventured into that forbidden territory. I find myself, when asked, fudging a bit on answering the question, “how old are you?” I was fine saying 40…I’m getting apprehensive about answering with the words, “well, uh, 65.”

But the days keep going by and, as a good book and therapist taught me years ago, its hard and deadly to deny reality. What the coming days hold is in no one else’s hand than a God I know, who loves me and sees my priceless worth. That brings me hope. For the rest of the world, you are just going to have to deal with my fuzzy head hairline, sagging waddle under my chin, and my inability to look more “chiseled” no matter how many workouts I do per week. I’ll be ordering more salads, thank you! And maybe I’ll be drinking a few more glasses of wine because I’d rather celebrate life than whine about it (oh, that was clever, huh?). No matter who assesses what they see in my life, I know many people (at least I think I do) who really don’t care how the culture appraises my life. For many that give my life meaning, they aren’t surprised when some “antique” assessor says I’m not as valuable as they think I am. That’s Ok…my children, grandkids and friends who are walking this journey with me have not put me in some basement or shelf in the garage as of yet. When they do, I guess I’ll just have to accept it and make a home there. After all, I’ve been through, that basement or often ignored shelf won’t be that bad of a home. By then, I’ll probably not be able to walk up the stairs or find the energy or where with all to get off the shelf. Priceless or not, I’m going to be around until my number is up. And that is only in the Lord’s hands…thank goodness.

Wow! Is this needed today! Life-giving words!

1Sometimes you read something that LEAPS off the page (or in this case, the screen).  Here is a devotional featured on Ann Voscamp’s website – so desperately needed!

More Than a Conversation: Discovering the Power in Life-Giving Words by Mark Batterson

During a fragile time in my teenage years, I was given the gift of life-giving words.

I was kneeling at an altar when a missionary put a hand on my shoulder and started praying over me.

Then his prayer turned prophetic: “God is going to use you in a great way.”

It was only one sentence, but I’ve held on to those words through thick and thin. And I’ve tried to flip that blessing by speaking life-giving words to others.

One of the most powerful blessings you can bestow on another person is well-timed words.

Remember the woman who broke open her alabaster jar of perfume and anointed Jesus? Remember the way the Pharisees and the disciples criticized her?

Jesus counteracted their criticism with the gift of life-giving words: “Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).

Can you imagine the way those words buoyed her spirit the rest of her life?

“It’s our job to declare God’s praises and pronounce God’s blessings.”

Those are the kinds of words you have tattooed on your body or inscribed on your tombstone! Jesus blessed her with prophetic words, and they were fulfilled one more time with your reading of them just now.

As children of God and followers of Christ, we assume the mantle of the Old Testament priests who administered the blessing. We are part of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9)!

It’s our job to declare God’s praises and pronounce God’s blessings.

Blessing and cursing are not compartmentalized biblical concepts. They are two very different ways of life, two very different ways of treating people.

If the transcript of your life were read aloud, what would your words reveal?

How do you talk about people when they aren’t present?

Do you berate them or brag about them behind their backs?

How do you talk to people when they’re present? Do you put them down, or do you look them in the eye and compliment them to their faces?

I have a three-inch-thick file that is filled with kind notes and thoughtful letters that I’ve received from readers of my books and from people I have the privilege of pastoring. Why do I keep them? Because every word of encouragement is a keepsake!

“Every word of encouragement breathes new life into me.”Every word of encouragement breathes new life into me.

In light of the power of words in our lives, does it come as any surprise that the Enemy of our souls is called the Father of Lies and the Accuser of the Brethren?

He speaks lies that can suck the life out of us.

How do we overcome his lies and his accusations? According to the writer of Revelation, we overcome them “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony” (Revelation 12:10–11).

At first glance, one of those things is not like the other! I would not put my testimony on par with the precious blood of Christ, but it’s one key to overcoming the Enemy.

Your testimony of God’s work in your life has the power to set other people free!

That’s how powerful your words can be.

“Your testimony of God’s work in your life has the power to set other people free!”
How? Well, if God did it for you, He can do it for them. And if God did it before, He can do it again.

A number of years ago, I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. When we got to Dead Woman’s Pass, I had a throbbing headache caused by oxygen deprivation.

At that elevation, the atmosphere has 37 percent less oxygen.

Fortunately, our guide pulled out a can of pure oxygen. As I inhaled, the headache went away.

Life-giving words are pure oxygen.

The right words at the right time can change everything.

They can even change a life.

Devotional on the Prodigal Son story

1There are many things that could be said and HAVE been said about this story. Out of all the parables that Jesus told, this one has the most “legs” and the most impact. The story itself has spawned countless sermons, bible studies, pieces of art, meditations and devotionals. The fact is that the story strikes home in our hearts in so many manners…it is piercingly true and spiritually incisive. When the Bible talks about the power of God’s Word in the book of Hebrews…that it is “sharper than any two-edged sword,” well, if that definition was in a dictionary with a specific external reference…the prodigal son (aka the “waiting, loving Father” story) story would be in the limelight.

A few things to remember about the story – it comes from the heart of God. It is more about God than us…though its personal impact is immeasurably profound. Jesus was a metaphorical teacher rather than conceptual. He created meaning like an artist and a poet rather than a philosopher or academic. So Jesus’ goal in this story, to encourage those who sense no grace and to challenge those whose pride leads them to believe that they always have to be at the “front of the line,” is masterfully communicated through metaphor and characters to which everyone can relate. One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, once said that “metaphor is the Only Possible language available to Religion.” He is SO right! Metaphor is “honest” in its approach to mystery, especially spiritual mysteries. Metaphor carries, invariably, MORE meaning, not less. For how else could we explain the essence of the nature of our God except through means that come alive in our imaginations and hearts. Metaphors allow us to reframe, reorganize, and reset the core meanings of our lives again and again. Jesus used parables (which already had a rich history in Judaism) not as a delivery system for an idea but rather as a means to invite readers/hearers to take up residence” in the story.

The Parable of the Lost Son/Parable of the Waiting Father/Parable of the Stubborn Son (Luke 15 is the specific reference) is embedded in Luke’s gospel within a contextual conversation with religious leaders. There were few things that got Jesus’ goad – pride, hypocrisy, spiritual stubbornness and arrogance always touched off in and through Jesus a pointed response and challenge. In Luke 15, Luke tells us as a response to a conversation with those religious leaders, Jesus “machine guns” (rapid-fire, so to speak) three stories…each tells something about who God is and how God acts.

Even though the parable begins simply (verse 11-12, “dad had two sons”), it soon unfolds to the reader that this isn’t some ordinary story. For example, if any middle eastern son in Jesus’ context requested his inheritance from a healthy father, it would have been understood that he was essentially saying, “dad, why don’t you drop dead.” The fact that the father, who had every right to get angry, slap boy in the face and/or drive him out of the house, DIDN’T respond as such would have been shocking to Jesus’ crowd.

Throughout the story, the action of the Dad is breathtaking. The father’s actions are unique and marvelous. It was Jesus’ way to highlight the fact that God’s actions HAVE NOT been performed by any earthy father in the past. It would have been at this point, where there would have been a critical interaction between the storyteller and audience…for the audience is drawn in now. They are no longer objective observers because every one of these people listening to Jesus had very specific ideas of what was right and wrong. For Jesus’ first-century audience, these moves by the son were powerful and repulsive. But I want you to understand…the reason they are repulsive isn’t because the son breaks the law (Torah) but rather because he broke relationship (with the father). You see, “sin” is not necessarily something that perpetrated against a hard, cold law. Sin is something that damages relationship (with God and others – greatest commandment NOT to keep commandments but to LOVE God and others). There is no doubt that the son is a lawbreaker, but what was really offensive and unthinkable was what the son had done to his family and community. That’s why the acceptance of the father of his wayward son is so poignant and transformative. The son’s actions went right to the core of his most basic relationships…he betrayed trust; he turned his back on love and acceptance; the prodigal is a prodigal because a relationship is broken and, until the dramatic action of the father, bound to lead to personal shame and destruction.

Then starting in verse 20, the dad, who is the real focal point of the story, begins to act and his actions change not only one boy’s young life but the rest of human history. The dad sees his broken son at a great distance. He’s been out there, on street looking…why? Because he knows once his son sets foot in town, he WILL BE badly treated (and rightly so) by the village. Yet, dad has a plan…to reach the kid before he sets foot in village and protect him from harm and shame. Jesus’ point is remarkably clear – the person from which you would expect judgment demonstrates just the opposite – compassion. “Compassion” in Greek and Hebrew is a “GUT WORD”…it arises deep from within the character and nature of an individual…in this case, our God! The intimacy of an embrace, the initiating of loving acceptance…all this played out IN PUBLIC, has HUGE implications for how we understand God. Friends, God’s love is public. It is not just a private, “me and Jesus” thing. The cross and empty tomb are public truths. It is all the story of God’s public mission to unveil the mysteries of His will and love to us through Jesus (see Ephesians 1 for more). Jesus is saying, “this is what God does”…the father in the story moves from his house onto the street (image of incarnation); he seeks the lost and hurt one (image of humiliation and identification with brokenness (see c.f. Philippians 2 – “emptied himself…”) and restores those lost and damage to full inheritance as sons and daughters. The parable is a metaphor is about God – HIS nature – HIS action toward you and me. It is about His love, a COSTLY love…a love is that is poured all over the son even before the son makes a confession. You see, the love of the father was there before the son departed, while the son was gone and especially during the son’s restoration. Paul once wrote in Ephesians 2 – “you were once far off, NOW you have been brought near by Jesus.” Friends, God’s love is VISIBLE…it is tangible. It is not just a feeling but something that is palatable and meant for you today! Not just so that you’ll know of love but that your identity will be restored as a beloved child of the King. This is a story of HUGE love – not love pressed and contained in time..but timeless and eternal and personal love for you and me. Will you let that love restore you where you are in these very moments? Yes, it is easy to question the core of who you are…we all mess up and we easily fall into the trash bin of our own self-condemnation. We question our identity as children of the Heavenly King…we question His care…we doubt His love. But the love of OUR Lord looks down the dust-filled streets of our wayward choices and actions…Jesus keeps seeking after you when the best you can muster is a desire to trade in your inheritance as a beloved child for the pittance of the pigpens of life. You don’t have to look for God’s love out in the distance…for Jesus comes to you with costly love. His embrace is one that can transform even the hardest of hearts and the most stubborn of wills. His love melts the resistant soul and breaks the bonds of the presumption of our own goodness. It is the love of Jesus that is reaching out to you today, ready to put a ring on your finger, cover you with a robe of righteousness that you can’t achieve on your own and throw for you the biggest feast in the history of the cosmos. Remember? God so loved…that “so loved” is meant for you! Open your hands and heart and receive it again this very moment!

More isn’t Better!

1More isn’t better – It’s exhausting and counter-productive

The editor of a GREAT blog started “thinking out loud” and, in the process, requested a bit more from a reply that I posted to “Volunteers Wanted.” This issue has been the story of much of my professional life in the Church.  Without bringing up at all any thoughts regarding the differentiation between “volunteers” and those using their gifts in ministry as an expression of their unique Kingdom calling, I’ll wade into the invitational waters.

I never thought I would say this much less write it, but I’ve lived a good majority of my 65 years of life involved in some manner or form of “Church.”  From parachurch ministries to outdoor ministries…from small congregational ministries to what used to be regarded as “large” church settings.  Thanks to the Lord, I’ve never had the opportunity to live my Kingdom life within the sphere of the megachurch.  There is a part of me that cringes simply imagining the intensity of financial and organizational pressure that goes along with the management of any large “company.”  As a “churchworld” (I’ll define that term below) leader, my responsibilities have ranged from that which would be regarded by some as the sphere of the Senior Pastor to the leadership of a plethora of “sub-ministries” including children’s, youth, music, small groups, leadership and theological/biblical development.  So, in regard to this issue of “Volunteerism” and what it takes these days to not only “do” ministry but enable and equip Jesus following people to be responsive to the call of God upon their lives, I’ve had my share of experience.

I must say that I’ve made some drastic, strategic and, in my mind, God-honoring changes in my ministry philosophy over the past two decades.  Much of those changes have occurred because of witnessing the futility and counter-productivity of the “more is better” mentality.  I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. We operated under with the mindset that the “calendar HAD to be full.”  Subsequently, it was.  It wasn’t simply the fact that I was out of my home probably five to six out of seven nights per week, but we constantly felt the overwhelming pressure as leaders to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved. The key aspect of the previous phrase is “pressure people”…and, trust me, that’s what happened.  When Christendom ruled, the belief stood that the Church should be the center of life.  And, in some respects, Christendom did appropriately draw one’s faith journey into a rich life of worship, fellowship, and encouragement in faithfulness. Yet what has occurred over time as many Christians have bemoaned Christendom’s demise is that a form of institutional tyranny arose in its place.  The Church was no longer the center of culture, so Church people formed a hybrid (more of a mutation) of Christendom to take its place – something I call, “churchworld.”  When I talk about “churchworld” I am attempting to put into approachable language some way to clarify the overwhelming, insatiable “hunger” of religious institutionalism to demand the whole of a person’s life and attention.  “Churchworld” is one-part theme park and one-part assembly line…one part “money pit” and one-part shopping mall.  It is built upon the values of consumerism and utilitarianism – in other words, how can we get the most out of people in order to give back to people what we perceive they need.  In my humble opinion, that’s what “churchworld” does…just as the price of a ticket to any Disney park has insanely and prohibitively increased in cost for day’s excursion, so has the “cost” in time, energy, money, and “personnel” of feeding the demands of “churchworld.”  My wife and I have adult children that are involved in “churchworld” ministries.  They constantly give witness to the increasing demands for the totality of their lives to be focused on sustaining the institution’s strategy of ministry.  They have shared with me the fact that many people who are their friends in the Lord have made it a habit to leave churches after a year or so simply because of the increasing burdens and demands of involvement.  Once involved in feeding the “beast,” it is hard to back away graciously without risking the subsequent woes and grief given by overwhelmed staff.  I would never coin myself as a predictive prophecy individual, yet it doesn’t take much forethought to see the coming fall of “churchworld.”  One of my favorite authors, John Kavanaugh compares Ancient Rome’s adherence to “bread and circus” (the book, Following Christ in a Consumer Society; John Drane says the same in his books on the McDonaldization of the Church) to that of “churchworld’s” fascination with entertainment and feeding/attracting the masses.

Contrast that experience with what happened in my life as a leader and fellow disciple when I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion and sense of calling for that ministry.  Some call this ministry strategy, “Organic.”  Truthfully, that kind of language aptly describes what occurs in reality.  The kingdom of God that Jesus described is viral, organic and, by nature, a movement.  It grows where no apparent strategy or potential can be found…and it lives, not by human energy and ingenuity, but by spiritual mystery.  In the organic ministry realm, we are much more apt to be praising God for his leadership and fruitfulness in people’s lives than praising ourselves for the plethora of activities that we can effectively manage and multiply by sheer effort and relational intimidation.  Personally, I found so much freedom living as a living “organism.”  With that mindset, with a renewed embrace of the dynamic spiritual nature of the Body of Christ, I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul.  For example, in my current congregational setting, we have a few teenagers who would benefit from a good youth ministry program.  Now, I could for a ministry team, hire a youth worker and build an entire infrastructure to handle that ministry need…that’s the programmatic approach.  Even so, we have no one in the church who is sensing the “call” of God to form another program.  In the past, I would have beaten down people in an attempt to build another program.  I chose not to do that.  Instead, I called a pastor friend of mine who leads another church in town.  They have an amazing youth ministry program and have built a solid ministry strategy to disciple teens.  I talked to the pastor; told him I was interested in “investing” the kids in our church into their youth ministry program.  I felt that partnership was more important than simply duplicating what is happening right down our street (so to speak).  I talked to the parents of the teens, the youth themselves and now they are loving what God is doing in their lives as they participate in that other church’s ministry.  Some might say, “well, aren’t you fearful that you will lose that family to that other church?”  No, I’m not and if they did leave, I would bless them on their way.  I’m not going to try to be “all things to all people” any longer.  I’m not going to fear ministry partnerships…in fact, I want so desperately to affirm them.

Church, at least in what I read in the New Testament, has more to do with organic living than most people want to admit.  I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about 1/2 of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier. The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. This explains why Jesus did not ask us to go and “make gatherings or churches or home groups or…”  He did not ask us to go and “make house churches.”  He said, “go and make disciples.”  Discipling viral disciplers is the end game.  This places YOU and ME squarely in the midst of reproductive life that the kingdom is intrinsically about.  We become movement-starters, not church-starters.  We release disciples who will influence the world throughout their lifetime and beyond.  When we start “churches, communities, meetings, etc.”, our focus tends to be on the communal gathering—what to do, how to do it, what it looks like, etc.  We may say to ourselves that we are learning to “be” the church but often our priority remains on developing the structure/form/institution.  When following Jesus and inviting others to follow him becomes our focus (discipling viral disciples), we have to shift from the “gathering” mentality to the “lifestyle-going” mentality.  This shift will propel us from being church-starters to movement starters (where churches and gatherings spring up along the way).

One more thought  – consider “wiki-based ministry.”   In other words, I desire to build a “Collaboration based” ministry environment. I believe that God is active in EVERY person so that our community creates meaning – our ministry partnership is a reflection of a descriptive process with no prescribed meaning; we fix us, no experts are needed; leadership teams and pastors are good but only one of the gifts of community.  We believe in a distinctly relational ecclesiology.  That is organic…that is a celebration of less is more.

For more information on Ministry Dynamics and Organic Systems – download a document here.



Re-post – “Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women? (Musings on Science and Theology, thanks!)

Here’s a great post that I, essentially, “borrowed.”  Musings on Science and Theology is an awesome blog that regularly reviews books and articles that impact contemporary Christianity.  This article is worthy of your attention…most of the culture, in my opinion, is not asking this question…this is a question I hear more from WITHIN the Church than outside of it.  I think the culture “gets” the idea of equality (in fact, culture fights for equality).  The Church?  Now that’s another story.  There are ALL sorts of subtle and blatant issues in the Church regarding misogyny and keeping “women in their place”…which primarily means out of key leadership and “submissive” within marriage.  That’s why this article is worthy of your attention.  In addition, the author actually “takes on” the book he is reviewing for NOT going far enough when it comes to our mutual “submission” to each other in Christ.  But you can read that for yourself…

hans_memling_-_triptych_of_jan_crabbe_-_wga14810Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women?
How can you be a Christian?

In my experience there are three big subtexts to this question these days, science, women, and sexuality. Other questions are important as well … but these are the showstoppers.

How can you be a Christian when it is antiscience, oppresses women, and is homophobic?

Rebecca McLaughlin addresses these as seven, eight, and nine in her book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion….

The short answer to the second question doesn’t Christianity denigrate women? is a resounding no. Christianity might not go as far as some in our culture today would like, but it certainly does not denigrate women. Women play important roles in many places throughout Scripture. I’ve highlighted a wide selection of these in several posts – most recently A Look at Biblical Womanhood and Women of the New Testament.

Rebecca emphasizes the way women are portrayed in the Gospels to make the point.

The portrayal of women in the Gospels – particularly in Luke’s Gospel – is stunningly countercultural. Luke constantly pairs men with women, and when he compares the two, it is almost always in the woman’s favor. Before Jesus’ birth, two people are visited by the angel Gabriel and told they are going to become parents. One is Zechariah who becomes John the Baptist’s father. The other is Jesus’ mother Mary. Both ask Gabriel how this can be. But while Zechariah is punished with months of dumbness for his unbelief, Mary is only commended. (p. 136)

The pairings continue – with Simeon and Anna, the lost coin and the lost sheep, the parable of the persistent widow followed by the pharisee and the tax collector. The Twelve were all male – but for the most part, the segregation stops there. Women were with Jesus and involved in his ministry from beginning to end, at the cross, the first at the empty tomb. And turning to Acts, they were with the apostles in Jerusalem where … They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (1:14)

Many of the first converts in Acts or mentioned in Paul’s letters are women, important for the prominent roles they play … Junia, Lydia, Priscilla among them.

There is a reason why women are heavily represented in the church today and throughout history. For all the human failings that crop up from time to time, women acknowledged as equal before God. “Jesus’s valuing of women in unmistakable. In a culture in which women were devalued and often exploited, it underscores their equal status before God and his desire for personal relationship with them.” (p. 138)

Paul puts it succinctly in Gal. 3:26-29: So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This is powerful stuff.

But then we come to marriage. Here Rebecca and I part ways, slightly. This isn’t surprising in a book published by Crossway and TGC. She looks at Ephesians 5:21-33 (below) and focuses on the metaphor. “Ultimately, my marriage isn’t about me and my husband any more than Romeo and Juliet is about the actors playing the title roles.” (p. 140) and later “Ephesians 5 grounds our roles in marriage not on gendered psychology but on Christ-centered theology.” (p. 141) Here is the point as I paraphrase it – when we play our proper roles in marriage we are enacting the metaphor and mirroring God to the world. Women submit as to God and husbands love as Christ.

But read the passage below. Is this really about enacting a metaphor? I would suggest that the first line interprets the whole. It is about mutual submission in a partnership before God that revolutionizes relationships. Paul uses a metaphor that illustrates the truly revolutionary nature of our relationships in Christ. Throughout history, husbands have generally been the ones with power and have often exercised it for their own benefit and women have often resorted to nagging and subterfuge (a kind of revolt) to assert and strengthen their own positions. I rather expect that this was as true in the first century Greek and Roman world as at any other time in history. But in the Christian message, this should all go out the window along with many other human failings. Positions of power should be exercised on behalf of the others involved, and this includes the husband’s role toward the wife. The socially acceptable practice of women gossiping about and undermining their husbands is no better than practice of autocratic authority.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. … However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

No mere human truly stands in the place of Christ. But we are all called to follow his lead. Marriage isn’t about authority and submission. When the topper question is “who gets the last word?” the focus is entirely wrong.

But on this Rebecca and I both agree. The command to follow Christ does not denigrate women, in fact, it empowers and promotes women in ways that are more often than not revolutionary in the surrounding culture.

Much more could be said. Rebecca has a discussion of abortion and sexual freedom, both issues where Christianity is said to denigrate women. And she does not really touch on the questions surrounding women in ministry. But this is a good start.

The GOOD NEWS and why it is GOOD and what you should do about it!

3Over the past couple of weeks in our faith communities in Idaho, we’ve been talking about “evangelism.” Over the years and for many Jesus followers, just hearing the word raises fear, apprehension, nervousness, and even a sense of regret. For it has been the experience of many Christians that evangelism in our past has been filled with feelings almost like that of a phobia…we were taught a “content-driven” formula and then “guilted” to act. That frightens many people to death! Many of us, compelled by guilt, have traded integrity filled, loving relationship or friendship with a manipulative “presentation” of the Gospel that was centered more on BAD news (or scary news) than GOOD NEWS.

Yet, don’t miss this – the GOOD NEWS (Jesus – Jesus IS the Gospel) can change and transform people’s lives as it has ours and Jesus calls us to share simply what we have experienced in a relationship with Him. As we share Jesus, we want to build and have real, integrity filled, loving relationships with people without some hidden, manipulative agenda. As we share Jesus, we want to LIVE OUT the presence of Jesus in and through our lives in such a manner that the GOOD NEWS is not only GOOD NEWS but redemptive, transformational news. As we share the GOOD NEWS, we want to do so in a manner that does NOT come with relational or spiritual threat but comes to people from the love that we have for them that is just as everlasting, just as unconditional, just as life-changing as the love and grace that we have received from Jesus ourselves.

So, every Jesus follower MUST be clear on the GOOD NEWS we share. What is the GOOD NEWS and why is it good?

Well, GOOD NEWS is what changes our past and that which affects our present and also completely changes our expectation for the future…Jesus has impacted our past, and continues to change our present while giving us a HUGE promise for our future.

The GOOD NEWS changes our future because the GOOD NEWS is filled with the reality of Jesus and His kingdom coming in full. That’s the fulfillment and the answering of our prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s the promise that we recite every week in the Apostle’s Creed – “I believe in the HS, the holy Christian church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” That’s a vision of eternity in relationship with God and each other. The GOOD NEWS reminds us what is in store for you and me through Jesus (the GOOD NEWS) – we don’t have to fear the biggest enemy of humankind…death. Jesus conquered death – Jesus put to death, death, and through Jesus and God’s eternal love, we don’t live under a curse, but under a promise that when we breathe our last, that we walk through an open door into the eternal presence of God.

Now, all of that is VERY GOOD NEWS! The question is though is, “why not just stop there?” Well, what we are discovering more and moreover the years is that a faith and GOOD NEWS that doesn’t change the PRESENT isn’t really the good news that most people want. Most people can’t even think about what’s going on tomorrow, so thinking about eternity is a whole nother story. Faith (Jesus) has to change the PRESENT. People need to see that Jesus isn’t just about “pie in the sky when you die” but that the good news changes the present. If we could just catch a glimpse that God wants to invade the here and now with His Kingdom and His presence, it would change the way we LIVE. Jesus wants to invade every area of your life with the Kingdom. In other words, it’s not enough for us to just embrace the new reality of the work of the cross and empty tomb FOR us and our future, it also must work IN us for our present; it needs to embody how we live our lives. When we have truly encountered God and His grace, we are changed…we are transformed…we have a new identity TODAY!

The Apostle Paul wrote some interesting and relevant words in 2 Corinthians 5:

“For if we are beside ourselves (literally, “out of our mind” it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls (compels) us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”

Paul had a HUGE story…he had everything going along in life VERY well, but then Jesus invaded his life. He went from respectability and authority and status to, well, soon after following Jesus he got shipwrecked, thrown in a prison, beat up, and riots broke out wherever he traveled. He exchanged a very predictable, good life for a very unpredictable, tough life. People in his time most likely wondered why ANYONE would do that! But right here in 2 Corinthians 5, he tells us why – he’s going through all hardships that he is going through for one reason – he was compelled by love he had experienced. That love changed his life and his relationships and how he DID every aspect of his life. The love of God for him caused him to fall in love with Jesus Christ which then caused him to share in God’s love for people…love compelled him. Paul wasn’t motivated by any law code. He wasn’t motivated by any should or fear or guilt because Paul knew that being motivated by love and love only is always the only kind of fuel that the kingdom of God can run on. Read that clearly friends – LOVE is the only fuel that the Kingdom of God can run on. Good doctrinal understanding and adherence is just that…good.

Participation in the Body of Christ is something that should be the bedrock of every Jesus follower’s existence. Love for God’s Word is something that should cause our hearts to beat fast as well. But it is NOTHING ELSE BUT SHARING LOVE, sharing IN God’s love and living OUT that love in our lives to others that really should be that which marks our lives. When it comes to sharing faith in Jesus, don’t be compelled by legalism. Don’t be compelled by “shoulds,” “oughts,” or “guilt.” Anytime evangelism is motivated by any of those realities, it is just not right. But it’s altogether different when you’re compelled by love. You see, the GOOD NEWS changes your present…it changes your motivation for living. We are now compelled to share our lives and live out our faith in our everyday lives. Once you have experienced Jesus, the goodness of Jesus, is going to ooze out of you. If you’re going to be a bearer of GOOD NEWS, it is going to come naturally.

So, what is evangelism? How do we live out the good news? First of all, the GOOD NEWS should change the way you look at people. In other words, who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing should change the lens you use when you look at the world. In Jesus, you see people differently. Remember that Paul also wrote that IN JESUS the old things have passed away? You see, the cross changed everything not just for you but every person you see. One of the ways that changes everything, Jesus starts to reveal, challenge and then collapse your judgment mechanisms. You know this – we all have this compulsive thing that we do where we judge and assess people. We often don’t know that we do it, but we do – because we’re so used to doing it. We look at people and we decide what we agree with or we don’t agree with; what we like what we don’t like; there’s a gossip column going on in our brain. But if you allow the Holy Spirit to collapse those judging mechanisms and you start agreeing with God that because of what Jesus did every person you see has got unsurpassed worth it if you do that, you begin to see what God sees. You begin to see what God sees and then you begin to love what God loves. That’s the love that compels us towards evangelism that neighbor of yours.

Friends, some of your friends think they really are worthless. But you know they are not…they have got unsurpassed worth in the heart of God. Some of your friends are miserable because they think they’ve done the unforgivable sin. But you know that all sin has been taken care of two thousand years ago on a cross of love. Some of your friends think that they’re going to be addicted the rest of their lives and that they are no better than that. But you know that that addicted self was crucified 2000 years ago. And better yet, you know that the gulf between those two things creates a yearning in your heart (because God is changing your heart to be more and more like Jesus’ heart) to set people free.

Friends, that is our message. This is the good news. God’s not holding your sin or anyone’s sin against them. God is 110 percent in favor of you and every person you meet! Because of the Cross and empty tomb, everything has been changed. When you see anyone, you know that God is on their side. That He’s for them. He just wants to have a relationship with them.

Friends, because of Jesus, you have “new creation” eyes and those eyes, the eyes/lens of Jesus, sees every person you see as one for whom Jesus died and therefore they have unsurpassed well worth. I encourage you to consider this – when you find yourself thinking these “old creation” thoughts, those judgmental thoughts, self-righteous thoughts, ask the Lord for the Spirit’s power and love to put them aside and agree with God that that person that you are with has unsurpassed worth in the heart of God. And lastly, pray that you can become a blessing “machine” in life. Bless everyone you see. Friends, we’re missionaries here on assignment. We’re ambassadors and our job is to demonstrate God’s love by how we live day to day. If you have any judgments towards anyone, put them aside and pray a blessing on them. I pray that you see the world with new creation eyes and be a new creation person compelled by the love of God to spread good news (of Jesus) to people who very desperately need it. That’s our call…that’s our purpose!

I like this – God is present in the “mess” of the moment

1From Robin – I ran into the devotional today – while Vicky’s and my house is completely torn apart because of “winter” damage back in February, we are finally neck-deep in contractors, painters, and a HUGE mess.  Many of you know that I can thrive in chaos…been there and done that.  Even so, at home, I have a LOW tolerance for chaos.  I like things “well oiled” and organized…Vicky and I share the same comfort zone and passion for order.  So, while I am smelling fresh paint fumes, sitting in a back bedroom because there is no where else to sit for the next several days, hearing sawing going on the outside of my home and feeling completely “crazed” because of it all, the words – “God is present not only in prayer and meditation rooms but also in the dense fertility of life crashing everywhere” make complete sense!  See if you agree!

From Ann Voscamp’s blog – guest contributor, Catherine McNiel

“I step outside to call my children: Time to stop playing and get in the car! Ten minutes ago, I sent them out, washed and dressed, so I could finalize the last-minute details for today’s family party.

A rookie mistake, obviously.

“Why are we on earth if not to dive right in?”

As they streak past me, I notice that something has gone very, very wrong.

My darling daughter’s face, neck, hands, and sundress are streaked with raspberry juice.

And my son—oh my abundant-life son—has covered his entire head with mud. Literally, the only thing I can see is his bright and shining eyes.

I scream for everyone to stop.

They freeze, caked hands clutching door handles. Texting my parents to apologize for what I’m confident will be a lengthy delay, I gingerly place a child under each arm and head for the shower.

I can’t be mad. I can’t be anything other than shaking with laughter.

What is summer if not dripping with delights, imploring us to get our hands dirty, inviting us to immerse our faces in the abundance and relish the richness of it all?

Why are we on earth if not to dive right in? My children were merely flourishing, answering the call of life as they were made to do.

Here is the wild paradox of creation: God ordered the world out of chaos, but the verdancy of life results in a whole new kind of chaos.

“Life exists only inside messy, colliding relationships.”

Clearly, God’s purpose in organizing a formless void into millipedes, jellyfish, hedgehogs, and poison ivy was not so we could sit restfully in a meditative state.

We stubbornly hope that life will leave us more or less alone in peace and quiet, that the forces of nature and human nature will be straightforward and controllable, bending to our own dictation.

But life exists only inside messy, colliding relationships. From the sperm and the egg, the bee, and the pollen, life is about crashing into each other—for better or for worse (and most of the time, a good bit of both).

We celebrate that God made order and form out of emptiness, but there’s another angle to consider.

God had an eternity of time in which He alone existed, in triune unity.

Can you imagine the harmony? Why mess that up with a garden?

I can exhibit a great deal of love, peace, and self-control when I’m in a room by myself, as long as you don’t introduce anyone else into the picture.

What was it like when God and God alone reigned in the vacuum of unformed reality?

But this peace and quiet, this overflowing of goodness and righteousness was not, apparently, the ambiance God was going for. While it may sound heavenly to me, harmonious solitude is not what our Creator pronounced good.

“We’d like to think that real goodness, Godliness even, lies in the silence, the solitude, the ordered, clean, and controlled.”

God decided to mix things up in a major way.

The Creator is a Gardener. Like my son, He gets His hands dirty.

The story told in Genesis 2 depicts God planting purposely, beginning a world swarming with life. Into this story, God adds a human, living alone in God’s presence.

Again, I wonder: Why mess this up? So nice, just the two of them in paradise.

Yet in God’s creative scheme, one is not enough for the collisions necessary for abundance. God creates a second human—and still, the resulting chaos isn’t enough.

He orders the two to increase, to multiply, to make more and more and more life. More noise, more chaos, more crashing and colliding, more cacophony.

It seems that God thrives and rejoices in the pandemonium of living things bumping constantly against each other—and believes that we do too.

Anyone who has attempted living both alone and in a crowded household knows that much fulfillment comes out of relationships, but also a great deal of clamor and crazy. We flourish through jumping into the crazy, by surrounding ourselves with creation and burgeoning abundance.

This isn’t how we want to picture goodness, most of us.

“God is present not only in prayer and meditation rooms but also in the dense fertility of life crashing everywhere.”

We don’t like the constant jostling and treading on feet, don’t want to be tripped up by crowds, nibbled by gnats, bombarded by smells, harangued by noise.

We’d like to think that real goodness, Godliness even, lies in the silence, the solitude, the ordered, clean, and controlled.

But our Creator doesn’t seem to agree.

Everything about what He made is alive, teeming and swarming and crawling and howling.

The only alternative to abundance is death.

Life is where He is.

In the towering storms and bubbling brooks, in the crying babies and chatty neighbors, in the watermelon juice dribbling off our chins, in the scuttling chipmunks and soaring dolphins.

This crazy, abundant, bombardment of sights and smells and sounds is where He delights, where He hangs out, where we can find Him.

God is present not only in prayer and meditation rooms but also in the dense fertility of life crashing everywhere.

Another AWE-inspiring devotional from Ann Voscamp

c9062-6a00d83451607369e20133ec6903b1970b-piThis woman is not only prolific but amazingly insightful and profound.  All it took is for me to read the FIRST LINE of this devotional and I was hooked!  I can’t help but repost some of Ann’s devotionals because many of you who read MY blog may not have exposure to this fine Christian woman and author.  In addition, I was preparing to lead a song this Sunday at our worship experience in McCall, Idaho that professes much of the same themes that Ann covers in her post.  So, there was an immediate connection between what she was writing and how I was musically working through a new song.  So, enjoy this devotional…I’m going to highlight some aspects of it that are especially meaningful to me and that which you should NOT ignore.

How to be okay even when things aren’t okay
JULY 10, 2019 by ANN VOSKAMP

It’s okay to feel bone tired — you have One who gives His bone and His body for you and beckoned: Come Rest.

It’s okay to feel disillusioned — you have One who destroys cheap illusions of perfection and offers you His.

It’s okay to feel done — you have One who listens to the last nail being driven in and proclaims all the hellish things finished.

It’s okay to feel battered and bruised — you have One who storms your battles, takes back everything that needs a comeback, and proves His side won.

It’s okay to feel a bit like a fool — you have One who proves that real love always makes anyone the wisest fool who gives more, lives more, forgives more, because love defies logic because love is the self-giving, cruciform foolishness that is the ultimate wisdom of the universe.

It’s okay to feel behind — you have One who is the Head and the Author and the Maker and the Finisher and the Carrier and the Warrior and nothing is over until He carries you over the finish line.

It’s okay to feel on the outside — you have One who is passionate about you on the inside, who wants to be with you so desperately, He moves into you, gets into your skin, so you’re never alone, dwells in you, moves into your empty places, your rejected places, your abandoned places and fills you with chosenness and wholeness and with-ness — because He knows the fulfilled life is an inside job.

It’s okay to feel spent — you have One who pays you all His attention, who says you are worth costing Him everything — and then He bought you back from the pit because you are priceless to Him.

It’s okay to feel whatever you feel — “because you don’t judge your feelings; you feel your feelings—and then give them to God.”

“Feelings are meant to be fully felt and then fully surrendered to God.”

“Pain begs to be felt—or life will beg you to feel not one emotion at all. Emotion means movement — and emotions are meant to move you toward God.” ~ The Broken Way

It’s okay to not feel okay — because you have One — who made you His one.

You have One who left the clamor of the 99, to find you, remind you, remake you, rename you, release you.

You have One who is more ready to forgive what you’ve done than you are to forget,

“His love for you is magnetic, His welcome of you is galactic, His purpose through you is cosmic, His commitment to you is stratospheric, and His hope in you is meteoric.”
One who is more ready to give you grace, than you are to give up,

One who is more than ready to always stand with you, than you are to run.

One who is a greater lover, rescuer, savior, friend— than you have ever imagined Him to be even when your love for Him is most on fire.

This week, these worries, this world, may leave you feeling a bit depressed — but you have a God who is obsessed with you.

His love for you is magnetic, His welcome of you is galactic, His purpose through you is cosmic, His commitment to you is stratospheric, and His hope in you is meteoric.

It’s beautiful how that goes:

Whatever the story is today — it’s okay. Because we know the ending — and how it will be the beginning of the truest happily ever after.

Whatever the story is today — it’s okay. Because the Writer of the story has written Himself into the hardest places of yours and is softening the edges of everything with redeeming grace.

From Robin – One more thing, if I were you, I would subscribe to Ann’s email devotionals NOW!  You won’t regret it!