The Couch

Karen's cottage ch

“The greatest freedom is having nothing to prove.” – R.T. Kendall

When I look at the big comfy couch and overstuffed armchair here in my living room, I think of open-hearted conversations with friends. I think of the times people have trusted me with their stories as we sat on sofas covered in white brocade, brown leather, floral print (like this one at Karen’s cottage) or, in student days, something that looked even worse than the army blanket covering it.

Many times friends gave me the chance to be unguarded as I offered them the same privilege. We laughed, cried, challenged and encouraged each other. I welcome unadorned truth from friends close enough to genuinely care and who can extend me the same grace they have received from the Lord. Other than the entryway, where the deepest conversations seem to be accompanied by one hand on the door knob, the couch has been the location of most spirit to spirit connection in my life.

Recently my friend, Christine, who is a lyricist and composer, sat on the couch and shared some of her insights into Psalm 25. She is writing a series of songs based on the Psalms. She’s amazing. Each week we meet to compare what impacts us most about one of our favourite books in the Bible.

This psalm has been one of my favourite since I listened to a young missionary’s story. She told us what a verse in Psalm 25 meant to her when she was isolated in a strange culture and unable to communicate because of her struggles with the language. Disappointment crippled her for a while until desperation led her spend her lonely hours with no one but God. In the quietness the Lord let her know He was not disappointed. He loved her heart. He loved spending time with her. Her future was also His present. He revealed his secrets.

The portion she shared was this, verse 14: The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant. (NASB)

“Did you know the root word in Hebrew for secret can mean a couch?” the songwriter asked as she rummaged through her file looking for the draft of her new song.

“A couch?”

“Couch. Like the kind they reclined on to eat or like pillows on the floor of the tent.”
I looked it up. Yes, cowd can mean couch. Some translators use the word friendship or counsel there.

I looked at my worn couch and remembered times of intimate conversation with friends I could trust.

“I like that image!” I said. “Just sitting with the Lord on the couch with a pot of tea like this in front of us. Nothing to hide that He doesn’t already know about. Chatting about movies and gardening and children and the eternal repercussions of imminent decisions. Listening to Him talk about what moves His heart and getting excited about His plans. Drinking in encouragement and listening to how He sees me and who He says I am…”

She smiled.

The God of my childhood was a distant, disapproving anxiety-inspiring god. When we prayed at family devotions we changed our tone of voice and even the type of language we used, lest we offend Him. He seemed inclined to prefer 17th century English. It felt to me like we were trying to impress Him and vainly hoped He was oblivious to the tone and language we had just used with each other as we fought over space in front of the bathroom sink. I couldn’t imagine Him wanting to be my friend or seeing me as anything other than a disappointment.

When I dared to believe He wanted to communicate with me I started going on walks and talking to Him as if He was someone who cared about the trivia of my day. After a while I learned to be quiet and just enjoy His presence. As I waited I began to realize that He had been communicating all along – and He was not like the God I had been introduced to before.

An article I read this week noted that in Jesus’ wilderness time the first thing the enemy attacked was His identity – right after the Father confirmed publicly that Jesus was His beloved son in whom He was well pleased.

Why are we so surprised when the same thing happens to us? Often after we begin to hear God telling us who we are in Christ an old voice posing the oldest question in the world approaches, “Did God really say….”

In the secret place God tells us how He sees us, how we are known in heaven, how He loves us. It is the safest place in the world, the place where we become secure in our identity. Insecurity leads to competitiveness, lack of joy in others successes and a vulnerability to seductive voices offering us shortcuts. Insecurity is rooted in shame — a fear that people will discover who we really are – and a sense that who we really are is not alright. When we are secure in His love and in our true identity in Christ we have nothing to prove. Holy Spirit invites us to sit with him and concentrate on His voice.

In the secret place, the friendship place, the place of counsel, He will reveal his promises to you.

Guard my soul and deliver me;
Do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
For I wait for You.
(Psalm 25:20,21)

My friend placed the music of her new song on the piano and began to softly play and sing the refrain:

Let us find the quiet place where we seek Your precious Face,
Let us find the quiet place where You speak to us of grace,
Let us find the quiet place where we enter Your embrace,
Let us seek Ruah God and His love.

Let us find the quiet place where we gaze upon Your Face
Let us find the quiet place where we hear You speak of grace,
Let us find the quiet place where we feel Your warm embrace
Let us seek Ruah God and His love.

– Christine Morton (copyright 2016)

Living Blessed!

How-to-be-free-from-sin

I love study and have particularly found that exploring the meaning of words in the original Bible language opens my understanding and clarifies the author’s intent. It is the Bible in the original languages that is God-breathed, not the King James or New American Standard or any of the multitude of other translations. Basing comprehension on English definitions is often misleading and nearly always limited. For someone like me who does not read Hebrew and Greek, this is a frustration but not a total road block.

Using readily available tools,[1] word meanings can be clarified. For example, with only a concordance like Strong’s, which is available through the Blue Letter Bible website, we find that the word translated man means human being whether male or female in nearly every case in both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek. We can also discover the rare instances when the word translated man does mean male or husband, but without looking it up we’d never know.

A few weeks ago I was reading David Limbaugh’s The Emmaus Code. As I read the paragraphs on the sin and trespass offerings, I was reminded of something I had been taught from Psalm 32 and the topic of this post was born.

That long ago teaching just defined sin, iniquity and transgression but I believe the Lord wants us to look at the first five verses of Psalm 32 and thoroughly examine the critical words in the first two. It is good to remember that in the Bible words in italics are not found in the original language but are added to enhance our understanding and conform to English grammar, so we won’t be looking at them.

Psalm 32 a Psalm of David begins –

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit. (NKJV)

Comprehension is not just being able to read words, we have to understand what they mean. Did you know that there are two words in Hebrew for “bless”? I didn’t. They are barak and asher and there is a sharp distinction between them. Barak is used by God when He blesses us and by people invoking God’s blessing on others or blessing (praising) God.  To be blessed, i.e. happy (asher) like in Psalm 32, you have to do something. In this Psalm, David’s doing was acknowledging sin, not hiding iniquity and confessing transgression thus clearing his spirit of deceit. If you look at Psalm 1 the blessing (asher) is for not doing, which is also an action.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly
nor stands in the path of sinners
nor sits in the seat of the scornful…

Transgression is deliberate rebellion against God’s law in our relationship with Him or other people.[2] It is rebelling against our Divine King and our covenant with Him.  Continuing to intentionally break God’s law is also the meaning in the New Testament but the word is often translated as sin rather than transgression. I originally thought of sin as a separate category, but now realize that it is all inclusive—there may be numerous descriptive words that indicate being at odds with God, but no matter what we call them, they are sin.[3]

A good way to understand the meaning of the word sin is to think of it as missing the mark; like an arrow aimed at but missing the target. It is a turning away from obedience and therefore a lack of wholeness or acceptance before God. We often sin in ignorance but in Psalm 32 the form (chat ah) indicates that David knew what he had done.

To forgive is nasa in Hebrew meaning to lift, carry or take away. Sin can be forgiven and forgotten because it is taken up and carried away. Cover, (kacah) however is more like concealed or atoned for than forgiven. Our rebellion can be forgiven, but sin can only be covered until it is atoned[4] for in Christ. The preciseness of these words amazes me!

Definitions of the word translated iniquity (avon) include crooked behavior, perverseness of spirit, moral evil, basic unrighteousness in both the Old and New Testaments. It also includes the feelings of guilt or fear of punishment that accompany such conduct.[5] These are stated clearly in verses 3 and 4.

3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old (I lost strength)
Through my groaning all the day long.
4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; (God in His mercy doesn’t let up on us)
My vitality  was turned into the drought of summer. (life was drying up) Selah (pause and really thing about what was said)

Where transgression can be a single thing, iniquity is collective[6] including numerous offences against both God and other people which can either be known or unknown to us. Both are overwhelming traits of fallen human nature.  When asked, God can choose not to count it against us.[7]

Having no deceit, also translated guile, has to do with fraud or trickery. The word translated spirit is ruah and here has to do with the entire immaterial consciousness – self-awareness is a possible way to say it. David says, the blessed or happy person has no deceit in their spirit – knows the problem and does not try to hide who they are from God.

In verse 5 David tells us how to get out of the mess we have gotten ourselves into.

5 I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

When we come to God admitting how we have acted in rebellion, clearly revealing our ungodly character flaws and looking to God for forgiveness, we can stand before Him hiding nothing, having no deceit in our spirit. Yes! This is the way to live.

Selah!

FOOTNOTES

[1] Tools used to write this article include  the internet accessible  Blue Letter Bible where for each word you can access Strong’s Concordance, Gesenius Hebrew Chaldee Lexicon and the TWOT reference (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). TWOT book used copies can be purchased on Amazon and they are very reasonable. Also employed from the internet was the Gateway Bible.

[2] Transgression can even be nation against nation but that is not the topic here.

[3] The last sentence of verse 5 makes this clear. And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.

[4] Restoration to divine favor, reconciled in the NT of the restoration of the favor of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory death of Christ.

[5] TWOT 1577a

[6] First mention of the word iniquity is in Genesis 15:16, “for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete”

[7] Abraham believed God and God “counted (imputed) it to him for righteousness”, Gen 15:6.

Here is the remainder of Psalm 32.  Enjoy!

6 For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You
In a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters
They shall not come near him.
7 You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye.
9 Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding,
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you.

10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked;
But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous;
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

An Audience of One

Learning the InstrumentPlaying an instrument is not my forte. The only thing I learned to play growing up was the radio. As a child I wanted to study piano but money for lessons was tight. Instead, I learned to type. They’re kind of the same thing – they both have a keyboard.

A number of years ago I dreamed I was in Heaven seated at an ebony grand piano. Though difficult to convey to you the reader how real it was, trust me when I tell you there was one time in my life when I played the piano. The music flowed effortlessly –  without a single piano lesson to my name. Beautiful, lyrical – my fingertips sang the song of the ivories.

I remember being conscious in the dream of the reality that I did not know how to play the piano. At the same time my entire being was filled and thrilled to the music flowing through, for which I was simply the conduit. I was flooded with joy, while fully aware I did not know how to play the piano! I still don’t.

Something greater than my lack met me in my dream that early morning and found a receptive pupil.

Autumn background with colorful leaves and ripped paper. Vector illustration.

Meanwhile, I learned to put my typing skills to good use. They have served me well both in employment and in my writing. My male bosses appreciated the former; my heavenly Employer the latter.

I love music which fills my soul; so too, I love words through which I want to play to an audience of One.

It takes time to learn to play to an audience of One. I would venture to say most of us are not initially wired to tune out everyone else to the exclusion of the only One from whom approval need come.

Samuel Butler’s quote in the accompanying photo struck a chord with me the first time I read it:

Life is like playing a violin solo in public
and learning the instrument as one goes on. 

To which I say Amen! It’s one thing to dream of being a virginal piano virtuoso, and quite another in our screechy attempts to play beautiful music on the strings of our life. Sometimes we hit the wrong notes.

Then there are those times we hit all the right ones and out flows something full, rich and orchestral.

Enter the Concert Master.

God and Mr. Butler understood something with which I think many ishshahs struggle, including me: those times we’re called to step up and play the piece of music set before us, whether by God or man.

The score may be unfamiliar at best or by far the most difficult ‘piece’ we’ve ever had to play. It is doubly hard if we have never held or sat before that particular ‘instrument’, then are told we must play it.

One can’t just set the instrument aside; it’s too valuable. In ways we do not often realize or understand at the time, it is the instrument of God’s choosing or allowance based on His superior knowledge of the purpose He has ordained for our life. So it goes where we go, all the while demanding our practiced and fixed attention on Him in order to coax forth notes of life and not death and despair.

There we are, living a violin solo in a multitude of others just like us but with different instruments.

Only the Concert Master knows full well how to bring forth the sound of each one that contributes to the whole of His vast orchestra. A simultaneous symphony of individual praise for an audience of One.

Autumn background with colorful leaves and ripped paper. Vector illustration.I’m reminded of the choir years of my life. With simply my single voice to contribute, nonetheless it added to the whole as others offered their single contribution as well. Whether under the tutelage of a school music teacher, a church choir director, or a self-directed small vocal group, something wonderful happened as our voices – each with their specific part – were joined together.

Melody and harmony synchronized as our ears were tuned to hear not only our part but how it fit in composition with others. Sometimes it required more practice and try, try again. Other times, it was exhilarating in its resulting sound. I may not play the piano, but I do love gorgeous chords of harmony.

That small illustration multiplied a million times over provides a glimpse of the immensity of God. Yet, He longs to hear and listen to each one, then orchestrates even the orchestration of the orchestra!

Over two years ago the Ishshah’s Story blog/editorial team came together in such an orchestration. A sound had been going forth as individually each member was contributing to a particular theme song in the heart of God. Because each one was looking to Him while living our ‘violin solo’ life and by noticing what He was conducting, He could guide us to eventually become a collaborative and cohesive quartet.

Our collective heart since the formation of Ishshah’s Story has been to provide a platform for other voices to be heard as well. Dear, valuable ishshah – what instrument, what song has the Lord used to establish praise to Him, your audience of One?

You are warmly invited and encouraged to consider playing a ‘violin solo’ in the safety of our numbers. We are all still ‘learning the instrument’ as we go on. However, we are also making lovely music that brings joy to the heart of our Concert Master.

There are several ways in which your voice may be heard here on Ishshah’s Story – through Her Journey, Her Voice, Her History, or Her Wisdom. You are welcome to check out our guidelines for contributions which will aid in your submission of a potential guest feature.

Through our Facebook page, a summer writing challenge was put forth which we extend here as well. If so inclined, over the next ten weeks you are encouraged to set aside some time to pen a submission for review as a possible guest post. Our team here at Ishshah’s Story will keep humming through August while keeping an eye out for your email with a potential submission attached!

Before we take a bow.

As I mentioned before, it takes time to learn to play to an audience of One. Living a ‘violin solo’ in this world, it is evident we are surrounded by an audience of the masses. Yet when the curtain comes down on each day, there remains only One whose heart it is to call forth and conduct our life’s music in a way that is fitting to His purpose for us and pleasing to Him.

No other nod of approval in this life will call forth and sustain the music within that comes from His look in our direction. When we play to an audience of One, His commendation is the one that endures.

Playing on ~

Nancy and The Teammates – Cheryl, Melody and Pat, a catchy little group!

photo credit: violin on grunge paper background with space via photopin (license)

Acknowledging the Eldership of Women

Ishshah’s Story is pleased to feature the following archived Her History post authored by Cheryl McGrath. Away for a short break, Cheryl’s voice and heart stimulates us still through her writings. Enjoy the first of two posts to be featured while she is on a brief sabbatical. 

A portrait of a thoughtful grannyHer History

When I was both a young woman and a young Christian I would often wander with some friends down to Speaker’s Corner at the Domain in Sydney for some Sunday afternoon entertainment.   Speaker’s Corner, as the name implies, was a space in the city given over for anyone and everyone with a cause to present their ideological position to the public. Politicians, revolutionaries, and all kinds of colourful personalities would stand up on soap boxes shouting out their beliefs and opinions to the gathered crowds, who in turn would heckle, ridicule or nod their agreement.

One of the most popular speakers, and our favourite, was an elderly Christian woman named Ada Green, or Sister Ada as she liked to be called. Sister Ada was a small woman with a voice that belied her size as she preached non-stop about Christ and salvation.

A seasoned street preacher, Sister Ada was both fiery and fearless. I never saw a heckler that could make her flinch or whose ridicule she couldn’t counter. When the noise of the heckling became too loud she’d start addressing God with the gift of tongues and the clammer would die down as everyone strained to hear her strange words. On Friday evenings, come rain, hail or shine, she would set herself up on a corner in Darlinghurst, one of Sydney’s roughest neighbourhoods, to share her beloved gospel. One historian wrote of her:

“Ada Green preached every Friday night until the police booked her for obstruction.  To the mingled cheers and boos of the mob she’d mount the steps of the paddy wagon like an aristocrat going to the guillotine still preaching defiantly away until the steel door clanged shut.” (George Sprod)

Sister Ada preaching in Sydney, circa 1970

Ada Green (in hat) preaching in Sydney, circa 1970.

I’ve not thought of her for many years but Sister Ada has been much on my mind recently. With an awakening sense of gratitude I’ve realised she was the first woman I ever heard preach, even though at that time I’d already been a church going Christian for several years. What seeds were planted in my twenty year old heart by Sister Ada that lay dormant until I too, in middle age, finally stepped into my own calling as a woman preacher? What do I owe her for the example she presented to me, or the tiny glimmer of possibility she planted within me, by her courage and her refusal to be silenced either by mocking heckler or crusty religion? I thank God for Ada Green.

Sister Ada was my first woman elder. She taught me that the words ‘woman’ and ‘possibility’ are not incompatible. The reawakening of her memory in me has sent me on a journey through my own story searching for other female elders in my life.

Edna, a motherly figure who took me under her wing when I was a young mother of four struggling to appear cool, calm and in control when in reality I was anything but, was the next woman elder to pop up on my memory dial.

Edna had raised a family of several children and saw right through me. Her husband was a recognised and respected elder in our church, but though Edna’s wisdom and insight matched his in every way, woman elders were not even contemplated in that denomination, so Edna humbly dispersed her wisdom behind the scenes without fuss. She taught me a lot of things, including practical skills like needlework….a means of self-expression I desperately needed at a time when my personality was drowning in a quest to fulfil some imaginary ‘mother superior’ role I held in my mind.

Most of all Edna imparted to me a deep love for the Word of God. She was ruthless in her insistence that I learn to hear the Spirit in the Word and not lean on others to discern the scriptures for me. The love for scriptural truth she nurtured in me remains her enduring legacy in my life, and has helped give rise to my blog Bread for the Bride. I still love nothing more than to settle down with several Bible versions opened in front of me and prayerfully dig for precious gold nuggets of revelatory truth that will draw me and others closer to Jesus. I thank God for Edna.

And then there was Therese. I met Therese when I was working in a community liaison position within our state education system. Therese was a beautiful Samoan Christian woman who had moved to Australia with her husband and family from Western Samoa to help establish a Samoan church in the working class western suburbs of Sydney. We became friends when I asked her to teach me the Samoan language and culture so I could more effectively work with Pacific Islander communities in the area.

Therese was a wonderful teacher, firm but warm hearted and always encouraging. I don’t remember much of the Samoan she taught me but I do remember the things she shared with me about her life. Raised in a culture where fear of evil spirits ruled daily activities, she would bristle at any suggestion that missionaries had wrongly imposed their religion on her island nation. She told me how liberating the coming of the gospel had been for her people, freeing them from superstition, occult practices and fear and giving them authority over the dark spiritual forces that had previously ruled their lives.

Therese was fortunate to have a father who encouraged her to learn. As a girl she studied so hard she collapsed physically and mentally, causing a lifelong partial blindness in one eye. She had suffered much in her life but rather than growing bitter through her ordeals she had grown only closer to God. I watched her interactions with the men, women and children of her community as she gently guided, instructed and encouraged each one appropriately. In turn they loved and respected her for her wisdom, grace and leadership.

In Therese I saw a woman of great strength yet great humility. She taught me that true spiritual authority does not need be loud or aggressive and is so much more effectively displayed in grace and gentleness than in overbearing control.  I thank God for Therese.

Most of us, if we will trace our spiritual journeys, will find within us the legacy of at least one Christian woman elder God has placed along our path.   These three women were bright lights in my life, women of deep integrity, courage and grace, but it has taken me many miles to realise the power and beauty of their lasting influence on me.

In looking back I can clearly see how each one was placed strategically by God at the appropriate point in my journey. None of them carried any official recognition within their churches or denominations, but each one of them demonstrated God given authority combined with spiritual gifts and functions the Body of Christ desperately needs.  I have gleaned richly from my women elders and continue to grow stronger and wiser because of the spiritual seeds they planted and the truths they imparted to me.

And what of you? Have you had the benefit of a woman or women whose spiritual legacy continues to unfold in your life?   Can you look back over your journey and see their footsteps imprinted alongside yours, even if only briefly? Tell us about your women elders. I would so love to hear how they have impacted your own story!

You can share your story as a guest blogger (see here for guidelines) or simply share with us more briefly in the comments section beneath this post.  We would love to hear from you!

*Photo of Ada Green from http://www.victorzammit.com/about/pictures.htm

Carrying the Light

flowering tree grey building window 2  ch IMG_1336

My friend and I drove around back roads looking for inspiration. Springtime in the Rockies, when trees blossom and snow gleams on mountain peaks above greening valleys, is a joyous time for amateur photographers. We understand that journeys can be destinations in themselves.

While checking out a village by the river we passed an abandoned building. Actually, after a drinking a thermos of coffee we were desperately searching for a different kind of building, preferably one without any line-ups. Much to our relief there was a wee little one on the edge of the park. After I came out and dared to breathe through my nose again the nearby structure caught my attention. Through a window-less window I saw a tree covered with white blossoms inside the building.

“There you go,” I joked to my friend. “If I ever need an illustration for inner beauty I have one.”

I didn’t think I’d need it though. The problem is, I am not fond of that passage in the Bible. I’ve avoided writing about it.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:3,4 NIV)

In my youth it was used to shame women for causing men to have impure thoughts (as if they couldn’t come up with those on their own). Inner beauty meant  downplaying natural assets and dressing like your grandmother (although her clothes were probably considered “worldly” at one time too.)

Be-quietly-submissive-and-don’t-draw-attention type of inner beauty felt oppressive.

For a while, in the 70’s, we went the other way, and took this passage to mean “Don’t be dependent on external adornment only.” Planners included fashion shows and make-up demonstrations at women’s meetings and retreats. We bought books on how to please (and manipulate) our men with the only power left to us – our feminine wiles – oh, and of course our “inner beauty.” We hoped it was all good as long as the make-overs were followed by a devotional.

Can I admit that approach felt equally oppressive?

The thing is, we all know that outer beauty is a highly valued currency in this world. Research shows that even young children associate beauty with kindness and trustworthiness. Attractive people with symmetrical features and slender bodies are much more likely to get the job – or the vote. You won’t find any funny-looking people on brochures for Christian colleges and in many churches worship bands are made up entirely of the young and fashionable. Let’s face it; many western expressions of Christianity have bought into the importance of appearance too.

Beauty fades. Perhaps its brevity is what increases increases its value. For those who have relied on their looks more than they realize the reality of fading beauty can be a shock. Many women remember the day no one at the construction site noticed them walk by, or worse, called them “ma’am.” It might be wise to work on that gentle and quiet spirit  before the mood swings of menopause arrive.

When a woman of any age is introduced as one having inner beauty an eligible bachelor knows it’s like saying she has a “nice face for radio.” He hears, “Run, Abner!”

I know too many Christian women with excellent character and a multitude of talents who never get a second glance. Perhaps some of them have unrealistic expectations themselves, but many fail to register as possibilities in the somewhat shallow minds of most wife-seeking men because their beauty is not obvious. Guys confide in them about love life problems as if plain appearance has rendered those who carry their beauty on the inside neuter. I even won’t talk about judgment from other women. It’s so unfair.

Amazingly, Jesus our high priest, who has suffered everything we have and knows about our frailty, understands. The prophet Isaiah when describing the Messiah said: He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2) All those paintings and movie depictions of Jesus with sparkling blue eyes, regal nose and perfect white teeth? Not accurate.

God does not play the marketing/advertising/propaganda game like we do. We’ve all known disappointment when something we bought into didn’t match the hype. He told Samuel the prophet not to be fooled when he was about to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king. Men look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.

If we want to have influence in society our tendency is to choose attractive, articulate people, possibly from the pool of the modern equivalent of nobility (actors or athletes) to represent our cause. The Apostle Paul mentioned that there were not many of those types amongst the people God chose to carry his good news to the world. (1 Corinthians 1:16)

As I thought about this another passage caught my attention: For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5,6 ESV)

The light began to shine on my disgruntlement. Inner beauty is not about keeping body and personality under wraps. This is inner beauty: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ living in us.

Only familiarity with that light can produce a quiet and gentle spirit that is not afraid of the future or dependent on the approval of shallow people. A woman who knows the light of Christ is not striving to be noticed or heard by anyone, because she has already been heard and known by the King of Kings himself. She is free and she shines. Quietness is having no need to fret. Gentleness is powerful strength under control. She can be trusted to carry the light.

But wait. There is an important message in the next verse: But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (vs. 7)

God deliberately chooses our human ordinariness and fragility to hold that which is most precious to him. His strength is made perfect in the weakness of transparency. An ad campaign that attracts folks to a mere facade brings attention to the wrong source of beauty.

If we have been entrusted with gifts of wealth, earthly wisdom, renown, or physical attractiveness, we need to recognize them for what they are – resources to share for the glory of God. They can all vanish in a wisp of a moment and are intended, like other gifts from the Father, to be appreciated and enjoyed but never exploited for self-aggrandizement.

When our hope is in perishable things – or even perishable people – we will inevitably suffer disappointment. When our hope is in the Eternal One we have a handhold in the future. David, the handsome, gifted man-after-God’s-own-heart wrote:

For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
(Psalm 36:9 NIV)

Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Peace in the Storm

storm cloudsSome people have vivid dreams on a regular basis but I’m not one of them.  Even if I have a dream, I seldom can remember much about it.  However, early in my walk with the Lord, I had three dreams that I have never forgotten.  I believe they were meant to teach me critical lessons.

The first dream is so vivid that I have long wanted to have someone depict it in a charcoal or pencil sketch.

We used to have a willow tree in our front yard.  It was beautiful, with lithe vine-like shoots trailing from the main branches almost to the ground.  In a breeze these shoots would move gracefully, seeming to dance.

In my dream I could see the tree.  There was a storm coming and the clouds were dark and moving like water in a rolling boil.  As the storm neared it became more fierce with the billowing boiling clouds so low the day turned black as night.  The wind picked up and the branches of the tree began to whip wildly like something possessed.   My eyes were drawn to the trunk and I could see below ground.  The roots of the tree were growing through a huge book that said Holy Bible on the cover, like the ones that used to sit on coffee tables.  There was no way to separate the Bible from the roots as they grew not only around the book but into it, twisting and weaving through the thickness even obscuring some of the letters on the title.

Above the ground, there was chaos but the lower trunk and the roots were absolutely still and at peace.  In this dream at the beginning of my walk, the Lord had shown me the importance of scripture and given a picture of our lives when we are rooted and grounded in His Word.

In the second dream I saw destruction coming.  I was living in what appeared to be a multi-storied apartment building.  I could look out my window and see buildings in the distance that were being destroyed.  At first they were far away but as I watched the devastation moved closer.  The buildings seemed to implode as though a destruction crew had planted charges, set them off and the building collapsed upon itself – an implosion.

Somehow I knew that this was a warning from the Lord.  I knew the building where I lived was in the path of destruction and I needed to leave but instead of running for my car and moving to safety I was packing “things”, wrapping each item carefully and putting them in boxes.  It was as though I was watching myself.

It suddenly dawned on me that there was no time and that what I was doing was ridiculous.  I knew even in the dream that God wanted me to understand something important.  What did all these possessions matter when my very life was at stake?  As I was leaving, I asked if I could take two things, my Bible and my guitar.  Don’t know His response, as I woke up.

It has been years since this dream and I don’t remember exactly what I got from it originally except that things are not important.  Looking back, I wonder how I thought I could get to safety in a car, but then dreams are not known for logic.  I know now that He is the only place of safety.  Proverbs 18:10 – The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.

In the last dream I was caught in a hole and couldn’t get out.  The sides were sandy and when I would try to escape the sand would give and I would slide back into the hole.  People walked by and saw me in the hole.  Some just looked and I got the feeling they thought I deserved to be there.  Others just glanced and walked on and a few even tried unsuccessfully to help.  There was one particular person who had prayed with me when I came to the Lord.  I remember him leaning over and looking at me.  I tried to climb up and reach out for a hand but he just turned and walked away.  I was crushed.  In the dream.  I did not get out of the hole.

I’ve thought about this dream many times. Life is full of deep holes and though people may try to help, the only way to get out and again find freedom is through relationship with God.  Each hole is a chance to learn and to deepen our dependence on Him.

That dream was a precursor to finding and knowing the truth of James 1:2-4,

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. NKJV

I love the clarity of James 1:2-4 in the Message.

 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

The truth is I’ve gotten to the place where I find facing a new trial kind of exciting.  I don’t really want to go through but, over the years, I’ve learned that the rewards far eclipse the trouble.  Through them we learn to trust God knowing He’ll use some facet of our “sandy sided prison”  to minister to circumstances and people we may never even know in ways past our understanding.  When we say yes He builds our faith and trust.  What a God we serve!

I thank Him for these three dreams. What a gift of wisdom He chose to give to a baby Christian.  They truly are a gift that has kept on giving.

Encouraging the Encourager

Heart in Hand II - Photopin

Have you ever been starved for encouragement?

I think I see a global version of “the wave” passing across my computer screen. You too, huh?

If anything, there is encouragement in the fact that none of us are alone in the need for encouragement.

No man or woman is an island. We’ve all climbed that palm tree at some point, scanned the horizon for a boat named Hope, written S.O.S. on the sands that resemble a desert more than a beach, and whacked off a coconut or two to drink the milk and dropkick our troubles off into the sunset.

At times, Hope floats to us on the incoming tide. We begin to feel better and with a boost of courage hike our way back over the dunes to rejoin society and carry on, till next time.

When David exhorted in Psalm 34:8 to “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man (Heb. valiant, warrior, person, every one) who takes refuge in Him,” he was encouraging his own heart. It struck me that David could not have known how the praises, laments and musings he wrote from the voice of his one heart would be a voice of encouragement to so many other hearts through the ages.

Thank God that David liked to sing, write, think and pray out loud.

How many of you have turned to the Psalms when hungering for some encouragement for your soul? (There goes “the wave” again.) The Word is flavorful at those times with substance like that of a healthy snack or a divine meal. He never fails to feed and nourish the hungry one who comes to Him. With more available, always.

Heart in Hand - Photopin

Are you an ‘encourager’?

Preach the Word;
be prepared in season and out of season;
correct, rebuke and encourage—
with great patience and careful instruction.
II Timothy 4:2 [1]

You likely are if in reading that passage the Word resounded within you, for Deep calls to deep. (Psalm 42:7)

Paul in his second letter to Timothy (whom he regarded as a son) listed an encourager’s job description:

  • Preach the Word
  • Be prepared any time; in season and out of season pretty much covers it
  • Correct
  • Rebuke
  • Encourage
  • Do those three things in your preaching (proclaiming) of the Word with great patience
  • Do it with careful instruction from a heart inclined to learn and teach sound doctrine
  • The above will flow as you prepare and stay prepared yourself

There is nothing inactive or dull in what Paul instructed Timothy. For those called to wear the mantle of an encourager (in whatever form, setting or circumstance that may be), the action necessary for being made and stayed ready is a gift in itself. It’s a preparation of the heart, not the to-do list.

However, I think Paul was not only instructing Timothy; he was encouraging him with a needed word.

Encouragers thrive on encouragement.

Paul knew this for he was an encourager himself. If anyone had a clear view of reality it was Paul. He had done a 180 in his turn from the kingdom of darkness. He saw in the light what was hidden in the dark.

So he poured into encourager-to-be Timothy the necessary instruction bathed in a river of encouragement.

If you read the preceding chapters of II Timothy you will find Paul’s encouraging statements penned throughout. Then the grand finale of ‘here’s what to do’ in chapter four, verse 2 (above) because

… the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires,
they will gather around them a great number of teachers

 to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
verses 3-4 [2]

As with David’s writings, no doubt Paul too was unaware of the impact his letters would later have.

Preserved, they offer the gift of encouragement and instruction for our lives and time. I am immensely grateful because it appears we are living in ‘the time’ of which Paul spoke. God-called encouragers (who must speak the word of truth and life) can’t not encourage and yet need to be encouraged themselves.

Heart in Hand - Photopin

Do you know that not everyone wants or likes to be encouraged? That’s some bad pizza for the one who is called to be an encourager! Driven to encourage with the word of truth while many turn away.

What’s an encourager to do then? Give up encouraging?

Thank God that Paul called for his parchments and pen. What he said to Timothy then remains a quickened word of instructive encouragement now

But you [insert your own name here]–keep your eye on what you’re doing;
accept the hard times along with the good;

keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.
verse 5 [3]

Stay focused on the few things that matter – a watchful and single eye on that to which you’ve been called; endurance in hardship and affliction; keeping the gospel Message alive; and carrying out fully, in evidence, your service to the King. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. Hebrews 6:10 [4]

And all God’s encouragers said Amen. ▪

[1][2] NIV84
[3] MSG
[4] NASB
Photo credit: IMG_2625 via photopin (license)

In the Middle of the Day

WomanatWell - LJReed

It is our pleasure here at Ishshah’s Story to welcome back author and blogger Linda Jo Reed of the U.S. The following guest post, her second contribution to the blog, offers an engaging retelling of the Samaritan woman – the woman at the well.

Linda Jo’s first story, Upheld in Life Change, can be enjoyed again here.

♦♦♦

In The Middle Of The Day
John 4:4-30

What’s in a Name?   

In the middle of the day, an unnamed woman met Jesus. He was to her, a strange man, at the well where she drew water. Her life changed. I would like to tell her story, but I think everyone should have a name. I’m calling her Miriam because this is any woman—a common name. More than that, Miriam means “bitter,” and it’s possible this woman’s life could have been bitter.

Miriam’s Story         

Miriam came to the well at noon every day. But today, her steps faltered. Her jug felt especially heavy on her shoulder. A man sat at the well. Why was He there? Drawing water was women’s work! And not only a man, but a Jewish man! With no love lost between Jews and Samaritans, how could it be that a Jewish man stood by Jacob’s Well in Samaritan territory—in the middle of the day?

Since He was alone and Miriam needed water, she breathed deeply and stepped up to the well. Keeping her head down, she lowered her jug.

“Would you be so kind as to give me a drink?”

Miriam froze. She looked right, then left before lifting her head to look at the Jewish stranger. She nearly gasped. He was gazing straight at her. Men didn’t look at women!

She couldn’t help herself. She asked, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” She couldn’t keep the incredulity out of her voice.

Thus began a discussion concerning the history of the well, the difference in how Jews and Samaritans worship and when the talk turned personal, Miriam got uncomfortable. She shifted her feet and blew hair away from her face.

Finally, she said, “I know that Messiah is coming and when He does He will tell us all things.” There, that should stop this uncomfortable conversation and she could finish drawing water and hasten back home.

But as she lifted her jug, she saw compassion in His eyes and paused. He said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

Time stood still for Miriam. What did He say? She gazed at Him and He steadfastly gazed right back and she saw love in His eyes. Her spirit soared and her thirst fled. Instead an excitement she had not known in years expanded in her chest.

As more men joined the Messiah, Miriam forgot her waterpot, turned and ran for the village as fast as she could. No thought of rejection slowed her down, she only thought of Messiah.

“Come, everyone, see a Man who told me all the things that I ever did. Could this be Messiah?” And they came.

splashing water reduced

God, In His Love, Pursues Us

This story tells us a great deal about love. The Scripture says, “But He needed to go through Samaria.” How strange. The woman spoke truly. Jews hated Samaritans and went out of their way to avoid them.

Most of the time, Jesus and His crew would have walked right around Samaria in their travels, yet He “needed” to go through Samaria.

Jesus knew Miriam would be at the well at noon. He knew this woman was desperate for love. Jesus also knew her heart would be ready to receive Him. Because of her thirst for love and friendship, she was prepared for His visit.

Today, we may not meet up with a stranger while we draw water at a well, but life offers us many places to come face to face with our own brokenness and loneliness. Jesus will meet us there. He pursues us with a great love; and no matter where our lifestyle has taken us in our search for love—He will be there. He knows our hearts and He loves us.

We Love God because He First Loved Us

How do we respond to the love of God? Maybe we, like Miriam, have tried to divert God’s attention away from parts of our lives we didn’t want Him to mess with. We squirm. It often takes that gaze of Jesus into our souls to bring the conviction to us that opens our hearts and ears.

Humbling ourselves allows the Holy Spirit to labor and complete His work in us. He’s an Artist creating a fine tapestry, picking just the right color, texture, floss to weave. He takes our every broken part, the memories that don’t go away and shapes it all. He’s not only forming the piece that we are, but where we fit into His big picture.

?We learn to fix our eyes on Him.

We listen for His Voice in the deep parts of our souls and minds.

He’s given us His Word to meditate upon.

We obey what He says and let Him weave us into place.

We let go of the futile trail we chose for ourselves and He will spiritually hold our hands along the new path. Suffering may be part of it, but with purpose.

When we set out to please Him, His delight in us is breathtaking. He will stop at nothing to help us succeed. This brings Him glory. Forever, we enjoy the deepest love-relationship with Him.

Reward: Loving Others

When we love God we want to please Him. And what better way to please Him than to love those He loves, treat them kindly with grace and mercy. That would include those who don’t yet know Him. When Jesus revealed Himself as Messiah, Miriam’s first reaction was to go tell people and bring them to Him.

What a wonderful reward to be blessed in relationships!

But sometimes old loves and friendships are too broken to be restored. Is there still a reward? Yes! Jesus will introduce us to new people to love: people He has redeemed and whose lives have been woven into His tapestry along with ours. He thinks of everything!

So, dip deep into the well of His love. He needed to come for us. Our thirst is great, but His love satisfies. It’s the middle of the day. He is waiting there for you and me. He’s not going away until we come. ♦

Celebrating Jackie Hamill: Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory

Jacqquiline-Hamill_3-png

The contrast between the rugged west coast of Australia’s smallest state, Tasmania, and the urban sprawl of Davao City in The Philippines could not be starker. Tasmania’s west coast is a pristine wilderness of misty mountains, winding rivers and impenetrable forest. It is here, in the isolated seaside village of Strachan, that Jacqueline Hamill was born, one of ten children, in 1953.

Little is recorded about her earlier years but at some stage Jackie placed her faith in Christ. According to someone who knew her as a young adult, she was a deeply committed believer with a strong sense of God’s calling, who had ‘looked carefully’ into her faith and ‘grew in love and strength.” ¹

Jackie had a deep love for those who were defenceless, lost or imprisoned. In 1985, at age 32, she moved from her small coastal village to Australia’s largest city Sydney, to attend Bible College and seek God’s will for her future. There she became active in a Pentecostal church at Girraween in Sydney’s sprawling western suburbs. While there she was invited by a friend to visit a prisoner at nearby Parramatta Jail, a chance she seized upon, relishing the opportunity to minister God’s love in a prison environment.

Around this time Jackie was sharing with friends her belief that God was calling her as a missionary to The Philippines. Her desire was to work among the poor and one day to open an orphanage for homeless Filipino children. However, other doors were about to open for Jackie that would dramatically impact her life and ministry.

Jackie joined a short term mission team being sent by her church to The Philippines so she could become acquainted with the country and its people. The experience  made her even more determined to move to The Philippines full time and fulfil her calling to serve God there.

And so it was that on July 17th, 1989 Jackie arrived in the densely populated Davao City, 1000 kilometres south east of Manilla, where she had been invited to conduct outreach and teaching work with prisoners at the Davao Detention Centre. Davao City at that time was described by at least one newspaper as “a sprawling expanse of urban slums racked by poverty, violence, vendettas and desperate crime.”²

In Davao Jackie joined the Joyful Assemblies of God, a group who held Bible Studies inside the Davao prison facilities. Jackie was keen to identify as much as possible with the people she had come to live with, writing to family in Australia:

“I have been busy getting to know the people in the fellowship here, which is a joyful and also humbling experience. On Sunday afternoon we had a meeting regarding the establishment of a new fellowship in Davao City. A lovely young guy called George and I are arguing (nicely) over who is going to be boss. I can assure you it won’t be me……If this is the will of God then I will be involved in something different than what I imagined, but as long as I am involved in reaching out to win the lost I don’t mind….Don’t worry about me for God is with me and I have many beautiful friends.” ³

On August 13, 1989, not quite a month after her arrival, Jackie and some friends from the Joyful Assembly of God went to the prison to conduct an outreach meeting. When the meeting ended, food was shared with the inmates. One prisoner asked permission to take food to a nearby family living near the prison compound, but returned some time later carrying a rifle and ammunition. Other prisoners then ran from their cells and grabbed 21 hostages, including Jackie, a 9 year old boy and 13 others from the visiting Christian group. A siege had been carefully planned and was now underway.

News spread quickly about what was happening in the prison. The military surrounded the compound, while thousands of citizens gathered outside, throwing stones and confusing the situation even further. The siege continued through the night, the following day and the next night. Finally the prisoners were given a deadline by the military to surrender the hostages. The prisoners’ reaction was to walk boldly towards the front of the prison, some armed and holding hostages as human shields. At this stage Jackie was seen to be in the tight grip of one of the siege leaders, Felipe Pugoy.

Hamill-2

A journalist’s photo of Jackie (in striped dress) and other hostages being used as human shields by prisoners at Davao Detention Centre.

There are differing accounts concerning the events that followed. Some say the military opened fire and others say it was one of the siege leaders who fired first. Whatever the case, in the confusion some hostages escaped to safety. One hostage was killed instantly and others were dragged back into the prison cells by their captors. The siege dragged on for several more hours. Later, when further volleys erupted some hostages were able to run towards safety along the side of the building. Jackie was among them and it was obvious she was wounded.

Sometime later one of the military officers spotted Jackie slumped against a wall, ran to rescue her and was able to bring her to the shelter of a nearby building. It is not known how long Jackie had lay wounded in that spot before being rescued. An ambulance was called, but Jackie was too badly injured to survive. It later emerged that she had been wounded in the first confrontation between the prisoners and the military earlier in the day.

At arrival at hospital, aged 36, Jackie Hamill was confirmed dead.

A surviving hostage, Ernest Mondido, later shared: “Jackie was singing songs even as she lay on the ground with gunshot wounds. She spread her arms and chanted praises to the Lord.”⁴

Jackie did not suffer only gunshot wounds. During her traumatic two days as a hostage, she and other female hostages had also endured repeated gang rape by their captors. This was confirmed by Rev. Castillo, one of the hostages who escaped.  There are reports that Jackie also had her throat slashed by the prisoners.

In all, twenty one people died as a result of what became known as the Davao Hostage Crisis. Five of them, including Jackie Hamill, were hostages. There are a variety of reports from different sources concerning the details of how the events unfolded which remain disputed until this day. Some believe Jackie was shot by the prisoners during crossfire, while others blame the military.

What we do know from eye witnesses is that Jackie spent much of the traumatic experience singing hymns, encouraging her fellow hostages, and sharing the gospel with her captors. One report states that as a result at least one of the hostage takers threw down his gun and surrendered his life to Christ.⁵

Jackie’s friend, Reverend David Jones who officiated at her funeral, testified of her: “A beautiful young woman has captured our attention by the love she had for the poor and oppressed and by her bravery and care for the others with her as she died.”

All who knew Jackie personally remember her as a woman of great faith, but the outstanding characteristic of her life was the warmth and quiet joy that radiated out to everyone who encountered her.

At Ishshah’s Story, we celebrate the life and testimony of Jackie Hamill, who followed God’s call, unexpectedly faced sudden violence and early death, yet died singing songs of her Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Though tested by fire, yet she remained faithful.

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory…” 1 Peter 1:8 KJV


Acknowledgement: Many thanks to ‘Onesimus’ of The Onesimus Files for providing resources and personal memories of Jackie for this article.

¹ “Jackie, No Half Measures” Rev. David Jones, “On Being” magazine, November 1989

² Canberra Times, Aug. 16, 1989

³ “Jackie, No Half Measures”, Rev. David Jones, “On Being” magazine, November 1989

⁴ The Age Newspaper, August 17, 1989

http://www.historyswomen.com/hamill.htm

 

Other References used in this article:

UCA News, August 18, 1989 http://www.ucanews.com/story-archive/?post_name=/1989/08/18/davao-prison-hostage-drama-ends-in-tragedy-21-dead-10-rescued&post_id=38424

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/04/24/1576205/journeyto30-hostage-drama

Photo: http://philippineslifestyle.com/blog/2016/04/21/vintage-photo-jacqueline-hamill-davao-city-jail/

Behold

Eager Hill  south  ch DSC_0929

My dear friend suggested we spend a day together worshiping God in the beauty of the nature, outside of the buildings where we usually meet. We spent Sunday driving on the back roads in the countryside here in the valley in Southern British Columbia between the Rockies and the Purcell Mountains. We stopped to admire the many shades of green on the hillsides as new leaves appear. We balanced on a log bridge crossing a trickle creek so we could see a bubbling pool that flowed out of a natural spring up ahead. We shut the car engine off near a marsh to listen to the newly arrived songbirds.

I was so thankful she urged me to drop everything and go with her. It’s been too long. My soul felt restored. How wonderful to share this moment with a beautiful friend.

Yesterday, on the way home from an appointment in another town I turned off the highway again. As I walked across fields and up hills I was rewarded with the sunny faces of thousands of balsam root sunflowers, blooming earlier than usual this year. The scent of approaching rain blew in with a fine cooling mist. My soul drank in beauty.

Bootleg Gap sunflowers  ch  sq IMG_1585

 

A man I know set aside a career as a concert pianist and teacher in his homeland to give aid to the people of Cambodia. He moved across the world to do what he could to help them rebuild their lives after the devastating Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge years.

“What do you need?” he asked. “What is most important to you?”

Their answer surprised him.

“Music,” they said. “We have enough food and shelter. We can survive. Now we need music. We need to fill our ears with something beautiful so we can live again.”

After the horror of lies and violence and exploitation we need beauty to restore our souls. But music comes to an end and flowers droop and die. When my bruised soul, wounded by the ugliness of my own and other people’s sin, seeks refuge where can I go but to the Lord, to seek His beauty?

sun flowers purcell mountains 3 IMG_1469

How is it that a young child can recognize beauty? Why are we attracted to beautiful things – music, art, poetry, dance, light, colour, design, order, balance, play? Who placed the appreciation of creation in our hearts? Why does the sound of a babbling brook in the meadow or singing birds in the woods, or the sight of snow on the mountain tops or reflections in a turquoise lake produce a sigh of relief in our hearts? Why do even infants want to move to music? Why does a pretty face make us want to return a smile? Who planted the craving for beauty within us?

sunflowers hill mountains clouds ch IMG_1475

The Psalmist wrote:
I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
in the company of His people.
(Psalm 27:4 The Voice)

To behold His beauty is to be intentional. Just as I needed to make an effort to leave my work and obligations behind to go out to the meadows and forests, to sit beside the gentle stream, to climb the hill to where the flowers bloom, so I need to be intentional about seeking God’s presence. I enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart; I enter his courts with praise. I focus on Him. When I spend time beholding, and pondering His beauty, I begin to understand that ultimate beauty lies in the Creator of beauty.

sunflowers trees ch

Spending time admiring his handiwork reminds me of His beauty. Beauty is not essential for survival. It’s a gift that reveals the nature of the Giver.

sunflower hill ch MG_1271

All His works shall praise His name in earth and sky and sea.

Behold. Ponder.

Taking the Promised Land

moses-and-the-promised-landBack in the 70’s I attended an Aglow retreat where the speaker gave a message that has stayed with me all these years. It had to do with the tribes that inhabited the Promised Land and were to be driven out. It is one of those wonderful truths hidden in the Old Testament that might be missed.

God told Abraham[1], Isaac and Jacob and then Moses, Joshua and the nation of Israel that He would give them the Promised Land. We pray, “Thy kingdom come in[2] earth as it is in heaven.”  My body is my earth, my Promised Land, the earth that can begin to know His kingdom not as pie in the sky someday, but NOW. Like the nation of Israel there are some things that have to be moved out to make room for God’s Kingdom. Their conquest was natural, ours is spiritual.

This is a good place to mention that driving out these tribes (demonic spirits) is a process. In Exodus 23:30 God told Israel, “Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land.”[3] Paul in Philippians 2:12-13 says, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” adding “…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

I believe we can find an excellent overview of what God intends to do in our lives by taking a look at the meanings of the names of the tribes that Israel was told had to be driven from the Promised Land.

◊◊◊◊◊◊

We read in Deuteronomy 7:1, When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven[4] nations greater and mightier than you. But note, God does not tell Israel that they are the ones who drive them out; HE DOES IT! The same is true for us. However, like the Israelites we have a part in taking our land through obedience, yielding, faith…those things that come out of a living relationship with Him. Let’s see what has to go.[5]

The name Hittite means fear with its root from Heth meaning terror. Heth was the father of the Hittite nation. The Hittites represent our fears. The only fear that has any place in our lives is fear of the Lord. When we know Him and are related to Him that fear is more awe and respect than terror. We know the meaning of fear that the Lord would clear out. It consists of a multitude of areas including fear of man, uncontrolled situations, but particularly physical death.  “God is love.” “Perfect love casts out fear.”[6]

The name Amorite means a sayer, publicity, prominence from the root amar – to say, speak, utter. They think highly of themselves and talk a good game but their life does not back up their words. Further understanding comes from God speaking in Amos 2:9, Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and he was as strong as the oaks, yet I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. Amorites represent our pride and rebellion, reminiscent of Satan and the consequences of choosing our way over God’s. Proverbs 16:18 states, “Pride goes before a destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The name Canaanite means merchant from the root Canaan – a trafficker. While there is nothing wrong with being a merchant, the word trafficker brings up very negative connotations.[7] Materialism, doing anything for profit is primary here. God warns through 1 Timothy 6:10a,  “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”

The name Girgashite means the dwelling on clayey soil with no known root. The Gergashites have to do with our flesh. It is the focus on the earthly, temporal things and produces a disdain for those that are spiritual and eternal. Romans 9:6-8 says, For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The name Perrezite means belonging to a village from the root prz – village, country, unwalled.  This tribe roamed never bothering to secure their dwellings by building walls and cities. They represent those whose lives are not secured by salvation. Isaiah 60:18, Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; But you shall call your walls Salvation, And your gates Praise. Isaiah 26:1b, We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. 2 Corinthians 7:10, For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. We need to put on the whole of God’s armor including the helmet of salvation.

The name Hivite means showers of life; livers from the presumed root hwh – life giving, living place – by implication an encampment or village.  It was the Hivite village of Gibeon that deceived the Israelites into thinking they were from far away and through their lie secured a covenant where they were allowed to live, but as servants of Israel. (Joshua 11:19) By making a covenant based on a lie Israel lived with a corrupting influence camped among them. I believe Hivites represent deception and lying influence. We face the same issue. As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:33, Do not be deceived:Evil company corrupts good habits.”

The name Jebusite means a place trodden down – a threshing floor from the root Jebus – buwc – to trample (literally or figuratively); be polluted, defile, desecrate. The Jebusite would  beat us down by guilt and condemnation until our faith, hope and trust in God are destroyed. Jebus was an early name for Jerusalem, God’s holy city, the center of Israel. The Jebusites held Jerusalem and worshiped other gods until David defeated them.[8] Our land is held captive until Jesus delivers us. It is on the threshing floor that our faith is tried and the wheat is separated from the chaff.

◊◊◊◊◊◊

These seven spirits are greater and mightier than we are, but over and over He promises to drive them out. If we had been able to do it ourselves there would be no need for a Savior. God has chosen to deliver us from these demonic spirits who seek to destroy us. Will we cooperate and let Him do it?

FOOTNOTES

[1] Genesis 17:8, Genesis 26:3, Genesis 35:12, Exodus 6:8 and Joshua 1:2-3, Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

[2] The Hebrew word epi can be translated “in” or “on”

[3] If you read Exodus 23:20-33 you will get a fantastic and more detailed picture of what, why and how God plans  your life

[4] The number seven represents completeness

[5] The derivation of each name is backed up by Strong’s, Gesenius, The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, J. B. Jackson – http://www.bibliquest.org/Auteurs_divers/Jackson-Noms_propres.htm and a variety of research. The interpretation of the meaning comes from research along with the witness of the Holy Spirit in my study.

[6] 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:18

[7] I was taught that the Canaanites meant bent knee – bowing to other gods. Canaan was the father of all of these tribes and horrific pagan worship was true for all of them but I can’t back it up from the derivation of the name Canaanite.

[8] 1 Chronicles 11

Hopey-Changey Thing

woman dove tat in pew - mediumOne morning on my way to our office I found myself stopped in traffic at a red light. Momentarily halted in my tracks, my gaze drifted to the bumper sticker on the vehicle idling in front of me.

Did you know bumper stickers can tick you off, make you laugh, pump your fist, or yell your agreement or disagreement? This one caused a second glance to ensure I’d read it right. I had. I didn’t like it. At all. It said:

So. How’s that hopey-changey thing working for  you?

If my insides could be seen, they were visibly upset. There was something about the spirit attached to that question that made me want to pull a soapbox out of my trunk, climb up on it right in the middle of traffic and holler back in defense of the Lord, hope, change…a-a-nd mom and apple pie while I’m at it!

As soon as the question registered between my eyes and my brain, my mental life coaching hat got slapped on my head. Since ‘helping others live life forward’ is my tagline, how dare you – bumper sticker spirit – attack hope and change?! (Do you catch the drift I took it rather personally and got quite indignant over that question?) So did I and found myself asking why it landed as hotly as it did.

– where there’s smoke, there’s fire –

The first thing I did when I arrived at the office was write down that bumper sticker question on a sticky note so I wouldn’t forget it (as if I could). For months it sat stuck on my desk; I knew it would eventually turn into a blog post. Then one day I went looking for a photo to accompany that ‘hopey-changey thing’. It’s not that easy to find a photo to fit a phrase. Unless you’re Google.

I typed in the phrase in a general search kind of way and sat back in my chair, stunned. Well, that explained a lot. The bumper sticker question was pointing a disgruntled finger at those who voted into office our current President of the United States, Barack Obama. Turns out that “Change” and “Hope” were his 2008 campaign slogans. Obviously I hadn’t paid much attention to his catch-phrases. I had no clue until Google informed me of what the rest of the world wide web – and some drivers – already knew.

Suffice it to say that America is beyond smoky these days; it’s in the fire. However, this post is not about politics. It is about what we are and do living day in and day out as ishshahs in our respective countries.

– plow, level, sow and plant –

Each of us is a field and has a field. No two are alike; similarities and differences exist. There is no duplication of the Lord’s creative essence that resides within each of His beloved ishshahs. Our field is as distinctive to us as we are the unique individual God has created and placed around the globe.

At times, however, it seems the beauty of our uniqueness gets lost, buried, hurt, hidden, scarred, torn up and turned over. As though our matchlessness has been exposed to the sharp blade of a plow that digs deep into the soil, leaving a ripped open swath in its wake. At such times one’s heart winces and recoils from the pain of the plow. Yet the farmer does not plow continually. He plows to prepare.

Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed?
Does he continually turn and harrow the ground?
Does he not level its surface and sow dill and scatter cumin
and plant wheat in rows, barley in its place and rye within its area?
For his God instructs and teaches him properly.
Isaiah 28:24-26 [1]

Do you know what it is for that God is plowing, leveling and preparing you? Assuredly, it involves hope and change.

Perhaps you do know and are already up to your knees in what has been sowed, planted, and scattered by His instruction and direction. Whether a little plot or a thousand acres, keep one hand to the plow and the other held firmly in His grip.[2]

You may find yourself among those who are in the leveling phase. A season of indeterminate length where the Lord is making the rough places smooth and setting your feet on a firm, straight path. Learn well from your God as He instructs and teaches you His ways, all of which are right and just.[3]

Maybe you are feeling the sharp tip of His plow as He continues to do a thorough breaking up of dry, hard ground that it might be readied for His healing rain. Take heart, beloved. He does not plow continually but plows to prepare. His plantings will be beautiful when the season of blossoming comes.

– real hope, real change –

A lot of us can be found trudging along somewhere in the furrows of our life hoping to make it to the finish line. In the heat of the day, hope and change may sound like just the ticket for some relief.

What happens when our anticipation of hope and change is challenged by what appears around us as less abundant than hoped for and lacking fruitful change? What is our recourse?

When some become cynical in the face of the obvious and reduce hope and change to that ‘hopey-changey thing’, how should we respond?

The Word of God reminds us there is real hope for real change –

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope;
for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see,
with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Romans 8:24-25[4]

Sometimes that eagerness gets primed again by the Lord when, where and in ways one least expects. He’ll even use bumper stickers and soapboxes to go toe to toe in the Spirit.

So. In answer to your question, bumper sticker spirit

That ‘hopey-changey thing’ is working for us just fine.  

When we persevere in hope,
all things are possible with God and to her who believes.[5]

[1] [4] NASB
[2]Matthew 11:30
[3]Deuteronomy 32:4
[5]Matthew 19:26; Mark 9:23

Manoah’s Wife

“Manoah’s Sacrifice” by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1641.( Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain, PD-1923)

Tucked away in the Old Testament book of Judges there is a woman many of us may not have heard about. As the Bible does not disclose her name, we know her only as Manoah’s wife. Her story is found in Judges 13:1-24.

Manoah’s wife lived during a period of Israel’s history when the nation was subjected under the rule of their bitter enemies, the Philistines. No doubt many prayers were being offered up during this time by God-fearing Hebrews desperate for a saviour to deliver Israel from the Philistine oppressors. Samson, the child Manoah’s wife would bear and raise, and who God appointed as Israel’s leader for twenty years, would become part of their answer (Judges 13 to 16).

We catch our first glimpse of Manoah’s wife when she is visited by the Angel of the Lord who announces that even though she is barren, she will soon conceive and bear a son. She is given specific dietary instructions to observe while she is pregnant, and instructed that her child, who ‘shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines’ is to be brought up as a Nazarite (see Numbers 6:1-21).

We have no way of knowing the circumstances in which this encounter with the Angel of the Lord took place. Was the woman praying for a child? Was she worshiping, cooking, working in the fields? What we do know from scripture is that the Angel of the Lord visited her personally, communicated information of national importance to her and conveyed specific instructions, entrusting her with their fulfilment.

It is worth noting at this point that the term ‘Angel of the Lord’ is considered by many Biblical commentators to be a description of Christ in His pre-incarnate form. There are several incidences recorded in the Old Testament where this Angel speaks as God, identifies Himself as God, and accepts worship as God (Genesis 16:7-12; 21:17-18; 22:11-18; Exodus 3:2; Judges 2:1-4; 5:23; 6:11-24; 13:3-22; 2 Samuel 24:16; Zechariah 1:12; 3:1; 12:8). It seems clear therefore that the Angel Who spoke directly with Manoah’s wife was not a created angelic being, but God Himself.

As did all Hebrew women of her time, the wife of Manoah lived in a patriarchal society. Fathers, husbands, brothers and males in general ruled in home and society. Women had limited status and little say over their own lives or those of others. As would have been normal, Manoah’s wife reported the visitation of the Angel of the Lord to her husband and conveyed the message He’d given her. Evidently unaware of his true identity, she describes her visitor as ‘a man of God’, or a prophet.

Interestingly, while sharing with her husband the news of the impending birth and the divine instruction about raising their child as a Nazarite, she leaves out any mention of their son’s destiny as Israel’s awaited deliverer. We cannot help but be reminded of another woman, at a later time in Israel’s history who, ‘treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19). For now, at least, the child’s future would remain a secret between the Angel of the Lord and Manoah’s wife.

On hearing his wife’s news, Manoah appears to feel a little neglected. Whether he did not entirely believe his wife’s story, or was simply taking responsibility as head of his family, we can only speculate, but he prays and asks God to send the ‘man’ again to confirm to ‘us’ how the boy should be raised.

The Angel of the Lord does come again, but chooses not to come at a time when Manoah and his wife are together. The scripture says after listening to the voice of Manoah, He revisits the woman while she is ‘sitting in the field’ and specifically notes ‘her husband was not with her.’

What happened here?

The Angel of the Lord visited an ordinary Hebrew woman, conveyed a message of national significance to her with no witness present, and gave detailed instructions that must be stringently obeyed so that God’s purposes would be fulfilled. When her husband seeks confirmation He returns to repeat His message, by-passing the man and going directly to the woman once again when her husband is not with her. We can only wonder how some present day proponents of ‘male headship’ explain why God so blatantly ignored His own so-called divine preference in this case.

It is Manoah’s wife who, leaving the Angel in the field, runs quickly to fetch her husband. Note the Angel gives no such instruction. Manoah is left to follow his wife through the fields if he wants to meet this ‘man of God’.

Let’s listen in to their conversation. (I am using the NASB version.)

Manoah: ‘Are you the man who spoke to the woman?’

Angel of the Lord: ‘I am’.

Manoah: ‘Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy’s mode of life and his vocation?’

Angel of the Lord. ‘Let the woman pay attention to all that I said. She should not eat anything that comes from the vine nor drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; let her observe all that I commanded.’

Did you notice anything missing from the exchange? The Angel graciously repeats the Nazarite dietary requirements Manoah’s wife should observe while she is pregnant. He does not go into detail about the child’s upbringing, simply confirming that the woman already knows what has been commanded.

But Manoah’s question about the child’s future vocation remains unanswered. It would seem the Angel is honouring the woman’s decision to keep that piece of information hidden in her own heart until a time she herself chooses to disclose it to her husband.  Clearly He trusts this woman to do all He has told her without the need for her husband’s supervision.

Changing tack, Manoah asks the man to stay while he prepares a meal for him. The Angel refuses food but will accept a burnt offering to the Lord in its place. But Manoah is still playing detective. ‘What is your name, so when your words come to pass we can honour you?’ he asks.

In marked contrast, Manoah’s wife, in two encounters with the man, has not asked his name or where he comes from. The woman has heard his words, received them and shared them with her husband, possibly at the risk of being disbelieved. Manoah, on the other hand, seems to still be making up his mind whether this ‘man of God’, who has dared approach his wife twice while she was alone can be trusted.  Possibly he seeks the man’s name so he can hold him to account should his promise of a son prove false.

The Angel, however, is having none of it. He exposes the motives of Manoah’s heart by directing a question back at him: ‘Why do you ask my name?’ He asks, adding ‘seeing it is wonderful.’ The Hebrew word ‘piliy’ is translated as ‘wonderful’ in some Bible versions and ‘incomprehensible’ in others. Whichever is correct, it seems clear the Angel of the Lord was not yet willing to share His wonderful, incomprehensible Name with Manoah.

It is at this point that the Angel of the Lord opens both Manoah’s and his wife’s eyes to His true identity. As the goat and the grain offering are placed in the fire of the altar, the Angel immerses Himself within the flame, ascends to Heaven and disappears from view. Stunned and afraid, both of them fall down in awe-filled worship. This has been far more than a mere prophet who has visited them.

Realising that he has been dealing with God Himself, Manoah declares that they will both certainly die, as all knew it was impossible to see God and remain alive. His wife, however, is thoroughly convinced of God’s inherent good will towards them and points out to her husband three reasons why they will not die. If God had wanted to kill them, she says, he would not have:

*accepted their burnt offering worship;

*shown them the wonder they had just witnessed;

*given them the announcement of a coming child;

Manoah’s wife demonstrated insight into God’s character that her husband lacked. She attributed Him with goodness, justice and faithfulness revealing a heart of deep faith, strength and humility. Rather than Manoah protectively offering comfort and reassurance to his wife as her presumed ‘head’, it is the woman who provides wisdom and encouragement to her trembling husband.

Finally, we read: Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the Lord blessed him.’

Again, we gain much insight from reading between the lines. It was a husband’s role and privilege to name his son. But here we are clearly told Manoah’s wife named her son, calling him Samson or ‘one who shines like the sun’. Who was she thinking of when she called her son this revealing name? Was it the One who said His name was incomprehensible and wonderful, whose appearance she had described as ‘very awesome’?

There is something about this little known Old Testament woman that makes me wish we knew more about her. In preparing this article I referenced several commentaries on the story of Manoah and his wife and without exception every one of them focused primarily on Manoah, describing him as a man of great faith. In some of them his wife was briefly commended for being an encouragement to her husband.

But in my own reading of the passage it is Manoah’s wife whose faith leaps out from the page, whose humble response to the Angel of the Lord, and whose wisdom in face of her husband’s fear, are pivotal to the story.

She may be nameless, but I believe it’s time Manoah’s wife was released from obscurity to receive the recognition she deserves.

In a deeply patriarchal society, during a time of national oppression, she demonstrated faith, wisdom, humility, courage and family leadership that was extraordinary for her time and situation. In doing so she joins the ranks of countless dedicated, nameless women throughout history who heard from God, acted on His Word, and bravely trusted Him despite adverse outward circumstances.

These nameless courageous women are always among us. If you are one of them, rest assured your name is very well-known to God.

Settler or Pioneer: Finding Your Role, Playing it Well

Laurie's wagonsIshshah’s Story is pleased to feature a new guest contributor to the blog! Join us as we welcome Laurie in her own words: Laurie Klein, who resides in the U.S., authored the classic praise chorus “I Love You, Lord,” a newly released poetry collection, Where the Sky Opens (Cascade Books), and she blogs at lauriekleinscribe.com. Her work appears widely in anthologies, hymnals, and recordings. She has made one quilt completely by hand. That was enough.♦

***

“Has the stone been rolled away yet?”

I groaned. Enduring a kidney stone prior to Holy Week ensures well-meaning jokes.

Trouble is, laughing hurts. Everything hurts. Waterlogged and half-crazed with pain, you think the tomb, any tomb, sounds dandy.

And then, there’s the issue of timing . . .

*

Four weeks earlier:

Heart in my throat, fingers crossed, I auditioned for the musical “Quilters.” That evening my serial nightmares began:Laurie's quilt

  • In the wings, I awaited my cue for a play I’d never read
  • Onstage, I couldn’t speak
  • I took a grand bow . . . in my underwear

Do dreams like these ever reduce you to wee-hour panic?

This would be my first real play. I had played a happy-go-lucky spring pansy swathed in purple in second grade. No lines. Just sway and smile.

“Quilters” is a musical based on the compelling true stories of settlers and pioneers. Like its name, the script showcases small, colorful stories threaded together in linked vignettes. As a mom and, at heart, a “settler,” I hoped to land the matriarch role.

Instead, the director assigned me twelve characters: male and female, from child to crone.  Twelve? Two of them male?

I’d been her private student for some time and wanted to make her proud, wanted to banish my stage-fright nightmares.

Picture potential headlines with me: “Small-town Pansy Finally Speaks” and “Wannabe Actress Hits College Big-time.”

I’d settle for nothing less.

*

Does self-induced pressure ever drive you?

Someone we love and admire champions us. It’s heaven, for a while. Then worry steals the scene. Can we fulfill their hopes for us? If we fail, will we lose his respect, or her heartening presence in our life?

Sanity asks: Can you simply love doing your best?

Grace replies: Simply do your best and know you are loved.

Ears full of imagined applause, I missed both memos.

*

Clueless about the vicious kidney “rock” getting ready to “roll,” by day, I danced and sang my “settler” heart out; by night, I reined in fear (mostly). I was forging onward, a modern-day pioneer crossing ego’s perilous prairie.

Except.

I desperately wished I’d already arrived. My “best” felt barely adequate.

Laurie's pansiesCostumes spiked my excitement. Vivid as a Great Plains rainbow, our long skirts swirled across stage as we “threaded the needle”—a lively number punctuated with rhythmic stamps of our lace-up boots. Although solid jewel tones ruled, my blouse was two-toned, in pansy-purples. This time, however, I had lines.

And a solo.

*

Do kidney stones have a personality? As if wickedly bent on inflicting epic pain, mine stabbed me awake a week before Dress Rehearsal.

I guzzled water. The stone did not pass. Gallons of water. Nothing moved. When my personal plumbing seized up, I was hospitalized: doped up, fed up, and hooked up—monitors, IVs, and a catheter.

The Lenten “stone” jokes commenced.

The director prayed for me and believed I would rally. Pain, hunger, and exhaustion—I endured them all, just like a real pioneer, but settled . . . in a hospital bed. For five days. In ugly pajamas.

*

Cue the understudy. The director called on a former student to learn my lines, my various roles, my blocking, my harmonies, my choreography, my solo.

Oh my (telling word, isn’t it).

Was this about letting go? I thought about women like me, who “settled.” I could honorably withdraw from the show; it would go on without me.

I thought about flint-eyed women who endured, no matter the cost. Had my stone rolled away? Or was it stuck, biding its time? No one knew.

Except Jesus, the rock of my salvation. Summoning up my inner pioneer, I returned to rehearsals, thinner and braver, my pansy-hued waistband altered to fit.

I renounced stage fright. And stone fright. I would trust The Director for strength to surmount my fears, and grace to embody the gutsy characters entrusted to me.

*

“Here I stay,” declared travel-worn Mary Murray, doggedly stepping ashore in L.M. Montgomery’s book, Emily of New Moon. Fellow writer Rebecca D. Martin shares in a blog post that those three words came to define the woman, and were later etched into her tombstone. Did Mary Murray ever feel stuck?
Laurie's sod hut

We settlers prefer to sidestep change, or a big challenge. Commitment to comfort comes easily. Naturally. Yet restless for rock-of-Gibralter security, we want it now already!

We pioneers relish the not yet. Also restless, we are seekers, wanderers, sometimes so passionate about the thrill of our search that realizing our desire poses a threat. We don’t want to settle. Ever. Commitment is scary.

Settler or pioneer? Both have virtues and downsides. Sooner or later, the noun that best describes us now will likely change.

Good thing God’s promises apply to both our alreadys and our not-yets.

Meantime, how might we manage this creative tension in each of the various roles we currently play?

May I suggest:

  • We open ourselves to daring, while savoring our safety in Christ
  • We trust The Director to cue and choreograph each step
  • We embody, by God’s grace, both contentment and courage

Epilogue:

I left the security of home on Opening Night, twenty-five years ago, not knowing when, or if, the stone would move. It never did.

p.s. The show was a hit! Standing Room Only.

Settler or Pioneer: Which one are you in this year of our Lord? Is it time for contentment and courage to dance together?

Saying Yes

rosegrass_saying yes ch

“He leaned on the pulpit, and said in a stern fatherly voice, ‘Now ladies, there’s a case here in the news where a wife is making accusations against her husband. You need to understand this. There is no such thing as rape in marriage. There’s no such thing because the Bible says your body belongs to your husband.’”

“Your pastor said that?” my friend asked, almost dropping her coffee.
“That and a whole bunch of other things about how to be an obedient helpmate,” I told her.
“Good grief! Why did you stay?”
“I didn’t know I could leave.” I answered.

All these years later it’s my answer to her question that is the most painful memory. I didn’t know I could leave.

A person doesn’t come to accept this kind of authoritarian instruction in a day. As is the case with victims of domestic abuse, victims of spiritual abuse gradually lose a sense of confidence that allows them to leave. For years I had been part of a system that did not make room for questions or disagreement. I was told I could and should study the Bible, but as a woman I was, like Eve, easily deceived and therefore needed a man to guide me. I learned to distrust my judgment and my ability to hear the Lord myself.

I tried to be a good wife, honestly I did. My husband was a great guy and would never intentionally hurt me, but something inside began to shut down after that message sunk in and took root in my need to be a good Christian and a good wife. Unbidden, silent resentment also took root that day. Slowly our relationship began to erode.

I was a young mother in the late seventies and all my little ones were poor sleepers. I had no idea a person could be as tired as I was and still be alive. My desire was for sleep and the object of my lust was a pillow.

“If a man is tempted to stray it’s usually because the wife has let herself go,” the pastor preached. “If an unsubmissive wife fails to please her husband and obey him as her head she tears down her home with her own hands. She is displeasing to the Lord.”

I was afraid of tearing down my own home. I started dieting and exercising obsessively in a desperate effort not to “let myself go.” I tried hard not to “defraud” him. After a while, without expressing any of this to my husband, I began to feel like a victim who had no choice but to grudgingly comply with his every wish. I could not joyfully say yes to him because I felt I did not have the right to say no.

There were other nasty consequences to this bogus master/slave relationship of my own making. I put him in the place of God in my life, and when he proved to be a fallible human my resentment and sense of insecurity grew. He became a disappointing idol to me and I put up a thick wall to protect my sorrowing soul. Poor guy, all he knew was that I was not the cheerful and sometimes funny woman he married.

When I was finally able to tell him how I felt he was finally able to communicate to me that he never wanted things to be that way. He loved me and missed my personality. He would never knowingly use me selfishly. He didn’t agree with the pastor at all. It took some convincing but after a while I realized I was the one who bought the lie that he was my master in this relationship and in an effort to keep things together I nearly tore our marriage apart.

Eventually we moved away and rediscovered each other. That was years ago. I hadn’t thought much about it until recently.

The other day I saw a short video in which the apologist, Ravi Zacharias, responded to a question about why God didn’t stop a bullet. His answer reminded me of the days when a man implied to women under his pastoral care that a husband had a right to use violence to take what was his.

“The supreme ethic that God has given to us is the ethic of love. It is the peak of all intellectual and emotional alignment, this thing called love, which places value on the other person of worth and it is something to be protected,” said Dr. Zacharias.

I put down my work and turned up the volume.

“You can never have love without intrinsically weaving it into the freedom of the will. If you are compelled by a certain machine you can never love. You can comply but you will never be choosing to express that sentiment and the reality of love.”

Well, I had certainly learned that lesson. A woman can be married to the most wonderful man on earth, a perfect Prince Charming, but if her responses to him are under compulsion he will inevitably become a monster in her eyes.

“If love is a supreme ethic and freedom is indispensable to love, and God’s supreme goal for you and for me is that we will love, to violate our free will is to violate that which is a necessary component so that love can flourish and love can be expressed.” he said.

This also explained a lot about the troubled relationship I had with God back then. I feared if I did not obey the rules (often set down by someone else in God’s name) that I would be in trouble. I would not be good enough. God would reject me. Striving and responding under compulsion of duty kept me from seeing who God was – the One who already loves me just as I am. Performance-oriented Christianity nearly destroyed our relationship.

One desperate day about twenty years ago I told God how I felt. I didn’t see him as love. I saw demands to be met, expectations to be fulfilled, roles to be played, work to be done. I saw him as a capricious taskmaster. He began to reassure me this was not the way he wanted things to be.

He took me away into a type of wilderness experience where for two years I dared to say no. In that place he allured me, wooed me, loved me and patiently waited for me to see who he really is. He is just like Jesus – the One he sent to set us free.

In time I said yes because I could.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.

There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’”
(Hosea 2:14-16 NIV)

Link: Dr. Ravi Zacharias Q&A session at Arizona State University (Apologetics).

The Remarkable Katharine Bushnell

bushnellI’d like for you to meet one of my favorite people, Dr. Katharine C. Bushnell.  Obviously I never met her in the flesh since my friend Kate was born in 1855, a bit before my time.[1]  She was a physician, missionary, crusader, reformer, author and speaker as well as a brilliant and original scholar who spoke seven languages and was grounded in Greek and Hebrew.  Work I did on a timeline[2] paralleling her life with historical events affecting women leads me to believe that she, like Esther, was sent by God at that particular time in history.

Her birth came around the same time as women in the U. S. were gaining the right to own and manage their own property.  She made her lifelong commitment to Christ in 1872, the year Susan B. Anthony was arrested for trying to vote.  The next year the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was formed and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that citizenship does not give women the right to vote.

The WCTU went beyond opposing liquor.  It was “the first mass organization among women devoted to social reform with a program that “linked the religious and the secular through concerted and far-reaching reform strategies based on applied Christianity.”[3]  It was in the social reform area (then called “social purity”) that Bushnell spent years of work for the WCTU.

Bushnell entered Northwestern in 1873 and by 1879 at age 24 had completed college and med school and was headed to China as a medical missionary. She was in China for three very difficult years.

Katharine considered going to China “the mistake of my life, except that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God.’”[4]   So true!  It was while she was in China that she discovered that the Chinese Bible was mistranslated to keep from offending a male cultural prejudice against the ministry of women.  She wondered whether the same bias might prejudice English translations.  When she checked out her Greek New Testament, guess what she found?

This incident began her lifelong quest to find the scriptural status of women.  It was in my own quest to conform my life to what God said about women that I discovered and fell in love with Kate Bushnell.  She believed, as I do, that the Bible in the original languages is the inspired truth, the very Word of God.  She immediately began her study of the Bible and languages and, as God directed her path through life, became more and more convinced that mistranslations along with traditional interpretations were largely responsible for the social and spiritual subjugation of women.  While this may be hard to understand in today’s world, I believe a close historical look will reveal this truth at the root.

Poor health and a back injury forced Bushnell to leave China in 1882 with Dr. Frances Gilchrest  who was terminally ill with tuberculosis.  While caring for Gilchrest at her home in Denver, Bushnell managed to establish a medical practice and become active with the WCTU.  When Gilchrest died, Frances Willard, president of the WCTU, convinced Bushnell to come to Chicago and work with the social purity department of the WCTU.  “Social purity” meant that Bushnell worked with reforming some facet of prostitution or abuse.  Since Willard and the WCTU were primarily concerned with abolishing demon drink, social purity was not the major concern of the WCTU and this work is not well known.

She trained hundreds of volunteers who set up “reading rooms” where women were invited to come for ministry.  This evolved into a place to be during the day with ministry and a light meal.  From there the need was seen for a shelter so that women were not back on the streets at night.  Once the ministry in Chicago was operating, Bushnell toured the country speaking, teaching and training.  Her free and travel time was spent studying the Bible and the original languages.  She credited being from a family of nine children for her ability to concentrate while traveling.  It needs to be mentioned here that there was no salary involved with this work.  Bushnell lived on donations and the hospitality of those she lectured.

Katharine spent the summer of 1888 compiling a detailed report of forced prostitution in the Wisconsin lumber camps.   The state of Wisconsin wound up passing what was known as “Kate’s Law” to stop this practice but it continued.  However, the gory details of the camps were of more interest than social purity so her original lecture series came to an end.

In 1889 Josephine Butler, head of the World Wide WCTU invited her to England to tour and speak but soon Bushnell was in India investigating the brothels that served British troops.[5]  In 1893 she was in China doing a report on the effects of the opium trade and more brothels.[6]   These fascinating trips are documented in the referenced books.  Bushnell tried once more to end providing prostitutes for troops heading for WWI which is documented in a short auto-biography that is available online.[7]  Legislation never proved to be an answer to any of these horrors.

In 1898 Bushnell resigned from the WCTU when they refused to condemn legalized prostitution and began to focus entirely on teaching and writing.  For this I am eternally grateful.  I was introduced to her in the in the mid-1990s as I began to seek God’s opinion of women in earnest.  Her book God’s Word to Women 100 Bible Studies of Woman’s Place in God’s Economy is a masterpiece done at a time when the current reference materials were not available.  Today her book is finding an audience among women and men worldwide who hold conservative views on the inerrancy of the Bible and want to know what God really has to say about women.

For me, God’s Word to Women was an answer to my heart’s cry for truth and freed me for the work of the last 20 years.  I was part of the God’s Word to Women website ministry when we republished it in 2004 and I am writing for this blog now, because she led me toward truth.  Kate Bushnell is my friend through the pages of a book but one day face to face!  Thank you Lord, for forerunners.

Footnotes

[1] Kate is my friend through the impact her life and work have had on my own.

[2] The complete timeline can be seen here.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman%27s_Christian_Temperance_Union

[4] Dana Hardwick,  Oh ThouWoman That Bringest Good Tidings (Kearney, Morris Publishing 1995 ) p 16.

[5] Wrote The Queen’s Daughters in India which is available at http://godswordtowomen.org/queensdaughters.pdf

[6] Co-wrote Heathen Slaves and Christian Rulers with Elizabeth Andrew about what they found. It is available at http://godswordtowomen.org/Heathen_Slaves_and_Christian_Rulers.pdf

[7] http://godswordtowomen.org/bushnell_brief_sketch.pdf

 

Prophetic Passports

Journals - Unsplash courtesy of Joanna KosinskaMy husband and I recently received our crisp new passports. Unfortunately, they don’t look much different from the expired ones we sent in with our paperwork. They both contain lots of blank pages. Just what you’d expect with the new ones. With the old ones? Not so much.

A passport is a gateway to exotic foreign lands, isn’t it? The magic key that unlocks the door to spicy foods, colorful culture, and unintelligible languages? The mere word ‘passport’ signaling unlimited travel?

Tell that to my not-so-unlimited bank account, calendar, or life’s daily commitments.

For having had my old passport for ten years, I had one – count ’em – one stamp. To an island in the Pacific that was part of other travel to the Hawaiian Islands. Barely outside the realm of my own country! My spouse fared a little better with two stamps – to the same island in the Pacific and Germany.

At this rate, it’s a good thing we have all eternity to explore the Kingdom of Heaven …

***

Meanwhile, renewal of our passports for another ten years dredged up a memory that hasn’t faded over time. I find that when Holy Spirit wants me to not forget, I cannot help but remember certain things with great clarity.

First let me ask … how often do you speak out something in a conversation that has a ring of prophetic truth to it? Not that it happens every other sentence. Sometimes it can be a long spell in between such occurrences. Un-thought, unexpected, and out it pops. When it does, your own ears clearly hear what your heart knows to be true. Plain and simple.

Or plain weird to some folks, including at times other Christians. Kind of like if you’re a believer making such a statement, then you must be one of those ‘so spiritually minded you’re no earthly good’ siblings in the body of Christ. You know, the kind you would just as soon avoid but you have to live, worship, or work with them.

In my case I’m afraid the plumb line developed a reputation, but what’s that got to do with prophetic passports?

***

A number of years ago I was employed in an organization with staff for whom international travel was an everyday occurrence. Given my one-stamp story above, obviously I was not among them. I kept the home fires burning and organization was my middle name. I did my job so others could do their job even as my heart yearned to have a bevy of beautiful stamps cluttering up the pages of my passport. To me it implied I’d have finally arrived.

I’ve yet to travel ‘over the pond’ and have not often arrived anywhere much beyond the borders of my own state.

Then came the conversation I haven’t forgotten and that Holy Spirit uses to cause me to wait in expectant hope.

 Those who traveled in the organization were covered with much prayer as they went to the least-reached places of the world. We’re talking areas where heightened security measures due to geographic unrest are common.

Standing in a male coworker’s office one day, our talk turned to rising concern about global travel. In some places travelers could no longer gain entrance. Still-open places caused some occasional second-guessing and “help me, Jesus!” prayers over the wisdom of embarking on a planned, paid for ministry trip. Flight costs were continuing to increase as though the sky was the limit!

In response to a statement he made to the effect of ‘when-the-day-comes-of-closed-borders-and-no-longer-able-to-afford-airfare-and-we-can’t-travel-to-those-places-for-ministry-short-of-owning-a-private-jet’ … out popped the comment:

“I believe there is coming a day when the Lord is simply going to translate His people to those places.”

A pin dropping would have been kinder to my psyche than the ‘roll the eyeballs, isn’t she special?’ snort of reply.

Except that I heard that familiar ring of prophetic truth with my own ears. Like a clear bell that had just gone ding! in response to the Holy Spirit in me bearing witness to the truth (John 18:37).

Rather than press the point though, I pulled a Mary and treasured1 this thing in my heart. Years later it remains.

***

What do you make of an instance like this when your heart resonates with something that belies the natural laws of physics, aerodynamics, matter, or whatever you want to call it? It’s a battle between faith and scientific fact.

Sometimes faith simply says, ‘Move over, I’m not going anywhere.’ That’s when it becomes “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not (yet) seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 – comment added)

I had been spending time in the Word. When this statement popped out, I returned to the Word for confirmation – where I discovered I wasn’t entirely off my rocker. Related to Jesus by His shed blood, my big Brother spoke and acted in ways that rolled eyeballs and caused ones to accuse Him of thinking He was special.

I can only imagine the dings! constantly going off in Him as Holy Spirit bore witness to the truth over and over.

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which,
if they should be written every one, I suppose
that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
John 21:25 KJV

After the Resurrection, Jesus walked through walls and simply ‘arrived’, appearing in the midst of the believers. Better yet, He showed up like a hungry teenager – “Got anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41) Stunned, they handed him a piece of fish. His hunger satisfied, He then “…opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (verse 45)

Traveling makes a person hungry. Jesus was no exception. After He rose from the dead, more than a few appearances are recorded of Him eating with the ones to whom He shared understanding of the scriptures of old. After the daylong foot trip on the road to Emmaus, the two with whom He walked and talked had heartburn (verse 32), though they hadn’t even eaten yet. Instead, they were filled up with the whole loaf of the Bread of Life.

***

Since that day in the office I have chosen to keep my heart set toward the promise of Jesus who said, Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 NIV)

Such are His great and precious promises that when His Spirit goes ding! in your spirit, it’s good to pay attention. What He did in the flesh as one person in one place at one time is and will be done in multiplied ways by His corporate body of believers – including women who have long hid His Word in their heart, waiting for that day.

Regardless of what others think, if the Lord some prophetic day looks your way and says, “I have need of you NOW in Timbuktu!”, you might want to have your passport handy. How He gets you there is His to determine.

~ Nancy

In honor of His Word that is still living and active, and my birthday this International Women’s Day – March 8, 2016.

 1treasured = to keep closely together, that is, (by implication) to conserve (from ruin); mentally to remember (and obey): – keep, observe, preserve.

Free photo courtesy of Unsplash / Journals by Joanna Kosinska

Celebrating: Anne Askew, The Fair Gospeler

ann_askew7final_thumbnail_midAnne Askew was born into a wealthy English family in Lincolnshire, England, in 1521 during a time when the Bible was becoming increasingly available to the general population. In 1517 Martin Luther had nailed his 95 Theses to a church door in Germany and in 1526 William Tyndale published his English translation of the New Testament. Thus began the Protestant Reformation. In 1534 King Henry VIII split with the church in Rome and established the Anglican Church, with himself as the “Supreme Head of the Church of England.”

Anne was described as a very intelligent and strong spirited individual. Well educated, she spent many childhood hours studying the scriptures. It seems by her early teens, she held firm views in support of the Reformation. In 1536 Anne’s older sister, Martha, died. Martha had been promised in marriage to Catholic landowner Thomas Kyme and for reasons of social benefit, and against her will, Anne’s father forced her into marriage with Kyme in her sister’s place. She was aged just 15.

It is believed the first few years of the marriage were at least amicable, if not happy, and two children were born. As Anne’s reformist convictions grew, however, Kyme became increasingly opposed to them. When Kyme challenged her she stated “I am a daughter of the Reformation”, upon which he threw her out of his home. Taking refuge with her brother, Anne sought local approval to divorce her husband but was denied, whereupon she decided to take her petition to London in the hope of a more positive outcome.

Meanwhile Henry VIII, despite having split with Rome over his marriage to second wife Anne Boleyn (also a Reformation supporter who would later lose her head), was now re-enforcing Catholic doctrine as the basis for faith in the newly established Church of England. In 1540 Henry began removing Bibles from public access and in 1543 had a law passed making it illegal for all women, and any man who was not of noble birth, to read the scriptures. In the same year, in his quest for a male heir, he married his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, who was also aligned with the reformers.

Within this tumultuous religious and political climate Anne took up residence in London where she renounced her married name and reverted to Anne Askew. With relatives and friends at Court she was soon associating with other reformers, including ladies close to the newest Queen, Katherine Parr.

In 1545, Anne with a number of other Protestants was arrested on suspicion of heresy. After two days of interrogation she was imprisoned for 11 days until a relative managed to secure her release on bail. Anne was ordered back to Lincolnshire under her husband’s authority, but refused to stay.

Back in London again Anne began a preaching ministry, boldly proclaiming justification in Christ alone and expounding on Bible passages before men and women of all classes. It seemed Anne had found her vocation and soon all London had heard about this gentle woman they called ‘the fair gospeler’.

Anne became renowned for her ability to converse equally with both wealthy and poor, her deep spiritual convictions and her excellent knowledge of scripture. One source says she was: “seen daily in the cathedral reading the Bible, and engaging the clergy in discussions on the meaning of particular texts.” ¹

But though many admired her, Anne was attracting the attention of some highly influential enemies who had the King’s ear.

In 1546 there was a dramatic escalation of events in Anne’s life. In March the King, reacting to rumours that the Queen was ‘under the influence’ of certain reformers, had Anne arrested for heresy. She was interrogated and tried before a Grand Jury, before being released to her brother’s house.   In May she was once again arrested and interrogated by the King’s Chancellor and the Bishop of Winchester. On June 18th she was convicted and sentenced to death.

Convinced that Anne had secret influence over the Queen, (who had begun to freely share her Protestant views with Henry), the King ordered that Anne be tortured on the rack to ascertain who her associates in the Royal Court might be. Under torture Anne refused to name or implicate any fellow reformers and remained silent.

Enraged at her ‘lack of co-operation’, Lord Wriothesley the Chancellor, ordered more severe torture, taking over the levers himself until her joints were distended and her bones were broken. She fainted and would have died had not the horrified Lieutenant of the Tower hurried to inform the King and brought back an order for the torture to cease. Legally, Anne should not have been tortured because she was the daughter of a Knight, and had already confessed and was condemned to die.

The infamous Tower of London where Anne was held and tortured.

The infamous Tower of London where Anne was held and tortured.

On 16 July 1546 Anne, her legs too damaged to support her, was carried on a chair to her place of execution. Tied to stakes alongside her were three other reformers, including John Lascelles, Anne’s mentor, who were also to be burned.

At the last moment pardon was offered if Anne and her fellow Protestants would recant their beliefs and return to the Catholic faith. Each refused, with Anne boldly declaring: “I believe all those Scriptures to be true which He hath confirmed with His most precious blood. Yea, and, as St. Paul sayeth, those Scriptures are sufficient for our learning and salvation that Christ hath left here with us; so that I believe we need no unwritten verities with which to rule His Church.”

Anne, aged just 25, was burned at the stake, with one witness to her martyrdom later writing: “She had an angel’s countenance and a smiling face.”

We know much about the last few years of Anne’s life because she carefully recorded details of her interrogations in secret letters that were smuggled out of prison. These letters included many of the doctrinal questions posed by her accusers, and her answers. One of the major areas of contention for Anne and other reformers concerned transubstantiation, or the Catholic doctrine that the elements of wine and bread literally became the flesh and blood of Christ during the rite of communion.

Accused of heresy for refusing to confess Christ was speaking literally when He said “I am the Bread”, she replied: “Christ’s meaning in that passage is similar to the meaning of those other places of Scripture, ‘I am the door’, ‘I am the vine’. ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ ‘That rock was Christ.’ And other such references to Himself. We are not in these texts to take Christ for the material thing which He is signified by, for then we will make Him a door, a vine, a lamb, a stone, quite contrary to the Holy Ghost’s meaning. All these indeed signify Christ, even as the bread signifies His body in that place.”

On another occasion she responded:  “God is a spirit, not a wafer cake. He is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth and not by the impious superstitious homage paid to a wafer converted, by popish jugglery, into a god.” It was on the same day as making this statement she was sentenced to death.

Anne Askew was a woman worthy of remembrance by all Christ followers, male and female, as one of the noblest (s)heroes of the Christian faith. In an age when Christianity had become immersed in superstition and extra Biblical practice, she boldly proclaimed scriptural truth to all who would listen. We will not know this side of Heaven how many were ushered into a saving faith in Christ as a result of her ministry….a ministry that cost her everything. We humbly give thanks for the life and testimony of Anne Askew, the ‘fair gospeler’.

Some more quotes from Anne Askew:

When questioned by the Lord Mayor of London: “You foolish woman, do you say that the priests cannot make the body of Christ?”

Anne: “I say so, my Lord; for I have read that God made man; but that man can make God, I never read, nor, I suppose, ever shall read.”

On transubstantiation: “But as concerning your mass, as it is now used in our days,   I do say and believe it to be the most abominable idol that is in the world:  for my God will not be eaten with teeth, neither yet dieth he again.  And upon these words that I base now spoken, will I suffer death.”

As for that ye call your God, it is a piece of bread.   For a more proof thereof… let it but lie in the box three months and it will be mouldy and so turn to nothing that is good. Whereupon I am persuaded that it cannot be God.”

Anne’s prayer for her tormenters:  “Lord, I heartily desire of thee, that thou wilt of thy most merciful goodness forgive them, that violence which they do, and hath done, to me.   Open also thou their blind hearts, that they may hereafter do that thing in thy sight, which is only acceptable before thee, and to set forth thy verity aright, without all vain fantasies of sinful men. So, be it, O Lord, so be it!”

¹The Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 2  By Sir Sidney Lee; Macmillan, 1885;  pg. 190

Resources used in researching for this article:

http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-askew-sentenced-to-death/

http://historysheroes.e2bn.org/hero/whowerethey/4265

http://www.reformationsa.org/index.php/reformation/56-anneaskew

 

Other Suggested Resources:

Five Women of the English Reformation, by Paul F.M. Zahl

The Examinations of Anne Askew, edited by Elaine V Bailin

Dissent, Doubt and Spiritual Violence in the Reformation

The Ballad Written and Sung By Anne Askew in Newgate Prison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs700E-BtIo

Dyin’ with an Astronaut: When There is More to the Story

Nasa Dyin' with an astronaut resize

The woman at the tourist bureau said the full package ticket to the Kennedy Space Center included dinner with an astronaut – a real astronaut who had been to outer space! My husband perked up. Garden walks and theme parks were his gift to me. “Dine with an Astronaut” would be my gift to him.

On the scheduled day he made sure we had enough rolls of quarters in the rental car to feed every toll booth in Florida. We arrived early at NASA’s launch center and he vibrated with the same excitement I saw when we waited in line for the first Star Trek movie. The truth is, he has always wanted to be an astronaut.

I watched him pour over exhibits and ask questions as only a physics prof can. Listening to him recount details of space missions made me realize the history of space travel has been a greater passion for him than I thought.NASA control room IMG_1002_ch

A voice over the public address system announced, “Dyin’ With an Astronaut will commence in fifteen minutes…”

Dyin’? That was a greater commitment than I anticipated. It took me a moment to realize the announcer had a southern American accent unfamiliar to my Canadian ears.

“Oh, Dine with an astronaut,” I said, relieved. My husband was already steering me in the appropriate direction.

As the astronaut, in casual astronaut wear, talked about payloads and weightlessness, he seemed, well, kind of ordinary. I don’t know what I expected but I had to remind myself this man had actually been to space and back.

“You look like brothers,” I said as I snapped a photo of the astronaut and my husband talking together near the dessert table. Same height, same grin, same passion for astrophysics. My husband clearly enjoyed the comparison. They shook hands and we moved on as a crowd pressed in for autographs.

I took another photo of my man that day. In the misty background you can see the space shuttle. (Tourists were not permitted in the area as it was being prepared for one of its final missions.) He gazes into space, the dream still in his eyes. He enjoyed vicariously living the astronaut’s experiences, but he knows there is still so much more to discover.

 

Looking at that photo I am reminded of a time folks pressed in to meet other people who had marvelous experiences. One of my favourite Bible characters is Mary of Bethany. I would love to hear what she thought and felt as she sat at Jesus’ feet and saw him raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. Many people clamoured to see this formerly dead man for themselves. Only John identifies the sister of Martha as the woman with the alabaster box in his account of a dinner Jesus attended. Both Matthew’s and Mark’s versions include the name of the host – Simon the Leper. (What’s the modern equivalent of that? An invitation to dine with Jerry the Ebola patient?)

Simon and Lazarus obviously experienced Jesus’ miraculous touch prior to the dinner. Perhaps many others there had as well, but it appears those two were the main draw. I wonder if anyone outside barked, “Come see the miracle men! Right this way.”

While others focused on signs and wonders and told I-knew-Lazarus-when tales Mary poured her precious perfumed ointment on Christ. Without official position or committee approval she anointed the Saviour. Jesus responded to her critics by telling them her story would be told wherever the gospel is preached. He talked about how her act was a preparation for his death even as other party-goers remained oblivious to his final mission being set up in the background. Most were still enthralled with the possibilities of what Jesus could do for them. After all, look what he had done for Simon and Lazarus. I wonder if Mary perceived there was much more to this man from Nazareth than even some of the twelve disciples.

 

That phrase, “dine with an astronaut,” came to mind while I was joining friends for the Lord’s Supper recently. A man who resisted hospice care when doctors had no hope to offer him over a year ago sat across the room. His beautiful young daughter leaned on his arm and he smiled at her. He is now back at work and well past his predicted sell-by date. Behind me, a close friend, whose perforated ulcer was healed 40 long days after surgery failed to close it, prayed for someone else.

You know, I realized I dine on a regular basis with folks who have had amazing experiences with God. I thought of a few of these people in my larger circle of friends. In the past eight years alone I have known:
– several people who were circling the drain and not expected to live through the night and have now returned to full lives,
– a child found to have serious heart and lung anomalies in the womb who now runs and plays,
– young people with severe learning disabilities who now excel in university,
– couples with untreatable fertility problems who now chase their little children around,
– cancer patients for whom doctors could do no more now wearing the label “cancer-free,”
– grief-stricken parents and spouses who can enjoy life again,
– families torn apart by anger and bitterness who have forgiven each other and been reunited,
– abandoned, abused and betrayed people who have found a safe place in Christ and can risk loving others.

And then there’s me, a woman who was once crippled by suicidal depression and felt I was too much of a failure for an angry God to love. Now I write about the love, grace, and relentless kindness of a good God.

Miraculous answers to prayer are worth celebrating, but they are sign posts pointing to something greater. People who have known God’s dramatic intervention in their lives usually look like the astronaut did — ordinary. They don’t glow in the dark or stand around looking like the wooden other-worldly saints in cheesy Hollywood movies. They work out problems with mates, pay the bills and get on with life when circumstances always don’t make sense. They will one day die of something. But all of them have had encounters with the One who changes everything.

Some of them, like Mary of Bethany, have cried out to Jesus in moments of despair, “If only you had been here we wouldn’t be suffering like this!” Yet, when they felt his compassionate tears they knew he saw more than their temporary painful circumstances. He saw their future and restored communion with his Father and he was willing to walk toward the cross to gain it for them.

There are many among us who have seen the Lord respond in miraculous unexpected ways. Some, like those crowding in for an astronaut’s autograph miss the major event in the background. Some, like Mary, perceive there is a lot more to this Jesus Christ than a healer of lepers and a raiser of dead brothers, as wonderful as that is. He came to bring more than personal health, or peace, or prosperity. He is more than a personal Saviour. He is the Saviour of the world. Some are willing to commit all they have, even their lives, not just to thank him, but to join his eternal purpose – that all who call upon His Name might have eternal life.
He is worthy.

Women in Leadership in the Early Church Part 3

This is the third article addressing women in ministry.  The first two articles use the Bible to document their service and leadership from the time of Jesus through the first century.  Part 3 looks at the factors that came together to oppose the equality found in the early church. church-fathers-beardsWHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE FIRST CENTURY

The list of women included in Romans 16 gives us a good picture of how active women were in the ministry and leadership of the early church. Yet in only a few hundred years, this shared ministry was no longer present. A number of factors came together to oppose the equality found in the first century church. Prominent among them are 1) the long standing patriarchal nature of society, 2) the educational background of second-generation church leaders, and 3) the institutionalization of the church.

The beginnings of equality found in the early church were quickly overcome by the surrounding culture and traditions. Even while negative influences predominated, our faithful God, through moves of the Holy Spirit, kept a trace of His unchanging plan that can be followed through the years. Of particular interest is the fact that during every move of the Spirit for the last 2000 years women have been lifted toward equal status with men.[1]  He begins to restore with the Reformation and has continued to move to free women into the present day.

PATRIARCHAL CULTURE

 Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power, predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property; while in the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children.[2]  The world of the early church was strongly patriarchal.

Historically, nearly every known culture has ignored contrary evidence and believed that the female was intellectually and biologically inferior to the male.  Patriarchal beliefs were supported by the fact that women were seldom educated which made it easy to consider them intellectually inferior to educated men.

The acceptance of male superiority is clearly seen in the widely held belief that the male “seed”(sperm) contained a tiny human, fully formed but needing a place to grow.  The wife was thought to only carry the baby but have no part in its conception in the same way that ground is only to nurture seed. This belief did not end until the end of the 19th century.

CHURCH LEADERS

 In the second century the educational background of church leaders was rooted in the teachings of classical Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle who had very negative views on women. Second generation leadership was primarily from pagan backgrounds and lacked the Jewish training in Old Testament scripture.  Cultural influences, as well as their educational/cultural training, evidently blinded these early leaders and theologians.

The tragedy is that what they wrote has been accepted as traditional or orthodox theology –the acceptable way of thinking about things—even though it generally disregarded Jesus’ teaching about women and the clear participation of women in leadership positions in the book of Acts.

All classical Greek philosophers taught that women are inferior to men and therefore should be commanded by men and used for their pleasure.  Stoic philosophers said women are a distraction and temptation to men and should be avoided in order to pursue philosophy and things that make men superior.  The influence of both schools of thought can be found in the teaching of the church fathers.

Aristotle’s view is clearly seen in these words, “Woman is an embarrassment to man, a beast in his quarters, a continual worry, a never-ending trouble, a daily annoyance, the destruction of the household, a hindrance to solitude, the undoing of a virtuous man, an oppressive burden, an insatiable bee, a man’s property and possession.”  He taught that the husband is to the wife as the soul is to the body.  The church fathers assumed that’s what Paul meant by “the husband is the head of the wife” when Paul was really challenging that concept.[3]

INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF THE CHURCH

Institutionalization was bad news for women.   God’s intent is for His people to be a royal priesthood. But as the church grew, the man-made need to organize and “be in control” caused a move away from choosing leaders from both genders because they were recognized as being anointed by the Holy Spirit.

Ministry functions began to have titles like Bishop, Prophet or Apostle.  Soon Christians were divided into two categories, clergy (with titles) and laity, (without). These words come from kleros, “the called ones” and laos, “God’s people,” words that originally referred to all believers.  Over time titles indicated rank in a male hierarchical structure where clergy led and laity followed.

By the fourth century when Constantine made Christianity the “state religion,” women had been removed from leadership and the downward spiral into the dark ages was well underway. The institutionalized (organized) church was structured after worldly government and the “clergy” were male. Structures similar to these remained even after the Reformation and are still with us today.

God intends for there to be leadership, but it only works when He does the choosing. Spiritually all Christians are called.  We are a kingdom of priests (male and female) who do not look only to a “hired holy man” to do the work of the ministry.  God calls us to take personal responsibility to know scripture and be the priesthood of believers that God has called us to be.

Today, God has cleared the way for many women to be free to function according to His plan for their lives.  We need to take great care that we remain His servants not fearing to move in our call because it is not traditionally acceptable or seeking recognition through worldly means rather than waiting on His anointing.  God’s Kingdom functions as light in the darkness of today’s world.  As Kingdom citizens our job is seek Him for where and how we are to be that light.  Are we up to the challenge?

Footnotes

[1] Eddie L. Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, (Hyatt Press 1998)

[2] Wikipedia definition

[3]Exploring the Greek Word Kaphale Translated “Head”

[4] This diagram is taken from Susan S. Hyatt, The Spirit, The Bible, and Women: Teaching and Study Guide for In the Spirit We’re Equal (Hyatt Press 1999) p 33.  Original source Lars P. Qualben, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sonas, 1933), p. 99

 

Women in Leadership in the Early Church – Part 2

This is the second of three articles addressing women in ministry.  The first two articles use the Bible to document their service and leadership from the time of Jesus through the first century.  Part 3 looks at the factors that came together to oppose the equality found in the early church. 

Priscilla and aquilla teaching

WOMEN LEADERS IN THE EARLY CHURCH

What do we know from the Bible about women in the early church? Did they have any part in leadership?  Were there limits on their participation?  What do their lives mean to us today?  Let’s take a look and see what we can learn.

JESUS HAD WOMEN DISCIPLES

We know that Jesus had women disciples. In Luke 8:1-3 it states that the twelve were with Him, … and also some women including Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Susanna, and many others. Luke 23:49 and 55 tell us that there were women who accompanied Him from Galilee to Jerusalem and then followed His body from the cross to the tomb.

In Luke 24:10-11 we learn that some visited the tomb after the resurrection and tried to tell the apostles that He was risen, but they would not believe them. Mark 16:11 tells us that Jesus rebuked the apostles for refusing to believe Mary Magdalene when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him.

THERE WERE WOMEN EVANGELISTS

 We clearly have an evangelist in the Samaritan woman at the well. John 4:39 says specifically that “people believed because of her testimony.” Jesus never rebukes her, thus giving tacit approval to her actions. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15) to preach the Gospel and make disciples throughout the world was given to the entire church, both male and female. Luke 24:33-53 shows that the Commission and opening of their minds to understand the Scriptures was given to the whole company of believers, not only the Eleven.  The last verse of Mark’s gospel says, “and they (including women) went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” (Mark 16:20)[1]

WOMEN AFTER THE ASCENSION

What Jesus started, the Holy Spirit continued. Women were in the Upper Room after the Ascension and were present on the Day of Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit along with the men (Acts 1:14, 2:1-4, 17-18). Women were experiencing salvation and Spirit baptism, and were proclaiming the Gospel. They were also being persecuted and imprisoned (Acts 8:3-4,12; 9:1-2; 22:4).

Ministry in the New Testament is the Spirit-empowered expression of God to us and through us. It is a privilege and responsibility of all believers. A gift was recognized by the anointing of the Holy Spirit on a person’s life. Do the scriptures show that women, anointed with various gifting, functioned as leaders? The answer is a resounding YES!

CO-WORKERS WITH PAUL

We know that Paul asked for support of his co-workers (1 Corinthians 16:16) which included the household (including women) of Stephanas, the first-fruits in Greece who worked in ministry after their conversion. Philippians 4:2-3 mentions Euodia and Syntyche, who needed to resolve a disagreement, but had labored with Paul in the Gospel. The word translated “labored” means struggled, fought at my side, like athletes working as a team. They were not confined to teaching other women but working alongside Paul as he taught. In Romans 16:6 Paul speaks of Mary, and in Romans 16:12 he praises three women –  Tryphana, Tryphosa and Persis – for their hard work in the Lord.

HEADS OF HOUSE CHURCHES – PASTORS and TEACHERS

Whoever is mentioned when it says “the church in their house” or someone’s “household” or something similar should be considered pastors. Actually the word “pastors” occurs only in Ephesians 4:11 and would be better translated as “shepherds.” We would say they functioned as pastor or shepherd of a house church. Remember, there were no separate buildings called “churches” in which to meet. Christians met in someone’s house.

The first mentioned is Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), then Lydia from the city of Thyatira (Acts 16:13-15 and 40). Careful reading of 1 Corinthians mentions a letter from Chloe’s household (1 Corinthians 1:11). The church meets in the house of Priscilla and Aquila—more on them later. (I Corinthians 16:19 and Romans 16:3-5). Then we have Laodicea, and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. Some versions changed the original to say “Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (KJV); NKJV left it as Nympha, but said that it was in his house. Nympha is a woman’s name (Colossians 4:15). Finally, the second letter of John is addressed to “the chosen lady”. Some try to say that means the whole body of Christ, the Bride, but they are trying to make scripture fit their own beliefs. (2 John 2:1)

Is Phoebe functioning as a pastor? We need to look at Scripture to decide:

1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. Romans 16:1-2 (NASB)

The word translated “servant” is diakonos. It is how the New Testament describes those who serve in the churches. (1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Ephesians 3:7, Colossians 1:23,25; 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 1 Timothy 4:6). Another word we need to note is helper (prostatis). It is a feminine noun denoting one who stands before as a protector or guardian caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources. Both these words are a good description of what we call one who functions as a pastor who is also a teacher.

In Acts 18:1-4 we meet Aquila and Priscilla who were tentmakers like Paul. He met and lived with them in Corinth and they became lifelong friends (Acts 8:18-19 and 26, Romans 16:3, 2 Timothy 4:19). Except for this mention at the beginning of Acts 18 and once in 1 Corinthians 16:19 where it speaks of the church in their house, Priscilla is always listed first. In Greek this indicates that even though they taught together, she was the leader in this area rather than Aquila. This is important because it shows that a gift is by anointing and not gender. They instructed the gifted teacher Apollos on the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 18:24-26).

WOMEN PROPHETS

A clear example is found in the four daughters of Philip who appear in Acts 21:9 as prophetesses. There are multiple scriptures that encourage everyone to prophesy – propheteia, which Vines Concordance defines as “the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God.” Women are always included and are specifically mentioned in Acts 2:17-18 and 21:8-9.

WOMEN APOSTLES

Mary Magdalene was sent by Jesus to tell the eleven that He had risen from the dead.  Who can deny her apostleship when it came from the Lord Himself![2] There is evidence outside Scripture of others, but we have another in Romans 16:7 that can’t be denied: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Some translators tried changing the name to a masculine form, Junias, but we now know that there was no such name as Junias at the time Paul wrote this letter. Unfortunately the NIV, NASB and RSV and possibly some others, have kept the error. It is very hard for some to admit that women can be Apostles.

Here we have shown Biblical evidence that women in the early church filled all five ministries of Ephesians 4:11. The gifting of God is given by the Holy Spirit without regard to gender. The calling of God on our lives must not bow to the traditions of men.

Footnotes  

[1] For additional evidence for women as Evangelists that is not found in Scripture, see “Women Evangelists in the Early Church” by Kathryn Riss.  http://godswordtowomen.org/evangelists.htm

[2] Mary Magdalene was sent by Jesus to tell the Apostles of the resurrection.  The definition of an Apostle is a “sent one.”  See the Part One Article “What is an Apostle?”

 

 

 

Women in Leadership in the Early Church – Part 1

This is the first of three articles addressing women in ministry.  The first two articles use the Bible to document their service and leadership from the time of Jesus through the first century.  Part 3 looks at the factors that came together to oppose the equality found in the early church. 

mary m telss disciples

What is an Apostle?

It was still dark just before dawn on Resurrection morning. Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices that they might come and anoint Him. Matthew describes an earthquake and an angel of the Lord who scared the guards at the tomb so badly they were like dead men.

The Gospel accounts vary in detail but a careful reading shows that on Resurrection morning a group of women came to the tomb. As dawn broke, they found the stone rolled away and angels sent them to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen. However, Luke 24:11 tells us, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.”[1]

The Gospel of John appears to say Mary Magdalene went alone to the tomb. But take a careful look at John 20:2. Speaking to Peter and John she says, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Notice when she tells them she uses the word “we” indicating that she was not alone in this first visit to the tomb.

Such detail may seem unimportant, but it matters that the gospels do not contradict each other. It is normal to have some slight differences with any story told by more than one person, but this detail was a problem. What a relief to discover that John was consistent with the rest in telling what happened.

Next, Peter and John raced to the tomb and found it empty. It appears that at least John believed Jesus was risen (verse 9). Evidently, Mary Magdalene followed them to the tomb, because after Peter and John left she was at the tomb weeping (verse 11). She saw the angels, who asked why she was weeping. Her response lets us know that she was still looking for a body (verses 12-13). She turned to leave and saw Jesus standing there, but did not recognize Him. Mary evidently thought He was the gardener and asked about Jesus’ body. It is only when He spoke her name that she turned again and realized who He was.

What happened next should forever end the question of whether women can preach. Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “go to My brethren and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father and to My God and your God.” Jn 20:17

Peter and John were just at the tomb. Why didn’t he appear to them? It seems that He waited for her. He chose to send her to “go and tell.”

What does it mean for Jesus to have “sent” her? The definition of an apostle in Greek according to Strong’s #649 is “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” Jesus, our Lord, deliberately chose a woman and sent her forth with orders.

Mary Magdalene fulfills the definition of apostle. Not only that, she was sent to His brethren,[2] the apostles as well as His disciples. No one has ever been given a higher commission! How can we ask if women should lead when the head of the church Himself chose a woman to be the first to see him and to tell the awesome news?

Jesus sent a message to the church by deliberately appearing to a woman and sending her forth with orders! The church has ignored the message. Will we continue to be blinded by the religion and traditions of men and refuse to believe this clear word about women’s freedom to function wherever they are called?

The Lord spent much of His ministry demonstrating by both words and actions that it was culture and tradition, not God that was prejudiced.  If you go back and read His encounters with women, you will find that the only rebuke of a woman[3] came because her comments valued women only for their ability to have children.[4]

We must read the gospels with our eyes open, not blinded by the scales of traditional interpretation. Jesus’ revolutionary views have been ignored and even hidden by theology that is often at war with scripture. It is God’s time to free His church from practices that leave at least half of its people hindered in accomplishing His purposes. We must ignore gender, put aside prejudice, look for the anointing, and trust God’s choices.

Jesus showed the way. Will we follow Him?

_________________________

Footnotes

  1. 1. In Mark 16:11 we read, “And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.” Later in Mark 16:14, Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
  1. The word “brethren” in Greek isadelphoi. In this context it means fellow believers. The wordadelphoi is like the word anthropos, which in most Bibles is translated as man but should be translated human being. Both of these words can refer to both men and women.
  1. Luke 11:27-28 And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and [the] breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
  1. Even the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter had a demon was rewarded for her faith and persistence.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Mess with My Identity

Gender is OverShort and stocky, he was striding through the airport looking like a thundercloud. With hands plunged deeply in the front pockets of his jeans and jaw set with a scowl, the front of his black sweatshirt broadcast the newsflash!

Gender is Over

Just like that, white letters on a black hoodie informed me that my being a female was null and void. The newsflash would be applicable to males, too.

Though that may sound melodramatic, I subscribe to the Genesis 1:27 creation account – ‘…male and female He created them.’ I don’t believe we humans carry gender authority above our Creator.

Mr. Twenty-Something is welcome to his opinion governed by his beliefs. But then, so am I. I don’t agree that gender is over.

Before you off me as a bigoted Christian who is a prime example of what’s wrong with those who claim to be Christ-followers when it comes to other people’s beliefs, let’s leave Mr. Twenty-Something for a moment. The bold statement on his sweatshirt reminded me there was journey in my healing with being of the female gender.

***

I was born a girl. My father wanted a boy. After all, I was the third child my parents were expecting and they already had two daughters. I don’t fault them. In the natural scheme of things, why wouldn’t they want a son? We all have hopes and preferences when presented with a new ‘unknown’ possibility or bend in the road.

I was in my fifties before my mother, in the course of a conversation, revealed that my father did not hold the newborn me for three weeks after coming home from the hospital. (Yet, Holy Spirit knows how to break through great disappointment; He did that for my father in a specific way, who did soften and bond with his new daughter). Her revelation explained a lot I had struggled with, long after the fact and many adult years later.

Today, my belief that identity is the essential essence of who we are is based in the truth of Psalm 139:13-16:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb…
my frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place…
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”

It’s one thing to memorize a beautiful passage of scripture and give mental assent to what it says. Quite another to come to the place of knowing in the deeps of your person that every word of it is true – of you.

Thus, it doesn’t matter what I know or don’t know of the unknown stranger striding through the airport exuding one of the unhappiest countenances I have recently witnessed. What matters is what God thinks about them and what they think about themselves.

When those two worlds collide, there is potential for transformation.

Either we continue to embrace and believe a lie, which has been occurring ever since FigLeaf-land. Or, by God’s wooing grace, we may turn to Him to find our true identity. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Oh, the possibilities if we were to ask Him with a heart to really know, “who do You say that I am?”

But if one doesn’t believe there is a God who created them in the first place, or is angry at God for their life, including their gender, my running up to ‘witness’ to that young man to tell him God loves him just the way he is likely wasn’t going to land in his spirit where the impact needed to happen. Too much unresolved pain in order to even hear it. It probably would have ticked him off and he’d be the one muttering angrily about preachy, self-righteous Christians.

Getting back to Mr. Twenty-Something, as I passed close enough to nearly choke on the air of his angry atmosphere, there was a series of insta-reactions going off in me. You know how in the span of brief seconds you are acutely aware of several things all at once? I paid attention.

***

First, when I read those white letters on his black sweatshirt declaring Gender is Over, it felt like an invisible hand reached out and slimed the very essence of who I am. In a nanosecond, a lifetime of experiences, relationships, generational offspring, and my relationship with the Lord – all that has gone into the expression of who God created me to be – was sent a message that deemed my identity insignificant. I recognized the enemy behind the message. It wasn’t the young man; it was the same enemy that once held my identity captive too.

Next, the word ‘unhappy’ popped into my consciousness. Not me. The young man. My mother’s (and life map facilitator’s) heart immediately wondered what his life story had already contained in a few brief decades. Given his countenance, it had scarred a once-new and impressionable heart. Mine hurt for him. Even though I’d never seen him before or ever will again, I recognized a pain-filled life under that angry facade.

Then there was the flash of memory of a male acquaintance over twenty-five years ago who, out of a misguided and unhealed hurt heart, angrily informed me that as far as they were concerned, I now ‘no longer existed on this planet.’ They apparently chose to nail shut ‘my’ coffin for they came across my public path many times after that and raised their chin, looked away and made it a point to never acknowledge or speak to me again.

That didn’t bother me as much as the belief by which they chose to govern their behavior: that they could declare something that was (like me) existed no longer while I was still a living, breathing person. That kind of judgment strikes at the very heart of someone’s identity.

***

What then are we Christ-followers to do? Especially when there are identity issues plaguing us and most others?

I don’t know for you. But I know what the Lord has done with me: He has not let me forget that young man’s face.

Mr. Twenty-Something has spent more time in my thoughts and prayers in the night than should be warranted for crossing the path of someone in a 15-second airport passing. I’ll guarantee you he has no clue that a mother heart saw him and even now is writing about and praying for him.

But then, that’s sometimes how Holy Spirit loves to work among the masses. Undercover. Surreptitiously. By sneak attack with an available vessel who when He says ‘notice them,’ you notice, and take up the assignment conveyed until the Lord releases you.

God knows how to interrupt a life, whether it is one declaring Gender is Over or one who was in the right place at the right time. To quietly take up God’s heart in prayer for one of His knit-together ones who wrestles with gender issues, may be one of the most effective means Holy Spirit uses to transform a life.

More so than, with a feisty attitude, running out after the fact to get a sweatshirt screen-printed with Gender is Alive and Well. He moves in the moment.

So I pray this young man will one day recognize that he is seen by the One who gave him his life to begin with. Only God knows how and when He’ll choose to bring it about.

Though I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime he isn’t a captive audience in an airplane, a seat mate of God’s next available vessel prepared beforehand to deliver the Word of life and truth to his waiting heart.

Partially because someone who let God mess with their own self-identity saw him in SeaTac International in 2015.

~ Nancy

Welcome to Charis Psallo

DollarphotoclubwelcomeWe are very happy to announce that Charis of Charis:Subject to Change is joining us as a regular contributor to Ishshah’s Story.

This means as well as posts from the familiar voices of Nancy, Pat and Cheryl you can now look forward to interesting articles from Charis as she shares from her grace and wisdom with our readers.   Keep a look out for Charis’ first Ishshah’s Story post due some time later this month.  Welcome Charis, we are all looking forward to sharing the journey with you more closely!

And don’t forget Ishshah’s Story also welcomes guest posters, female and male.  Why not start the month by deciding to share something precious or informative from your own journey with us?  Take a look at our Guidelines and get busy…we are always waiting to hear from you!

We know we have several supportive brothers subscribed to Ishshah’s Story…..how about it, guys, we would love to have one or more of you as our guest!

Destiny

This song, called “Destiny”, was written by me in 2003.  It describes three women found in the gospels –  the woman who poured her perfume on Jesus (Luke 7:37-48), the woman with the issue of blood (Matt. 9:20-22), and the Samaritan woman He met at a well (John 4:7-29).  But really this song is about every woman who has ever known the pain of shame and worthlessness.  And – it’s about Jesus, who died in shame  and rose in triumph to restore us to wholeness and freedom.  May it’s words minister healing and renewed hope to you today.


Christ and The Woman of Samaria, Pierre Mignard {{PD-1923}}

Christ and The Woman of Samaria, by Pierre Mignard (public domain)

DESTINY

I am a woman, they call me worthless

The road I’ve travelled is paved with grief

I’ve seen some things no-one should see 

Now all I have is this perfume I pour upon His feet

Why should He be different?

Why not turn me away?

And who will lift this shame off me, from this life I’ve known

Who will save me from myself, who will call me home?

 

I am a woman, they call me unclean

My road’s been lonely and full of care

I’ve searched for peace but found despair

Now all I have are these two hands

Reaching out to touch His robe

Why should He be different?

Why not turn me away?

And who will lift the shame off me, from this life I’ve known

Who will save me from myself, who will call me home?

 

I am a woman, they call me sinner

My search for love led to abuse

There’s nothing more now for me to lose

Now all I have is this water I lift to quench His thirst

Why should He be different,

Why not turn me away?

Who will lift the shame off me, from this life I’ve known

Who will save me from myself, who will call me home?

 

Woman, lift your eyes to Me, they call me Jesus

I’ve seen your shame and I love you still

I’ll take your pain up to Calvary’s Hill

All I have are these outstretched arms

Nail-pierced and battle scarred

All I have is this burning love

Will you turn me away?

 

I chose a road leading to a cross

And I walked that road alone

Just to save you from yourself

Just to lead you home

So woman, lift your eyes to Me

I am the One you seek

Woman, behold your destiny

Woman, walk free

 Words and music copyright Cheryl McGrath, 2003.  All rights reserved.

 

%d bloggers like this: