Biblical Stories about Women are for You Too Brothers – a Woman’s Invitation

[Today’s guest post is from Nadine Bent-Russell.]

About 8 years ago I heard a man preach about God’s plan for women and how we are all equal. He humbly spoke about the fact that some women are abused by their husbands who are pastors. I felt healing going through my body as I sat in my seat hearing such transparent truth. Even before that transformational day, I was fortunate to be in a church during my 20s that ordained women much to the chagrin of the convention of which our church was a part.

The man I heard was Lee Grady, the Director of The Mordecai Project. Through him I learned much more about women in the Bible and God’s intention for women, and men for that matter. I was introduced to Christian Biblical Egalitarians International, The Junia Project and many other resources who have studied and published works about Biblical Equality.

All my life I have always known inside myself that we are equal, all of us, in all categories. I read about our equality in the word and drew these conclusions myself, but I never heard it expressly come from any pulpit until then. I never believed that any of us were supposed to be treated like second class citizens. As an example, even though slavery was in the Bible, I didn’t believe that God intended for us to experience bondage and inequality no matter our station in life. Not until I became an adult did I begin to hear of women being ordained or leading anything besides kitchen and children related duties in church.

Ain’t I a Woman?

I have heard many great sermons. Despite that, the first place I felt affirmed as the woman I am outside of my family, was in Women’s Studies courses I took many years ago, and not in the church. When I became an adult I kept running into people who seemed to relegate women to being accessories, sexual objects or somehow second class to men. It was even more disheartening to hear the jokes and ways women were represented by men and some women when preaching. On the rare occasions where women were the topic of a sermon it wasn’t the most empowering reflection for me. These experiences left me thinking, “ain’t I a woman?”

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated Mary’s obedience in receiving the news of mothering the Savior, especially at such a young age and unmarried at the time. What really impressed me was David facing and defeating Goliath, Moses facing off with Pharaoh and the many heroic acts of men. The most heroic thing I was used to hearing was about Esther getting King Xerxes to spare the Jewish people exposing Haman’s plot.

Let Us Accomplish Every Good Work

Then I ran across this blog. Tim’s posts and blog entries struck the perfect pitch for me and I was fueled to continue. Then I read his post Godly Women Teaching Godly Men is Godly (and Biblical). When considering this topic a few ideas that had been with me came rushing back and I posted on Facebook about them:

“I wonder if we accepted the true equality between men and women that God intended, would men read stories about women in the Bible like Proverbs 31, and take some lessons from those lives like women do from the lives of men?

This is another way that the tradition of belief that women cannot teach men hinders all of us. These stories are not just for women.

It would be amazing to hear a male pastor teach a lesson about Esther applicable to all of us and not just women.

#NotJustForWomen

As Tim commented on my Facebook post, “…If all scripture is useful for teaching, etc., then men are to learn from Proverbs 31, the life of Esther, and so on, as much as women.” This is a reference to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work.” (emphasis added).

This passage starts with the word “All” and ends with “so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work”. Brothers, I know, you may find yourself in the same place as I was before I met Lee Grady since we are all taught similarly. You may only know about a handful of biblical women. Have you considered the stories of the women in the Bible as instructive to you as the stories about men are to all of us? If we all want to be fully equipped for every good work, let us be edified by all scripture, not missing the lessons available in the lives of women.

The Invitation

Brothers, I invite you to discover and to be inspired by the stories of women in the Bible as you are by the stories about men.

My prayer is that more people will pick up books like Fearless Daughters of the Bible by Lee Grady and discover some action packed and heroic stories of women in the Bible. I pray that if you preach, that you will unapologetically teach about the lives of these women just like you do men. Then the warrior women in your congregation will have the opportunity to see themselves beyond kitchen and children duties and be like Martha’s sister, choosing “the good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

***

Nadine Bent-Russell is technical project manager who loves people as much as technology . She periodically blogs on Defying Gravity Talk. Has a degree in Political Science/Public Service and is a graduate of a school of ministry. Travels to many parts of the world and has had many experiences that she is writing about in a forthcoming memoir.

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Race, Gender, and Getting Called a Sissy

I write a lot about egalitarianism and how right doctrine builds up women and men in the family of God, and I expect to take it on the chin once in a while when someone who ascribes to male superiority disagrees more vehemently than most. That’s why comments like this one usually aren’t surprising.

“It is now of my opinion that you are either a sissy or a girl stuck in a guy’s body. There isn’t anything Christian about you. You aren’t a man, you aren’t manly and you probably smell like perfume all day. Dude, you got about one more post about the sissy girl side of things and you’re man card is gonna be revoked…” (Facebook comment.)

As I said, these types of comments usually aren’t surprising. But this one did surprise me since it came in an unusual context: I hadn’t written on egalitarianism and the church; I’d posted a quote on race.

“It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism some assume we’re protesting America.” Beyoncé

Beyoncé

The critical Facebook comment goes not to the quote’s substance but to the quote’s source. Beyoncé is a woman. She’s a woman who sings songs that apparently the commenter considers too womanly? Too feminine? Too girly? And who uses the word “sissy” any longer? That was out of circulation by the time I finished high school forty years ago. But apparently a man quoting a woman means the man actually must be either a woman or gay, as if women are not worth listening to on serious matters and as if men who are gay are not actually men?

The problem with the comment is not that it is directed at me. It’s that it reeks of misogyny and homophobia, while embracing racism by ignoring entirely the real point Beyoncé – a black woman – is making.

There are ways to engage what she said and whether there is merit to it or not. I posted Beyoncé’s thought-provoking quote to get that conversation going on my Facebook page. When the first comment posted is like that one, though, the conversation took a sharp turn from race to women’s rights. That is another worthy subject so I allowed the comment’s sub-thread to continue for people to respond. (Other comment threads spoke to the comment itself.)

As a number of the dozens of responses noted, the comment is dismissive as to racism, women, black women in particular, people who are LGBTQ, and men who write on these subjects. With this dismissiveness, commenters serve to silence all they consider unworthy of consideration – unworthy, that is, for anything but ridicule.

Oppressed People and Scripture Speaking

Notice that buried in the comment is also a dismissal of my faith, with the commenter setting himself up as arbiter of who follows Jesus. He’s as wrong on that point as any other, of course, because Jesus spoke up for people all the time. It’s even in Jesus’ first recorded sermon:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19.)

This wasn’t a new phenomenon, either, since Jesus was quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, and there are plenty of other Old Testament instructions on working to end oppression such as:

Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17.)

Give justice to the lowly and the orphan;
maintain the right of the poor and the destitute!
Rescue the lowly and the needy.
Deliver them from the power of the wicked! (Psalm 82:3-4.)

These passages tell God’s people how to love those around them, whether close by or far away. Dismissiveness is nowhere to be found. Jesus had harsh words for those who misrepresent God (as the Facebook commenter did by saying biblically-based concern for marginalized people is not consistent with being a Christian):

You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.” (Matthew 15:7-9.)

Here’s what merely human rules look like sometimes:

  • Dismissing a quote because its source is a woman is a merely human rule.
  • Deciding that a man can’t quote a woman is a merely human rule.
  • The idea of a “man card” and deciding who gets one and who doesn’t is a merely human rule.

Avoid merely human rules. Follow Jesus, care for the oppressed, seek justice, learn to do right – these are the ways God calls us to love others.

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Putting Jesus’ Commands in Context – Law or Love?

Toward the end of his life, John – who traveled with Jesus for years and became one of his closest companions – wrote a letter to some friends. One part has been often used out of context to place a burden on people that John never taught anywhere else and likely never meant to convey.

John in his later years (Wikipedia)

It has to do with belonging to Jesus:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6.)

The words “keep his commands” have been mistaken to require that Christians have to keep the Old Testament laws since that’s what Jesus did perfectly, without fail, without sin. Yet that’s not at all what the passage means, as its context dictates a completely different understanding of the commands of Jesus as John had learned them from Jesus himself.

There is a way to understand, from the context of John’s writings, the command of Jesus, though. It is found in God’s love.

The Law of Love

John went on to tell his readers:

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. (1 John 2:7, 9.)

He’s stating the command in the negative at first: don’t hate others. Later in the letter he turns to positive renditions of this command.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18.)

It is this love in action that shows God’s love to the world.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12.)

Some people go back to the part where John said “I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning” to suggest he is talking about the Old Testament laws and commands. That doesn’t work in the context of John’s writings. It doesn’t even work in the context of that one passage John wrote.

When he assures them it’s not a new command but an old one, he clearly points them not to the Old Testament writings but to what these believers had from the beginning. And then John goes on (as you have seen in these passages) to remind them of the command they received from the beginning: love people because God loves you.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. … We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:16, 19-21.)

Why does he emphasize this? Because it’s the same command John received directly from Jesus decades before.

Going Back to Jesus

Jesus, in his last night with his followers before he was arrested, put on trial, and executed on the cross, told them how to live after he was gone.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

John was there.

Young John with Jesus on that last night (Wikipedia)

He heard this as a very young man and taught it to others as a very old man.

Jesus did not say that everyone would know you follow Jesus if you add loving people to your efforts to follow Old Testament laws. He said they will know you belong to him if you love others. And that’s what John said in his letters to his own friends decades later.

You might read 1 John and point out places where he gave examples of falling short, sinning against others in ways that violate concepts found in the Old Testament. Yet if you consider those parts of the letter carefully, you see that they are each examples of treating others poorly, that is, failing to love them. The command underlying each of those instances is still the command to love others because God loves you.

Jesus made the same point when an expert in religious law questioned him on obeying commandments.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40.)

If you are loving God and loving others, you need not concern yourself with rules and regulations. And if you are not loving God and loving others, no amount of rule following will help you.

This is the context in which John wrote this letter to his friends, and 1 John 2:3-6 is about love and not law.

Keep loving.

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Men Advance the Kingdom of God While Women Retreat?

I’m not sure when or where I first saw this but it was about fifteen years ago: Real Men Don’t Retreat. Real Men Advance!

Looking closer, I saw it had to do with a men’s outing. That church was organizing a weekend in the woods somewhere for men to learn more about God together. I’m not a fan of institutionalized single sex gatherings in the family of God, but putting that quibble aside for a moment it’s worth noting some troubling aspects of this aversion to the word “retreat.”

“Real Men Don’t Retreat” is not in the Bible

To say “real men don’t retreat, they advance” runs counter to Scripture.

  • Elijah Fed by Ravens, Jan Luyken 1697 (Wikimedia)

    Elijah found a quiet place to rest when he needed a break. God did not chastise him but rather fed him and protected him and met him in that solitary place. (1 Kings 19.)

  • Jesus repeatedly took his friends to a quiet place to rest and prepare after long days of serving others. (Luke 21:37.)

The aversion to the word “retreat” appears to be rooted not in a desire to follow Scripture but in a cultural machismo about what people think “real” men should act like: don’t back down, don’t give an inch, and whatever you do don’t show weakness.

In reality, the real men who really go on these retreats don’t live that way. I bet if asked almost all would admit they wouldn’t want to live that way, either. The point of these types of gatherings – these retreats – is to take a break, have a time of rest, and become prepared for returning to the more active parts of life.

After all, these are not retreats in the sense of giving up ground. They are retreats in the sense of finding a place to rest and recuperate and rejuvenate. That’s what Elijah did on his own and that’s what Jesus did with his friends. It sounds like something men are supposed to do to me.

Women advance too

When a men’s gathering is advertised as an advance (because real men don’t retreat) and the corresponding women’s gathering is advertised as a retreat, the message is subtly spoken but has a powerful import: women retreat because they aren’t big and strong and macho like men.

In the context of God’s kingdom – which is the context for these church gatherings, after all – this teaches that men move the kingdom forward while women do not. Or, for those who recognize that the Holy Spirit is the one who moves through God’s people to achieve God’s purposes, it means the Spirit chooses men to advance the kingdom while not choosing women. Women sit on the sidelines.

Again, this is not borne out in Scripture.


  • Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus, Rembrandt 1627 (Wikimedia)

    Miriam, Deborah and Huldah were prophets used by God to lead and teach God’s people. (Exodus 15:20, Judges 4:4, 2 Kings 22:14.)

  • Anna the prophet announced Jesus’ birth to all gathered in the Temple, while Priscilla and her husband taught other teachers and led churches. (Luke 2:36-38, Acts 18:24-26, 1 Corinthians 16:19.)

These examples from the Bible are not the only times women are described doing things that are active and advancing the kingdom of God, but they serve as sufficient instances to show that the Holy Spirit works through women to advance the kingdom just as men are used to do the same.

Shedding the ungodly burden of being a “real” man

Another hurtful aspect of this theme about men not retreating is that it denies men the opportunity to express weariness, to feel hurt, to call out for help. It’s not that men won’t be weary, hurt and in need. It’s that telling men they only advance and never need a time of retreat tells them they shouldn’t feel those things, or at least they shouldn’t admit they feel that way.

Most organizers of these retreats wouldn’t come out and tell men to stifle these aspects of being human. They’d probably actually tell the men they should turn to one another for help when they are weary and hurt and in need. Yet words carry meaning. When men are told that real men advance and never retreat, any aspect of stepping back or taking time away comes with the message that this person is not a real man in the eyes of the church.

This is not how God made us. God made us like him, and when Jesus lived he showed us exactly what that means for all the people God has created.

  • Jesus got hungry. (Mark 11:12.)
  • Jesus got thirsty. (John 4:7.)
  • Jesus got tired. (John 4:6.)
  • Jesus wept. (John 11:32-36.)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Giacomo Franceschini (Wikipedia)

Jesus took time away – both with friends and by himself – to rest, recuperate and rejuvenate. If asked whether he was on a retreat or an advance, I don’t know what the answer would be. But I do know that from a modern language understanding, these are the aspects of taking time off and allowing a brief retreat in order to be prepared for what comes next.

It fits in with other oddly counter intuitive and contrary ways of the kingdom of God.

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (John 14:11.)

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:16.)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45.)

In light of Jesus’ teaching on living in God’s kingdom, retreating to advance makes complete sense. It’s not always go go go. Sometimes God’s people – men and women both – need a break. So feel free to retreat, and rest, and recuperate, and rejuvenate.

Just like Jesus did.

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Name Change for the Better – Courtrooms and Christ

One of the things I get to do in the courtroom is hear people’s requests for changing names. There was the little boy whose parents wanted to change his name to better reflect their faith and culture. Other people seek to honor grandparents by taking their names. Still others are women who have divorced and want their birth names back.

All of these are very serious matters for the people involved, even if sometimes the name change is quite a joyous occasion as well.

I remember one woman whose request I didn’t know whether to take seriously or not at first. She wanted to take the name Major General Deborah Smith. She wasn’t in the military. She just wanted that name. I looked further into the paperwork and saw that she was changing her name from Vice Admiral. Not Vice Admiral Deborah Smith, though. It was Vice Admiral Catherine Jones.

I don’t know whether she was born Smith or Jones. So when the day for the hearing came, I was interested in seeing whether she was playing some sort of game. It turned out she was merely a bit eccentric.

She just liked the sound of the new name and wanted to take it on, and since no laws were being broken in having that name (at least none that I knew of in my state) I granted her name-change petition. And even though I thought her a bit eccentric, this name change was serious to her.

Names With Spiritual Significance

The Bible takes names and name-changes seriously too.

  • The woman named Pleasant (Naomi) tells her friends to start calling her Bitter (Mara) after all the heartache she’s suffered. (Ruth 1:20.)
  • God’s prophets name their children in ways that signify the word of God to his people. (Isaiah 8:3, Hosea 1:4-8.)
  • God himself changed Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of many nations) and Jacob (deceiver) to Israel (struggles with God) because they were instruments of his covenant with his people.
  • And of course Jesus is the Name above all names, the one to which everyone will bow in worship. (Philippians 2:9-10.)

You also have a new name waiting for you as well (Revelation 2:17) and – on top of that – you bear the name of Christ for eternity. (Revelation 3:12.) You don’t even need to explain your reasons to a judge.

These names are yours because God gave them to you.

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A prayer for a cheap beer drinker

Falling down drunk
Onto the couch this time
Not the floor like last time … like last times

Face down
Head hung over the side
Hung over like he’ll be

Unless he has another can

Off the couch
To the fridge
The blessed can’s inside

On the couch
Looking down between his legs
Eyes not focusing

But he knows cans

Fumbling for the end
Fingers found the pop top
Pop

Eyes on the floor
There’s a book split open
Face up

He knows that book

It’s got lots of stories
About wine
And drunk people

People drunk
Like him
But on wine

Not cheap beer in a can

He remembers the story
About good wine
At a wedding

Made special
By a guest
Whose mother told him to help out

But he’s not at a wedding

The eyes see the book
Not the words
On the page or the can

But he knows what’s inside
The can holds what he wants
The book holds something else

One in his hand the other at his feet

Head back
Eyes closed
Lips mumbling

Words get lost
In the can he brings
Up to his mouth, again

A prayer for cheap beer

Or a question
Could he ever like wine
Or the guest?

The question
Could the guest
Ever like him?

A prayer for a cheap beer drinker
On a couch
Drunk

***

(c) Tim Fall 2018

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The Weekend I Drove a Red Corvette – blowing the doors off the ordinary

I walked from the car rental counter out to the parking lot, looking for my car in the space with the same number as my paperwork. There it was. A beige Corolla. To its left was a slightly less beige Corolla; to the right was a slightly more beige Corolla. I opened the trunk to put my garment bag inside and heard a voice from behind, right at my shoulder.

“Do you want the red Corvette or the silver one?”

I turned around and saw a rental car employee. He reached into the trunk and pulled out my garment bag.

“The red …?” I said as I followed him. He did have my garment bag, after all.

“I’ve got two Corvettes on the lot and I don’t want to keep them here over the weekend. Do you want the red one or the silver one?” He pointed to the two cars sitting side by side.

“Same price as the Corolla?”

He nodded.

“Red.”

He showed me how to retract the roof, where the luggage would fit behind the seat, and sent me on my way.

So I went on my way.

In a red Corvette.

Convertible.

Desert Highway

The flight from Northern California landed me seventy miles from the conference hotel. I’d always rented nondescript subcompacts to drive from the small airport to the conference every year up to then. A nondescript car is a mismatch to the extraordinary desert scenery along Interstate 10 east of Los Angeles.

This time I had a car to match the road.

Did I open it up to see what it could do? No. Landing oneself in the hoosegow on the way to a judicial conference is considered bad form.

The conference lasted four days. In the evenings, after spending all day in windowless conference rooms, I’d get in the car, put the top down, and drive through the desert drinking in the scenery and the desert fragrance.

I never did that in a subcompact car.

Extraordinary Living

Driving a beige subcompact or a red convertible analogizes well to life. Ordinary or extraordinary – the choice God offers is clear.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10.)

Too often I choose the nondescript subcompact way of life and it takes someone coming along and grabbing my luggage, leading me to the red convertible sports car, and putting the keys in my hand to make me realize there is a better drive at hand. That someone might be a friend, or a writer, or a singer, but I am convinced they are all sent by the One who is the true Author of Life. (Acts 3:11-16.)

This is the extraordinary life Jesus promised:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8.)

And this is the extraordinary life Paul spoke of:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13.)

So trust God: jump in, start the engine, and drive. You’re in for an extraordinary ride.

And unlike that red Corvette, you don’t have to hand the keys back at the end of the weekend.

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The Scars of Christ and Mothers – manifesting the glory of God

[Today’s guest post from Jennifer Michelle Greenberg explores pregnancy scars, the labor of Christ, and the glory of God.]

When I look down at my maternal body, I see a white line running from one side to the other. I feel the ache in my left hip where my tendon shredded during labor. I see the stretch marks, the loose skin, and the broken veins. I see scars.

Our culture tends to have a contradictory view of motherhood. On the one hand, moms are saints, pregnancy is beautiful, and childbirth is the miraculous epitome of love, joy, and hope. On the other hand, pregnancy is viewed as a freedom-curtailing curse, labor is avoidable via abortion, and children are a means by which women are oppressed by men.

Both of these views are damaging to women, and wildly unbiblical. Yes, sexism is real. Yes, motherhood is glorious, mundane, fulfilling, and agonizing all at the same time. So how do we, as Christians, handle the dichotomous beauty and trauma of childbearing?

It’s helpful to look at the three predominant childbirth metaphors used throughout Scripture to help us understand how God views pregnancy and labor. Once we understand how our Creator views these things, we can grasp at how the created should too.

  1. The Labor of Christ

In Isaiah 42, God compares the suffering of Christ to that of a mother giving birth, saying, “I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant … I will lead the blind in a way they do not know … I will turn the darkness before them into light …”

Just as a woman endures pregnancy and labor to give her children physical life, so Christ labored and agonized to give his children spiritual life. Even after Jesus rose from the dead he had scars. In his resurrected state, he bore the white gash of a spear in his side and gaping holes from nine-inch nails in his hands and feet.

The Incredulity of Thomas, Hendrick ter Brugghen, ca. 1622 (Wikipedia)

In John 20, we read about Thomas who couldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead until he’d witnessed it himself, saying, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Then Jesus appeared to Thomas and replied, “Peace be with you. Put your finger here and see my hands; put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, believe.”

The Holy Spirit healed Jesus but did not erase the evidence of his sacrifice. Why? Because scars are important. The marks of suffering mean something. They are irrefutable proof that love is more powerful than pain and death. They are signs of new life.

  1. The Endurance of the Church

Many times, the Church is compared to a woman in labor; suffering, straining, and eagerly awaiting the love and rest she anticipates after delivery. In Revelation 12:2-6, John poetically describes the Old Testament Church, Israel, as a woman in labor with the Savior of the world while being stalked by Satan, the dragon.

She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. … And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness … .

While Christ spiritually delivers us, Mary literally delivered Christ. Eve and Sarah are also said to have been “saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15), not because pregnancy or childbirth is salvific, but because their lineage – the DNA in their wombs – brought into being the God-Man Savior of the entire world. They biologically delivered Christ, and Christ spiritually delivered them from death. It’s a fun little play on words, as well as a glorious picture of the role women play in redemption.

While Eve, Rachel, Sarah, and all the other women of Jesus’ lineage physically delivered Christ, once he was born, we know that Satan – that dragon of old – tried multiple times to “devour” him. First, Herod had all the male babies and toddlers murdered (Matthew 2:13-18), but Mary and Joseph fled with baby Jesus to Egypt. The Pharisees and Jewish leaders plotted to kill Jesus for years (Matthew 27), until finally, when Judas betrayed Jesus, they succeeded.

The Massacre of the Innocents, Matteo di Giovanni, 1488 (Wikipedia)

Imagine the shock Satan must have felt, after gleefully watching the Son of God crucified, to see him defy death, rise again, and be “caught up to God and his throne.” Now, like Israel, newly freed from our slavery to sin, the Bride of Christ wanders in the wilderness on our journey toward the Promised Land of Heaven.

Paul extends the analogy of childbirth to the whole of creation in Romans 8:22-23, saying,

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Just as Israel and all of nature longed and groaned for the birth of Christ for thousands of years, so we – the New Israel and New Testament Church – now suffer and groan as we eagerly await the Second Coming of Christ, or our birth into Heaven.

Paul again uses the comparison to describe his ministry, laboring for the Galatians in chapter 4 in hopes of new spiritual Life born into their hearts. “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”

  1. The Horror of the Wicked

The third metaphor God uses is less hopeful. However, it demonstrates how well God understands the agony and trauma mothers endure. In Isaiah 13:8 the prophet compares the infliction of the wrath of God to the agony of a woman in labor, saying, “They will be dismayed: pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame.” But of course, the wicked will have no hope of love or rest when Christ finally judges the world. Their labor will be never-ending and futile.

The Manifestation of Love in the Scars

I used to look at my stretch-marks and c-section incision and see a wrecked and worn body. Yet because I know that Christ too bears scars, even in Heaven, I can look at my own as a beautiful manifestation of his self-sacrificial love in me.

“From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (Galatians 6:17-18.)

Like Thomas, our children and husbands can look at our scars; our stretch-marks, warbly bellies, and love-torn figures, and marvel at the power of Christlike self-sacrifice. As our husbands care for us, treasure us, and sacrifice their time and energy laboring to provide for us, we also can witness Christ’s love through them. As husband and wife, we mirror Christ to one another; the father in his way and the mother in her way, and the childless husband and wife in their own glorious way too.

Like Adam and Eve, we are poignant pictures of a love that will one day be perfected in the Eden of Heaven. So now, the man and the woman are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and we should not be ashamed (Genesis 2:25).

***

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg is a recording artist, writer, and homeschool mom who will be publishing her debut book on abuse recovery with The Good Book Company. You can read more of her writing and hear her music at www.JenniferGreenberg.net. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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The Needs of Poverty and the Responsibility Jesus Passed on to You

When Jesus told his friends “You will always have the poor among you” he was preaching a sermon straight from the words of Moses in one of his final messages to the Israelites.

Moses assured God’s people that the new land God brought them to would be so full of abundance that there was no reason for anyone to live in poverty.

Of course there won’t be any poor persons among you because the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, but only if you carefully obey the Lord your God’s voice, by carefully doing every bit of this commandment that I’m giving you right now. (Deuteronomy 15:4-5.)

And yet just a few sentences later Moses said:

Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That’s why I’m giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11.)

So which is it? Will there be poor people or won’t there be any poor among God’s people?

It appears that Moses is telling them that there is no reason for anyone to be poor due to the abundance in the new land, and yet there will still be people in need. The point he is making is that there is likewise no reason for that need to go unmet. This is a land of plenty where everyone is to make sure everyone else is taken care of.

Now if there are some poor persons among you, say one of your fellow Israelites in one of your cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, don’t be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your poor fellow Israelites. To the contrary! Open your hand wide to them. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8.)

This message to the people of Israel would likely have been familiar to some if not all of Jesus’ listeners at a dinner party thrown by some of Jesus’ friends.

Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. (John 12:1-2.)

The scene reminds the reader of the earlier party where Martha served while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, and this bothered Martha so much she asked for an open rebuke of her sister. (Luke 10:38-42.) But this time the story takes a surprising turn, leading one of Martha’s guests to call into question an extravagant gift Mary lavished upon Jesus.

Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.) (John 12:3-6.)

I’m Not so Far from Judas

Judas probably had the nerve to ask the question because he was focused on his greed, even if he did not think of it in those terms. He wanted the money in his care so he could take it for himself. Yet Jesus spoke not to his greed but to a more basic issue found in Judas’ attempt to deflect attention away from himself by invoking the needs of poor people.

Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.” (John 12:7-8.)

The phrase “You will always have the poor among you” echoes Poor persons will never disappear from the earth.” The point was not to make excuses (“Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?”) but to use what has already been given in abundance to care for those in need.

Most people reading this blog live in abundance compared to those who experience daily and chronic poverty. Being generous with that abundance is what God promises will address the needs of the poor among you: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land.

The ability to help is there, and the need is there. This help is not restricted to those who are in God’s family, but to anyone needy or poor. Moses said to be generous to all, and all meant all when looking at the list he then gave. If you see someone in need and you have the means to provide, Moses said that’s what you do.

The problem is that I am sometimes more like Judas than Moses. I might not be stealing from the money box, but I admit I sometimes welcome excuses not to jump in and help. Jesus was having none of it. As you can see, he didn’t tell Judas not to steal or not to be greedy. He reminded Judas and everyone else of a deeper principle: you know there will always be people in need and you are supposed to be doing something about it already.

I’d Rather Be Like Mary

There is a person in this story I want to emulate, though. Look at Jesus words about Mary: “Leave her alone.” Her lavish use of an extraordinary amount of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus is honored by Jesus himself. Yet Jesus does not give the impression he is preening in the spotlight. Rather, he is commending her faithful service in preparing him for the hardest moment of his life: his betrayal, beatings, crucifixion and death.

Did Mary know what she was doing? Jesus’ statement of his upcoming death might have stunned her as much as anyone else in the room. But she – along with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus – knew who he is and that he is worthy of worship. Jesus had raised Lazarus from death to life after all, and as Mary confessed while her brother still lay in the grave: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27.)

Mary’s choice to use the perfume on the Messiah of all the world was not a rejection of the instruction to care for the poor. It was a recognition that there are many ways to do so. Jesus had no money of his own, after all, and made sure those who chose to follow him as their rabbi knew it:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58.)

In the title Son of Man (or the Human One, as the CEB puts it), Jesus aligns himself with all people everywhere. Every woman and man, girl and boy, every child in the womb and (as he would soon join them) every person in the grave is a person Jesus identifies himself with. This is God in the flesh; as Isaiah said, this is Immanuel who is God with us. (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23.)

Mary is not rebuked but celebrated, and knowing what we do of her and her family in the Bible I would venture that their faith extended to all aspects of life including caring for the poor. Mary knew that God had provided abundantly for her family and they were in a position to help those in need. She also knew that out of this abundance she could follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit (as I suspect she must have in her decision at that dinner) to pour the perfume upon Jesus.

If you live in abundance, how do you help others to live as well? Do you use your resources to meet their needs, whether in their poverty or when they face difficulties and death? This is the call of God and these are the words of Jesus:

Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8.)

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The Nature of Wisdom – Women, Rationality, and Reason

[Wisdom from guest blogger Rachel Darnall.]

Earlier this week, my good friend Jennifer Greenberg, who gets more than her fair share of trolls, attracted the attention of a certain “christian” gentleman who went a few rounds arguing with her, then shared one of her replies (the contents of which are not the point here) with this comment:

“This is why you should never bother with trying to convince women with logic and reasoning. They are not men, and there’s a reason why they are barred from being in the pulpit.”

Jennifer’s troll is an exaggerated example of a line of reasoning that I have seen many other times. It goes something like: the reason why God established male headship in marriage and restricted teaching offices in the Church to men is because men are by nature rational and logical, whereas women are by nature too emotional to reason on a man’s level, and they are therefore incapable of the understanding and discernment necessary to teach.

In the case above, the person espousing this belief was a man, a chauvinist, and a scoffer. However, it would be wrong and naïve to dismiss him, because I have heard identical sentiments from more “benign” sources, including Christian women themselves. In a private social media group which consists entirely of women, I have heard women refer to their Christian sisters and themselves as “emotion-bots” who need a man’s Spock-like logic to guide them.

This may sound like humility, but it’s not a humility grounded in Biblical truth.

Dismantling Denigration

It’s difficult to know just where to start with dismantling this idea, because it’s packed with too many false dichotomies to count. It would be easy, and not unreasonable, to begin by attacking the false dichotomy of man as wise and woman as foolish. I could easily make a case that scripture does not make understanding equivalent with masculinity. I could point to the Proverbs 31 wife, who “opens her mouth with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:26). I could point out the irony of the gentleman’s words in light of the fact that in Proverbs 8, wisdom – who says, “By me, kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just” (Prov. 8:15) – is portrayed in the feminine. All of this would be accurate and relevant, but it’s not my purpose here gain a point on the scoreboard for my sex.

I have no dog in the fight over the pulpit: as it happens, I myself hold to the view that authoritative teaching positions in the Church are to be held by qualified men (Tim and I differ in our view on this, but he has graciously invited me to write this post and share it here). At the heart of the position I described above is a wrong-headed view of women, but up-stream from that is a wrong-headed view of the nature, source, and purpose of wisdom.

Throughout the Bible it is made abundantly clear that human wisdom is held in holy derision by God. 1 Corinthians takes up this theme, and reveals the hope and promise of a different wisdom:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2: 15-16.)

Discernment of spiritual truth is not by the flesh (including that part of our flesh which distinguishes us as male or female), but by the Spirit, by whose ministry we possess the mind of Christ.

The question of whether the male mind possesses a more rational or analytical disposition than the female mind may be interesting fodder for someone’s pointy-headed dinner party discussion, but such worldly controversies have nothing to do with the spiritual discernment required to rightly understand the Word of God.

Women and Heavenly Wisdom – a promise from God

If women are barred from understanding the things of God based on our sex, then we are indeed to be pitied, but not because our folly disqualifies us from standing behind a pulpit. A pulpit is a nothing more than piece of wood, and it is of little eternal consequence whether one stands behind it or sits in front of it. What matters is eternal fellowship with Christ; and if we do not have the mind of Christ – which is the only way to be wise – then we do not have Christ. To say that women are condemned to folly by virtue of being women is to say that women are condemned, full stop.

Fortunately, God does not dole out His Spirit (see Gal. 3:27-29) or wisdom based on anatomy:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5.)

The arrogant will never seek the wisdom of God because they do not feel the lack that drives them to source of it. God will leave them to their counterfeit wisdom, but to those whose eyes have been opened to their foolishness, He proves Himself more than generous.

James tells us what heavenly wisdom looks like. There is no mention of right brain or left brain, of emotionalism or rationalism, or any fleshly aptitude:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13-17.)

If anyone claims to be wise while he boasts in his flesh and derides Christ’s sisters, you may be sure that he is deceiving himself. Wisdom is opposed to pride in every way. It begins with humility, and humility is its end.

What is the source of spiritual wisdom? Not a “masculine” mind purged clean of the stain of emotion, but God, who gives to all who ask.

What is the fruit of spiritual wisdom? Not the self-celebratory pride of man, but the humility of a creature who images a humble God.

What is the purpose of spiritual wisdom? Not so that we may win the ”prize” of a pulpit, but that we may receive the free gift of knowing Christ.

Let the world worry about comparing corrupt mind to corrupt mind, with measuring flesh against flesh. As for me, I have only one boast and one hope:

I was foolish, but Christ has made me wise.

***

Rachel Darnall is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Iron Ladies Magazine. Her writing has also appeared in Arc Digital and Fathom Magazine. She lives in Oregon with her husband, two daughters, and their border collie, Shostakovich. You can connect with her on her blog and on Twitter.

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