God is Mighty to Save

This post is Part Two in a series about commonly mistaught or misunderstood Bible passages. Read Part One on reading verses in their context here.

I once taught children’s Sunday school and was given a curriculum to use about the Exodus story. The gist of the lesson was that Pharaoh disobeyed God, so God punished Egypt with plagues. Therefore we should obey God unless we really like frogs. I ignored the curriculum and told my class of thirteen kindergarten boys (I get tired just thinking about it.) the story of God revealing his glory to the world.

Ancient Egypt was the most powerful kingdom in the world at the time. And Pharaoh was the most powerful man on earth. Egypt had the strongest military and the most wealth. They had enslaved whole people groups, like the Hebrews. It seemed no one could defeat or diminish Egypt.

Enter Yahweh

Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, told Pharaoh through Moses to let his people go. Pharaoh would have scoffed that he would let such a large part of his workforce go. Who would make him?

As an answer, God sent a plague, then another plague, then another. The plagues weren’t random. Each plague showed Yahweh’s power over something the Egyptians worshipped or drew their power from. The Nile, both an object of worship and their source of agriculture, was turned to blood. Their cattle died. Locusts ruined their crops. The sun went dark.

Yahweh was shouting to everyone in Egypt, from Pharaoh to the lowliest slave, and everyone who would hear the story passing through on trade routes that He was more powerful than the gods of the strongest kingdom on Earth.

Anytime Pharaoh seemed to want to relent and let God’s people go, God would harden his heart. He was not done yet. He had more false gods to dethrone.

Salvation Through a Lamb

Then God foretold the tenth plague. The firstborn in every household that did not obey God’s command to spread lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their house would die.

Pharaoh lost his son and heard the grief of his people. He relented. He let God’s people go.

But the story did not stop there. Once again, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he regretted what he had done and sent his military to stop them. He had the strongest military in the world chasing down a group of recently freed slaves with elderly people, children and animals slowing down their progress. He had no reason to think that there was any possible outcome other than his military overtaking them and recapturing them.

Except God.  Except God had just defeated all of Egypt’s gods. Except God had destroyed his nations crops, and shown his might over and over and over through a stuttering shepherd and his younger brother.

Even so, Pharaoh sent his armies, and God showed the world that he was stronger than the mightiest army in the world.

God is Mighty to Save

Everywhere the Hebrews travelled, kings had heard of what Yahweh had done for his people.

If we make this a story simply about obeying God or else he will destroy you, we miss what the story is teaching about God. Yes, God sent plagues to Egypt in response to Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. But he did it for a reason: to show the world his glory.

He also did it to protect and free his chosen people. He had chosen these people that they may be a blessing to the world by proclaiming his glory. The rest of Exodus is God forming them into a nation. But here, before they had a temple, laws, festivals, rituals, or land, while they are still simply a people and not yet a nation, God is declaring his own glory through them. Because that is why he chose them.

In the middle of showing his glory to the world, God offers salvation through the blood of a lamb. God would continue to use the imagery of blood on wood as a means of salvation until it’s ultimate culmination in Christ’s death on the cross. In short, the story of Exodus shows that God is mighty to save.

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Why You Should Read Verses in Their Context

This month, I’ll be writing about commonly misapplied and misunderstood parts of scripture. Because all 66 books of the Bible are the inspired word of God, we are to take seriously the work of reading, interpreting and applying them. This is not a thing to be lazy with. There are some stories and verses in particular that are frequently misunderstood within church culture. So each week this month, I’ll be re-examining some of them. I won’t be doing any serious scholarship on these passages. Instead, I’ll examine the passage in a way that anyone could using skills gained in high school literature class.

It’s Not About Sports

This first passage is short enough to show up on t-shirts. Lots and lots of t-shirts. Mostly shirts from sports teams. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. Sure when you read only that verse, it sounds like a great encouragement for your workout or upcoming game. Its about strength after all. But in context, the verse is about something very different.

In his letter to the church at Philippi, during his closing thoughts Paul is thanking the church for helping him financially, grateful that they have “shared in his troubles”. At the same time, he is trying to comfort them about his state of need by telling them that he has learned to be content in whatever situation he is in.

“I know how to  be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

When Paul says he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him, he means he can be joyful in Christ whatever the circumstances of the moment, whether in physical comfort that could dull his soul to the beauty of Christ or in life threatening circumstances that could make him doubt in the goodness of God.

Paul was writing this while imprisoned in Rome where he was awaiting trial to determine whether or not he was executed by the oppressive Roman government. And he was not just surviving. While in prison he was actively engaged in ministry to those who visited him and was encouraging the believers. He was in uncertain and precarious circumstances, and the letter of Philippians overflows with deep joy in Christ. This is the same letter in which Paul says, “To live is Christ; to die is gain.”

Phillipians 4:13 is not about weightlifting or winning the game. It’s about trusting in God and delighting in him whatever our circumstances.

It’s About God

Speaking of trusting God. This next verse has been butchered and plastered onto coffee mugs and inspirational mouse pads for as long as I can remember. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. Why do I say butchered?

Well, did you know there’s another two lines to the verse?

“Be still and know that I am God.

I will be exalted in the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10 (Actually all of the verse.)

Taken in the larger context of the the (rather short) Psalm we see that the author’s command to “be still” comes at the end of a song about the glory and might of God being known among the nations despite widespread disaster and suffering. In verses 8 -9 he calls people to “come, behold the works of the Lord”. The command to be still is a call to trust that God will be made known to the whole world even though it seems impossible.

The Psalmist cared far more about the glory of God than about his own suffering.

Sounds a lot like Paul.

Each of these verses are commonly removed from their context and therefore broadly misunderstood. The Holy Scriptures are not quotes to be cherry picked, but the very word of God written down that we may know him. We a have deep responsibility to interpret the Bible the best we are able to do. In order to do that well, we need to start by treating the text with respect and reading it in it’s full context.

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Why Minimalism Will Not Bring You the Peace You’re Looking For

I don’t know if it’s getting the Christmas decorations out or the piles of mystery boxes in the basement, but I’ve been on a ruthless house purge lately. I don’t know where all of this stuff came from, but I want about 50% of it gone. Often times, I feel like a stuff-wrangler rather than a wife, mom, writer or church member. I don’t like that feeling.

Of course, if you’ve been on the home design part of the internet the past few years, you’ve probably heard of the KonMari method of cleaning: purging your possessions until you are only surrounded by those things which sparks joy. It promises more peace, more control over one’s life, and more joy. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning out your closets, especially when you can give things to people who can use them.

Searching for Peace in the Wrong Way

But the KonMari method is faulty thinking. It promises joy and peace through control, specifically control of one’s environment and possessions. The Gospel calls us into joy and peace through surrender.

Our culture has long told us that more is better. If we have more house, more stuff, a bigger car, we’ll be happy. No surprise, rampant materialism has proven a weak god.

Now we’re hearing the opposite: having less stuff will give you peace. You’ll be more joyful when you only own a small amount of carefully curated things. This is still seeking joy and fulfillment through possessions. But now there’s a different facade.

In other words, minimalism is still materialism. Same pendulum. Different direction.

Set our Hopes on God

Scripture charges us to examine our hearts concerning our possessions:

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Paul, who is writing this letter to Timothy, focuses squarely on the eternal here. One may be rich in this present age, but poor in good works. Or one may be rich in the present age with their hopes set on God and their lives full of generosity. Money and personal possession only offer the facade of security. No amount of hoarding things will give us security, and no amount of curating our possessions will give the lasting peace we desire. That only comes from fixing our hopes on God.

He has blessed some of His people with abundant financial means. We are to delight in Him for these things. Part of delighting in Him is to share as He shares: abundantly. God is constantly inviting people into the joy he experiences. We are to be just as generous with our material possessions.

Generosity Over Self-Centeredness

It may seem that this can live in line with the KonMari method. It urges you to get rid of things and give them away does it not? However, the goal is KonMari is not generosity, but in owning things that only give you joy by eliminating the things that do not. The focus is squarely on you and your emotions, not on the people you’re donating your leftovers to. Scripture urges us to take the focus off of ourselves and our stuff and fix our eyes on the Lord.

Does this mean that wealthy people have to live on next to nothing and give away most of their money? No, the text doesn’t support that. But if we’re focused on our possessions, seeking joy from them in such a way that it is inhibiting us from doing good, being rich in good works, being generous and ready to share then our possessions have become our idol.

The pleasure we get from earthly things – whether it be an abundance of possessions or a minimalist curated collection – will inevitably end. It will fade or we will die, whichever comes first. However, joy in the Lord is eternal. It stands the test of time. In thanking Him for the gifts He has given, both material and eternal, we can find a deep, abiding joy.

A Heart Issue

So what does this mean for my house purging? It changes my goal. I started getting rid of things when I was frustrated by the constant clutter. I wanted fewer possessions to deal with because I thought that was the way to deal with my frustration. But as I’ve turned these thoughts over in my head while sorting boxes in the basement, I realized that I was seeking my own peace through reducing the clutter.

But clutter is not the problem. My heart is. I need to set my hope on God, not on a clean house. I need to set my mind on Christ and his work on the Cross, even while I sort piles of things to be given away.

To be sure, getting rid of some stuff will make it easier to find the things we actually use. And it will mean less time cleaning and organizing, which means more time for more important things. Plus, people could actually use some of these things.

But it will not bring me peace. It will not fix my heart problem. In some magical far off Neverland where I actually finish purging every last item that my family doesn’t need, I will still find things to be frustrated and discontent about. But Christ offers peace and the knowledge that we rest in the hands of an Eternal God who cares about our day-to-day even in the middle a pile of mystery boxes.

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I Wrote a Lesson for Myself

Most of the time what we teach others is actually what we need to learn ourselves. I wrote a post right before Thanksgiving about slowing down and finding silence in order to focus on God’s word. I was feeling the rush of travel preparations and wrote a post as a meditation on finding God in the silence in the midst of our noisy world. I thought it was a good thought, but not ready to publish, so I published something else that week. I never could have guessed how much I would need to read it just a few weeks later.

From four weeks ago:

For an introvert, I don’t handle quiet well. When the podcasts turn off and my newsfeed darkens, the quiet inside my head grows deafening. As a stay at home mom lacking adult conversation for 40 hours a week, it can be tempting to use the crutch of a good podcast, or social media to feel connected to something outside of myself. But these paper thin props only gloss over the deep-seated need for connection.

I can only hear the need in the deafening silence.

But in the same silence, I can also hear my own anxiety. I still feel the anxiety in the middle of the noise, but it chokes me. In the quiet, I can offer it up to God as too big for me to hold. Then I can breath in the air of trust, knowing God is good and he is for me. I have trouble knowing this truth in the middle of the noise.

In the silence, I can focus. I can follow a train of thought and see where it goes. These rambling thoughts frequently lead to prayers I didn’t know needed to be prayed, or ideas better than anything on my to-do list.

In the quiet, when my thoughts aren’t bombarded with information, I am more myself and more in conversation with God.

This morning while my son napped, instead of hunting down a distraction, which is always tempting, I sat with a few pages of scripture, double spaced, 12 point font, lots of white space on the page for marking and arrow drawing. Armed with colored pens and coffee, I read and re-read. Then I re-read some more. I familiarized myself with the warp and weft of the chapter, its rhythms and patterns.

Peace settled into my soul along with the words on the page. The goodness of God was found in the stillness, in the focused train of thought dwelling on his Word. With the laptop in another room and the cellphone who knows where, I was able to train my mind on the the word of God. In that, I saw the goodness of God for this moment and this day, which would surge at me in the form of a toddler waking ravenous.

We’ll walk to the grocery store. He’ll eat from his stroller tray, drawing adoring looks from passersby. Then we’ll check items off a list and rush home for his afternoon nap. The next ten days will be a whirlwind of travel and friends and family. Silence will be taken over by plane engines and airport announcements and the greeting of old friends, long unseen. Squeals over little blue eyes and walking feet. GPS directions and car horns. Meals cooking, dominoes clinking and cousins playing.

Quietness of soul can be found again even in the midst of a happy holiday by resting in the God’s word. It’s warp and weft, it’s depths to plumb. The felt goodness of God in greetings and meals is anchored in his communicated goodness in Scripture. If only we can quiet our souls to hear.

Now after Thanksgiving, I need to pursue silence even more. But the pull toward noise to deafen my thoughts is even stronger.

The plan was to travel to see friends and family. We did, but the visit was not what we had hoped. Instead, my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My spry, healthy, active Granny.

She died two weeks later.

I never knew cancer could be so sudden. This was not a slow fade to death. She was healthy with some unexplained itching. Then suddenly, she was gone.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t post last week, now you know. Words were hard.

Pursuing silence is harder now. Not the least because our household is sick with a seasonal yuckiness that makes toddlers miserable and toddler’s parents exhausted. And of course, clogged drains needs clearing, and another holiday needs preparing for. Life keeps going in the midst of grief.

Grief makes me want to run from stillness.

In the quiet, I cry for a grief too big for me to hold.

Yet in the same silence, I behold God big enough to hold my grief.

More than at most times, I need to make space to see that God is good, and he is for me. It is where I can know he holds grief. He holds anger at cancer. He holds a whole family under the weather in a week of grief.

He holds the gentle memory of my son playing peekaboo with his great-grandmother and the grief which now colors it. He holds the knowledge that my little boy won’t remember his great-grandmother delighting in him through the pain of her fatal diagnosis.

In meditating on God through his word, I get to know his peace even in the silence.

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How My Family is Slowing Down for Advent

I’m feeling the pressure of holidays stacking on top of one another with little breathing space between. We barely arrived home from traveling for Thanksgiving and before the laundry is done my mind is spinning with Christmas plans. We’re hosting family so there’s decorations, meal planning and putting the house in order along with finishing a few languishing projects before they arrive. Also my 14 month old wants to run around the house at full speed banging blocks on all of the things.

In the middle of the flurry of activity, I want to celebrate the first coming of Christ and look forward to his second coming. Somehow that’s what gets lost in this busy season, isn’t it?

The Ecclesiastical Calendar

This year, my family is going to try following the ecclesiastical calendar. Our Baptist/non-denominational selves are unaccustomed to observing a liturgical tradition, but the more I’ve learned about it, the more I’ve understood how it can be a tool to remind us of God’s story of redeeming the world.

The Church calendar is a cycle of seasons throughout the year. Each season focuses on a different point in the story of God’s redemption of the world through Christ. The seasons are: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time. There are variations on the calendar, and it can get a lot more complicated than that, but that’s the basics.

Since this tradition is new for my family, we’re keeping it church calendar lite. We’ll mark each season with traditions that make sense for our family without adding pressure to our schedule.

The Season of Advent

Advent, which means arrival, focuses on anticipating the coming of Christ. We reflect on Israel’s anticipation of his First Coming, and look forward to his Second Coming ourselves. The season reminds us we live in the already-not-yet.

Christ has already come, lived, died, and lived again to redeem us, but we do not yet experience the fullness of His redemption. One day, He will right all the wrongs and heal all the brokenness. But we’re not there yet.

Advent is a season to focus our vision on the joy and hope in Christ. My favorite hymn for this season, one that beautifully expresses this tension, is O Come O Come Emmanuel.

Advent for our Family

For our Advent celebration, I’ll use a few candlesticks I already have and some branches cut from our Christmas tree to make an Advent wreath. On the four Sundays of Advent, we’ll do a short family devotional based on the theme of each Sunday: hope, peace, joy, and love. That’s it. That’s Advent.

When my son is a few years older, we’ll come up with a simple activity to include him in anticipating Christ’s coming. For example, slowly building a nativity scene over the course of the season and talking to him about each piece.

Simplifying Christmas so We Can See Christ

We’re also re-examining normal Christmas traditions in light of Advent. This year, we won’t get a tree until the first Sunday of Advent, rather than the normal day after Thanksgiving. A mere one week delay creates a little breathing space in our family’s schedule. We’ll keep gifts simple: each person gets one present, plus gifts from grandparents. Some traditions we’ll cut out altogether. There won’t be matching pajamas or Christmas card photoshoots. No Christmas movie watching marathons and not every hall will be decked.

Wassail and clumsily played Christmas hymns on the piano? Yes! These rituals slow us down and point us to Christ. Family newsletter to everyone we know? Not a chance.

Some aspects I don’t have any influence over: my husband’s office-wide Christmas party or back to back family celebrations. But we’ll host his work group’s party in January or February. Last year, everyone agreed it was nice to have one less event during Christmas and to have a fun evening in the dead of winter slump. No law says you can’t have a white elephant gift exchange after the first of the year.

My goal in following the church calendar is not to add more stress, because who needs that? Instead, I want the celebrations to slow us down enough to focus on Christ. Family traditions shape the culture of a family. I want ours to be centered on Christ, not on the busyness of the holiday season.

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Why Every Christian Should Clearly Understand Sola Scriptura

It’s easy to think theology is dry and boring, useless to the life of the average believer. But theology is the most practical thing that we can do because what we think about God shapes the whole of who we are. It carries us through every season of life, and shapes every interaction we have. If we think wrongly about God, then we’re not equipped to follow him well nor to enter into the fullness of joy he offers us. The invitation to know God through the Bible is an invitation into joy.

God sent his word to us so that we can know him. He cares about how we approach it. His word is his mediated presence in our lives, so how we read and understand it is vital. So let’s do a little theology.

During the Reformation the reformers codified their beliefs into five statements that are still useful for us today. These statements are not infallible; they are not scripture. But they are useful for talking about what the scriptures teach us. For now I’ll focus on Sola Scripture, or translated, Scripture Alone.

What is Sola Scriptura?

Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.” (Ligonier Ministries) In other words, Scripture teaches us everything we need to know to follow Jesus. We don’t have to go to teachers, books, sermons, or even historical doctrinal statements of the church — however excellent they might be — to learn what it is to follow Jesus.

Are these things still useful? Yes. We know this because we see sermons, collections of songs of worship, and teachings within the Scripture. We even see church leaders gathered to discuss important doctrinal decisions. All of these things are a part of the life of the church and useful for the Christian, but they all serve to point the Christian to the scripture.

Prone to False Doctrine

Without a clear understanding of Sola Scriptura, we are apt to succumb to the false doctrines that surround us. We don’t live out our faith in a vacuum, but in a culture which has it’s own doctrines that we are steeped in with or without knowing it. If we don’t understand Scripture as authoritative, then we will be knocked around by every wave of doctrine. In the changing norms of our culture, we must be rooted in the Eternal Truth revealed to us by the Eternal God in his Eternal Word. If we understand that scripture alone has the highest authority on any topic on which it speaks then we will necessarily measure all other teachings against it, even the implicit teachings in the culture around us.

In the same way we test the teachings of our culture we should test the teaching of a Church tradition, a favorite pastor or blogger, or our own underlying assumptions. During the Reformation, the reformers made the radical statement that Scripture had a greater authority than the traditions of the Catholic Church (referred to as the magistirum). Luther and his counterparts wanted the Church to submit itself wholly and fully to the word of God. The traditions, while valuable, were not on the same level of scripture.

To the modern day evangelical, this seems obvious. However, if we outsource our theological thinking to the catechism and doctrines of our protestant churches, or to our favorite popular pastors, then we follow the same pattern of the Catholic church in trusting a magisterium over and above Scripture. We must faithfully measure all we are taught according to the standard of Scripture. This requires close study, a skill we must learn to cultivate.

Limits of Sola Scriptura

However, if we don’t understand the limits of the doctrine – that scripture contains everything we need, not everything that is useful — then we can be tempted to discount the value of Scripture when we encounter a question that Scripture does not address. For instance, the Bible does not address voting because democracy was not a form of government in the times and places the Bible was being written. So we can’t go to the Bible for simple answers on how or if to vote.

But we can learn from the scriptures about justice, power, peacemaking, how to treat foreigners, how to treat the poor, what God has to say about racism, wealth accumulation, and war. That insight should shape our voting. But there are other useful things that could shape our voting: an understanding of how our government works, if similar platforms have historically done what the candidates claim they will, a wise counselor’s interpretation of the Scripture and the political season. These things are extra-biblical, and useful, but they are not authoritative and are not to be trusted as being on par with Scripture.

Pursue Consistent Application

A clear understanding calls us to try to have a consistent application of the doctrine. It has been inconsistently applied since the early church fathers, by Luther and throughout the history of the Protestant church. Luther himself appealed to previous theological interpretations when challenged on the way in which the Lord’s Supper was taken. Even denominations like Baptists who say they follow the Bible alone, have strong traditions of interpretation through which the church members tend to view scripture.

We are far from perfect. Each Christian and church will have blind spots in our submission to Scripture’s authority. We will assume it says things it is not saying, and we will miss it’s clear teachings. However, we must pursue excellence in submitting our lives to scripture because through the Bible we get to know and experience God who is our Great Joy.

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How My Faith Survived Growing Up Evangelical

Growing up in an evangelical church, I learned at an early age that following Jesus was obeying rules. Why did God send all those plagues to Egypt? Because Pharaoh disobeyed God. So you know, obey the rules kids unless you really like frogs. As I got older, I learned that teenage boys’ lust problems were my responsibility and if I didn’t dress “modestly”, they were going to have to gouge out their eyes, and it would be all my fault. So make sure your shorts go past your fingertips or those guys will go blind.

If you make a mistake, don’t let it show. Don’t admit fault. If someone calls you out — which probably won’t happen because in the South passive aggression is an art form — deflect. Deflect like a Jedi facing destroyer droids. Don’t deal with problems. Just pretend they don’t exist. And above all, don’t rock the boat. Everything is tidy and neat. Don’t mess it up.

Somehow, I’m still into this whole Jesus thing.

So how did my faith survive? Short answer: by the grace of God.

Long answer: I had the privilege of becoming part of a few communities that were deeply committed to living out and sharing their faith in the messiness of the world. Far from retreating into a Christian subculture or attempting to police the world according to Biblical morals, they faithfully lived and loved people who didn’t fit neatly into Church life. They had grace for others, but what astonished me the most was that they had grace for themselves. They could admit fault, repent, and seek forgiveness. It was just one of the rhythms of the community. I had never seen that lived out before, and it was so freeing.

The things I had always read in the life of Jesus finally started to make sense in light of a community trying to live them out. Jesus forgave a woman caught in the act of adultery and in the process infuriated and humbled the religious elite. Another time, he revealed his nature as God incarnate to a woman trading sex for rent and a whole town believed in Him.

While there are ways in which the Lord used my childhood church in my life for good, it took leaving it to see the place of grace in Christianity. And this grace opened my eyes to the beauty of forgiveness. Being around people who truly believed in the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ taught me that I could live in that forgiveness as well. I could be free from trying to hide my failures. It also meant that I was free to forgive others and not attempt to hold the world up to my standards. There was grace. And with grace, I could breathe. And for the first time, I could begin to learn to love others.

It is so tempting to tidy up our communities. To retreat from the sinful world and make sure our church is a nice place to be. But, oh how high the cost! The nice veneer covers the withered soul of a community more concerned with maintaining appearances than with following Jesus into the needy crowd.

If we make following the rules an official or unofficial prerequisite for membership in our faith communities, then we never get to see the transformative power of grace. If the prostitute isn’t welcomed to our pews and homes when she dresses like a prostitute, then how can we communicate the love of Christ to her where she is at? What hope do we have of inviting her into the freedom and joy of following Christ when we do not live in that freedom and joy ourselves? Moreover, if we need to put on a happy face when we’re with our church family, what hope do we have of Christ healing the brokenness in us?

So let’s rock the boat. Let’s let our mess show. Not for the sake of vulnerability — as if that is an end in itself — but in the hope that being honest about our faults ushers in the grace of Christ and the transformative power of his love. If we are familiar with our own sin and our need for Christ, then we can extend the love of Christ to those around us, both within the Church and to those who have not experienced the Grace of Christ.

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Why Every Christian Woman should Love God with Her Mind

I am passionate about women living out their faith with their minds fully engaged. Having grown up in church, I’ve attended more women’s conferences and retreats than I desire to remember. The common thread through most of them was the elevation of emotion over the mind. The teaching is usually dull and lifeless, and the entire event centered around eliciting a certain emotional response from the women in attendance. It’s icky and heretical.

God still used these retreats in my life for which I am thankful. But the cumulative effect of them is that I began to think you couldn’t be female, intelligent, and a Christ-follower. As I am female and bookish, and I desperately wanted to live a life honoring to Christ, I was at a bit of a loss. By the grace of God, I came across some wonderful books — all written by men — that demonstrated to me it was possible to think more deeply about God than I knew was possible.

Despite the norms for women’s conferences, thinking about God is not only for the guys. So why should we love God with our minds?

1) We’re commanded to. Matthew 22:37: “And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” There it is. We are to love God with all our mind. Our mind’s job is to think thoughts. So loving God with our mind means those thoughts should be thoughts about God. A. W. Tozer said “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  We should discipline our minds and allow them to be shaped by scripture (Rms 12:1).

2) Knowing God through the Bible will cause us to love the God of the Bible. In college, I remember being told to be careful when I studied the Scriptures because, my heart might grow cold to God. This makes no sense. If I am studying the scriptures because I want to know the God of the scriptures, then how can I help but delight in him as I get to know him? If studying scriptures makes you less in love with God, then you’re doing it wrong. God incarnates himself in his word. The Bible is one of the ways God reveals himself to us, along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If we seek to love God more, we need to know him through his word more. It is in knowing him more that our love for him grows.

3) We don’t have to discount our intelligence because we’re female. Why am I focusing on speaking to women here? Because all around us, including in the Church, we receive the message that we are less than men, especially in our intelligence. Women are culturally permitted to be book smart and make good grades in school, but its weird if  women sincerely loves to learn and geek out and go down rabbit holes of learning simply for the delight of it.

Think of a stereotypical geek. Now think of a professor. Did you picture a woman? Probably not.

What does this mean for our walks with Christ? Since this is the air we breath in our culture, we have to be proactive in making sure it doesn’t affect the way we engage the word of God. Do all of us need to become seminary professors? No, of course not. But some should. All of us should discipline ourselves to engage the Lord with our minds and seek to use all of the intelligence he has given us to know him more. We need not discount our abilities simply because our society — and often our church — expects us to.

4) I hesitate to include this one, because much of what is written for women is about how to be a mom, as if that is the pinnacle of existence and meaning if you happen to have a uterus. However, a lot of us are moms or hope to be moms. (Though by no means all of us!) If we want to raise babies who will become adults who follow Jesus, we need to be able to point them to Christ at all stages of their development. If we remove our minds from the hard questions our life throws at us, we won’t have the tools to help our kids navigate those questions when they get there. Right now, I am chasing a tiny toddler around the house and changing diapers. But my little boy won’t stay little forever. If I stop learning, stop engaging hard questions, if I let my state of motherhood consume my whole identity, what will I do when he’s a teenager. What tools will I have? How will I help him become an adult capable of living effectively in the world?

Where do we start in loving God with our mind? The obvious answer is studying Scripture, though many of us lack the tools to do so. I would encourage you to first look to your local church for resources and training. Do they have a class about Scripture study? If not, ask your pastor or other church staff if they can teach a seminar on how to study the Bible: not going through another Bible study, but how to work the text like he was taught in seminary. Then invite a bunch of women to attend it with you.

If your church can’t or won’t, I encourage you to use other resources. Dallas Theological Seminary has a free online class, How to Read the Bible like a Seminary Professor, that’s been incredibly helpful for me. Also, Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word  provides practical tools in Bible study. Any of these resources would be great to go through with a group of women to learn alongside. Finally, Desiring God has a feature called Look at the Book in which you can watch a video of one person’s process of Bible Study.

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Racial Justice in the Church

I care a lot about racial justice. One of the main reasons is that, for a long time, I had no idea I was racist. I was living comfortably in mostly white community and thought blissfully that racism was a thing of the past.

Sometime in high school I started getting the feeling something was off, but I didn’t call it racism until college. And only then because I went to a particularly diverse college (yay UTA!), studied Anthropology and Linguistics, and took classes in Sociology.

Let me repeat that. In order to recognize the racism all around me and in me, I had to take college courses about language, culture, and society while living in a unusually diverse community.

If I had lived in that community and studied nursing or engineering, I might not have had my eyes opened to racism as abundant as oxygen. If I had studied those topics at a mostly white university, I might have been able to maintain the idea that racism was a thing of the past and not something going on inside my own heart.

It still took time. I shutter when I think about some of the things that I said in class discussions in my first few years of college. Yet these are things I still hear white people saying: “reverse racism”, “White privilege isn’t real”, …

Racial Unity is in the Heart of God

Another reason is that I care about the unity of the Church. Around the time I was learning about racism in our society, God was mercifully opening my eyes up to his heart for unity within his Church. John 17 wrecked my understanding of the priority of unity. (It hadn’t made my list of important things before.) Jesus spent the last night before his cruxifixction pouring out his heart for the unity of his Bride. Unity is a priority in the heart of God.

Around that time, I was blessed to learn from people who had been working toward unity for a long time. But the focus was the denominational unity. While denominational unity is important and should be worked and prayed for, it falls short of the fullness of the vision of unity in Scripture. It is good and difficult work, and I don’t want to for a moment discount the value of people who have spent years forging partnership and friendship between leaders of different denominal backgrounds. Jesus is so in that, and so blesses the communities that emerge from that work. And he uses them to bless others.

But Revelations does not paint a picture of a multi-denominational church before the throne of God. It’s multi-ethnic. It’s multicultural. It’s multi-racial.

That picture is not reflected in the church in America.

Unity is Humility

Racial justice demands deep humility, especially on the part of white people.

We will need humility to see that the way things are is not ok. We will need to let go of our comfort — a comfort that is derived from white voices shaping evangelicalism to the exclusion of our brothers and sisters of color. We will need to let go of the ”colorblindness” that assumes our own perspective is neutral and not influenced by our whiteness.

We will need humility to learn from people and contexts that make us uncomfortable not because of the message being shared, but because of the way it’s being shared.

For example, I’ve been reading about the different traditions of preaching in white churches and black churches. First, I have to realized that the style of preaching I am used to — which has been deeply formative in wonderful ways in my life — is simply a style. It is not the only way to talk about the truths of scripture. It is derived from a culture I am comfortable within, therefore it seems neutral to me.

However, whenever I hear a black preacher preaching in a style that is derived from the culture of the Black church (in reality a variety of cultural traditions, but all of them so different from my own that I have trouble seeing the nuanced differences in them — not a issue I have within the variety cultures of white churches), I have trouble following the train of the sermon. Though I can recognize sound doctrine and have been blessed by hearing sermons, it’s more work for me learn from these sermons.

That’s on me. Not the sermon.

Do the Work of Learning

I care about racial justice, especially within the church. But more and more, I am learning that while talking about racial injustice is of vital importance, I also need to be actively seeking out my own blindspots and doing the work of learning.

Learning not in an effort to appear more woke. Learning not in an attempt to become an expert in the Black experience. (How could I?) But learning because I care about people. Learning because I see that my own culture, while historically dominate, is not more valuable than other cultures. And learning because my own spiritual growth is hobbled if I don’t learn from people different from myself.

Seeing this takes a measure of humility. Pressing into it and continuing to learn, will take more than I think I want to face from where I’m at right now. However, because I care about racial justice and unity within the Body of Christ, press in I must.

The unity Christ died for is at stake.

What I Learned about Being a Proverbs 31 Woman

I went to a small, private Christian college for a year and lived in the dorm because they made me, so I heard one phrase like a broken record: “I want to be a Proverbs 31 wife”. Usually this statement was followed with some details about staying home and raising a bunch of kids and not working because it’s better for the family, and how could any mom who loves her children send them to the hell-hole that is daycare!

The young woman sharing these thoughts with me didn’t always (usually) have a boyfriend. I thought, “That seems cool, but my mom’s a programmer and as far as I know, my brother and I aren’t ax murderers.”

Being 19 and unable to handle conflict, I wouldn’t say anything. Also the fact that I never really read Proverbs 31 didn’t help in the stating an alternate opinion department. I knew I couldn’t live up to it, so it was too much of a guilt trip to read, so I avoided it. Again with not being able to handle conflict.

New Clarity

It wasn’t until I learned in a literature class (at one of those godless state universities) about the idea of a type character that I was able to read Proverbs 31, or anything else in Proverbs, without the crushing weight of guilt.

Once I had the idea of a literary type in my head, it was so obvious that Proverbs 31 is not describing any single woman, or what any single woman should be, but a type of woman: hardworking, kind, capable, honorable, loving, peaceful. No woman will ever live up to the full description. And we don’t have to. She’s an idealized example.

If I don’t “let my lamp go out at night”, i.e. stay up late working, and also “wake up while it is yet night”, I will not “have the teaching of kindness on my lips”. No amount of coffee could fix the crankiness that would emanate from me.

So with that freedom in mind, let’s take a look at a few verses in Proverbs 31.

“She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” (v 13)

“She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.” (v 14)

“She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” (v 16)

“She perceives that her merchandise is profitable” (v 18)

“She puts her hands to the distaff and her hands hold the spindle” (v 19)

“She makes linen garments and sell them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.” (v 24)

Work to do

This woman works, y’all. She’s making stuff and selling it. She’s buying real estate and using it to produce for her family. She knows that her merchandise is worth money. She’s got a diversified portfolio. And she’s not discounting the value of her work. Instead she’s selling it for a profit.

Now some of these verses are arguably about the work she does directly for the household, but she’s clearly making things for sale as well.

“Yes but all of these things can be done at home. She’s not going to an office for 8 or 9 hours a day.”

Let’s have a little history lesson.

A Unfamiliar Pattern of Work

The economy of the Ancient Near East (or Western Asia, if we’re not being Eurocentric) was different than today’s. People didn’t clock in at jobs and receive a salary for being a warm body that looked busy. That particular annoyance came with the Industrial Revolution.

Instead, people produced something of worth, then sold it. Or they transported things for someone who made something. Or produced food for their own family from the land. There were other types of work, but that was the bulk.

The woman described in Proverbs 31 was engaged in the economy of the time. She was earning by producing goods and managing her assets well.

Was she still the primary caregiver for her children? Maybe. We can’t tell from the passage. But we do know she was fully engaged in the economy.

Principles to Apply

By understanding the idea of a type character, and by thinking about the verses in the context in which they were written, we can understand the principles Proverbs is getting at and apply them to our lives and our context.

A Proverbs 31 woman works hard, manages large and small assets for the benefit of her family, engages in the economy, and knows that the work she does has value.

You can live out these principles whether you are a stay at home mom, a CEO, or a teacher. Whatever your day in and day out employment, you can do work that economically benefits your family.

In our context, this may mean a 9-5 job, which brings it own challenges when raising a family. But Proverbs 31 — far from restricting women in employment choices — gives you some of the guiding principles you need to make a decision regarding the work you do.