My God IS Prejudice: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 9

Recently I saw a quote from a meme on Facebook, I can’t remember who posted it or to whom the quote was attributed, but the quote said, “We have turned the great truth that God is love into an untruth that God has no opinions about anything.”

Reading the great social reformer and pastor Walter Rauschenbusch has pushed me to this same thought again and again — God has an opinion about the poor, the disenfranchised, the widow, the stranger in the land. Reminding me of the words of one of my seminary professors, “God is prejudice; he prefers the poor. Don’t believe me? Read the prophets!”

In my reading of Rauschenbusch’s The Social Principles of Jesus this week, I ran across this poem from Ebenezer Elliot quoted on page 44-45:

When wilt thou save the people?

Oh, God of mercy! when?

Not kings and lords, but nations!

Not thrones and crowns, but men!

Flowers of thy heart, oh, God, are they!

Let them not pass, like weeds, away!

Their heritage a sunless day!

God! save the people!

God! save the people! — Is this the cry of my heart?

God! save the people! — Is this the cry of the Church?

It is my firm conviction that God has an opinion!

God has an opinion about the Dreamers!

God has an opinion about the trafficked!

God has an opinion about the orphan!

God has an opinion about the unborn!

I should have an opinion as well! Not mine — but HIS!

As a Christian, I need to stop thinking about social issues as Republican or Democrat, or conservative or liberal. I need to start thinking about them in terms of God’s opinion, God’s preferences, God’s prejudices!

I’m not suggesting this is easy, or that I have always gotten it right, or that I have it all right now. Determining the prejudices of God can be difficult and nuanced. But let’s not fool ourselves, let’s not pretend as though the prophets don’t exist, let’s not pretend that we don’t know what God requires (Micah 6:8) or that we don’t know the attributes of pure religion (James 1:27). Let’s not live as though God is not prejudice.

If God prefers the powerless and the poor, can we really fool ourselves — Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, Protestant or Catholic, evangelical or mainline — that God does not have an opinion about the…

…the Dreamer.

…the poor.

…the unborn.

  • Which of your opinions need to be conformed to God’s prejudices?
  • How can we live the prejudices of God in our everyday lives?
  • How can we determine which of our prejudices are more informed by our political affiliation than our love for a God?
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Scattered and Distressed: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 8

This week, as I observed the reactions to a recent statement regarding human sexuality by a group of Evangelical Christian leaders, my thoughts have been scattered and distressed. As a matter of fact, these two words — SCATTERED and DISTRESSED — pretty much sum up my thoughts and feelings regarding my standing within the traditions of Christianity and Evangelicalism along with my response from within these two traditions to the broader culture. These feelings of “scattered” and “distressed” are further exasperated by the response to Evangelicals from my brothers and sisters on my left.

I confess that too often the traditions that I call home have acted poorly, unpastorally, and unlovingly. I confess that leaders within my traditions have made strange bedfellows with politicians for short-term “political” gains while losing sight of the long-term goals of the Kingdom. I confess that their sin is my sin even if it is only through my silence. I confess that we have lost our voice because of our own screaming about the sins of others.

I also confess, however, that these sins of mine — some by action and some by inaction — keep me from speaking the Truth with love. I feel guilty. I feel angry — at myself and others. I feel scared that my hypocrisy will be pointed out. I feel scattered. I feel distressed.

A fuller examination of these feelings is probably a post for another day — maybe even its own series. In the meantime, I look and listen to those whom I believe God has placed in my path to provide discipleship and ultimately healing for my confusion, my “scattered” thoughts, my “distressed” feelings. For me, Walter Rauschenbusch has become one of those voices.

Today, I was struck by Walter Raushenbusch’s writing concerning the Church as a product of Jesus’ compassion or social feeling. I realize that I may move beyond Walter’s initial take on this passage, but like usual, he challenged me; I hope it does the same for you.

From The Social Principles of Jesus by Walter Rauschenbusch. Chapter 3, “Standing with the People.” Page 33.

THIRD DAY: The Church, a Product of Social Feeling

And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest. And he called unto him his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. –Matt. 9:35-10:1

The selection of the Twelve, their grouping by twos, and their employment as independent messengers, was the most important organizing act of Jesus. Out of it ultimately grew the Christian Church. Now note what motives led to it. Jesus was relieving social misery. He was oppressed by the sense of it. The Greek verbs are very inadequately rendered by “distressed and scattered.” the first means “skinned, harried”; the second means “flung down, prostrate.” The people were like a flock of sheep after the wolves are through with them. There was dearth of leaders. So Jesus took the material he had and organized the apostolate — for what? The Church grew out of the social feeling of Jesus for the sufferings of the common people.

To what extent, in your judgment, does the Church today share the feeling of Jesus about the condition of the people and fulfill the purpose for which he organized the apostolate? Or has the condition of the people changed so that their social needs are less urgent?

Jesus’ response to the pain of the sheep was not to attack the wolves — the sheep didn’t need to be saved from the wolves. they needed to be saved from their condition, from their evil spirits, and ultimately from their sin.

It was the mistake of the first century to think that the Messiah was coming to save the people of God from external oppressors — from the Romans or even the religious leaders. And it would be the mistake of the twenty-first century to think that the Messiah came to save the people from external oppressors — liberal or conservative — political or theological.

Jesus came and sent the Church into the World to save us from our own sin. In so doing the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made whole, the deaf hear, and the Good News is preached to the poor and oppressed!

This is the message of the gospel — the social gospel or otherwise. The comfort brought to the sheep is through the rod and the staff (Psalm 23) not through allowing the sheep to go their own way further into darkness and danger.

Let me put this as plainly as I can in a way that I hope will not offend anyone (but possibly may offend everyone):

I do NOT need Jesus to save me from someone else’s definition of marriage (regardless of the definition); I need Jesus to save my marriage from my own selfishness, my own pride, my own sin.

I do NOT need Jesus to save me from someone else’s restrictive or progressive sexual ethic; I need Jesus to save me from my own lust, my own wandering eye, my own sin.

I do NOT need Jesus to save me from fundamentalist or liberal theologians (or politicians); I need Jesus to save me from my own nature, from my own unclean spirits, from my own sin.

It is wrong to speak the Truth without love. It is also wrong to speak love without the Truth. And I am thankful for the many men and women in my life (some in person and others through their writings) that have acted pastorally by pointing out my innate sin nature and have challenged me by speaking the Truth into my life with love! I hope that through their example — through their voices of love speaking the Truth — God will bring this scattered and distressed sheep closer to Him, and may He chastise me with His rod and His staff if a I stray or if — and God forbid — I ever run with the wolves!

  • How do we challenge the notion that the Gospel can be separated from the social concerns of the world?
  • How do we challenge the notion that one can have a Social Gospel separated from the transformational power of the Gospel to change the internal and external life of the sinner?
  • To what extent do you feel that Church leaders (and members) are wolves rather than sheep? And how does this happen on either side of the left/right divide in the Church?
  • How do we discern that we are not running with a wolf pack even when we think we are one of the sheep?

The Fiction of Peace

Stace HawaiiAbout today’s author:
Stacy Bender derives her earthly joy from three earthly areas: her family, her friends, and her work.  Though she could probably have hobbies, she would rather connect other people to what makes them tick.  Her current claim to fame is living in a 1965 airstream trailer at least part of the last year. For a couple of years, Stacy blogged daily (click here to read all about her racing mind).  In the past few years, she has blogged once every so often. 

You can read more about how Stacy has influenced Kerry’s life as his wife and friend, and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading tomorrow’s final post in the series “Celebrating Women.”

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If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
-Romans 12:18 (ESV)

Biff and Momsiah and momIf you look at my public Facebook feed, you will see a lot of smiles on it.  The biggest smiles most recently have been in some live videos with my daughter (who authored the post a couple of days ago) and with my son after the closing of his recent on stage performance of The Amish Project at Baylor University.

I do not smile all of the time.  

In fact, every year that goes by shows more wrinkles on my forehead from the “Stacy Scowl” that often contorts my face to represent the ugliness that resides in my heart.  I harbor resentments, I want to be right – or at least seen as someone who can find out what is right, and I lack trust in others to watch out for me.

Who knows where this comes from?

Research could probably point to a number of different “risk factors” in my life, but I want to be clear that, given how many people seem to have risk factors,  I see it more as “normal dysfunction” in my life: a lot of fun stories, a few laughs, and a lot of tears.  Side note: I like the concept of “normal dysfunction.” I just coined it; maybe there is other research out there that has already coined it, but it’s the first time I have written it in a published work .

Of course, research has its place.  We could measure my cortisol (stress hormone) level to see how it differs when I am with people I trust versus those who have hurt me in the past.  We could create charts, graphs, and pretty images to depict how everyone else is responsible for my feelings.

And that could feel good – giving everyone else the responsibility and weight of my feelings.  

In the words from a recurring line in The Amish Project, “Am I right?”

Of course, I’m right.  You responsible for me takes away the responsibility from me for me…and for you…and for anything.  I can blame you for all of my problems, I can feel better, I can avoid you, and I can talk about you in counseling office, in prayer concern time at Bible study, and in passive-aggressive story-telling at a favorite coffee shop.  Everyone will sympathize with me, they all will feel better about unloading their stories, and they probably will feel fine talking about me when I’m not there.

“Am I right?”

Sarcasm.

All of this is sarcasm.

And it makes us feel better.  We internalize it.  We believe it.  We live it.

Until it doesn’t feel good at all.  

Until I have to look at myself in the mirror and realize that the broken relationships in my life have one common denominator – me.

The fiction of peace is that you can give it to me or that I can give it to you.  

We do this thing in liturgical churches – we extend the peace to one another.  But it only works if I extend peace to you while you are extending peace to me.  You cannot give me peace while I hold onto peace and not extend it to you.  You can extend it, I can extend it, but – without a recipient – there is only a fiction.  Peace hangs in between us and begs us to accept from one another as we extend it to one another.

And actually – isn’t that the truth?  That peace hangs…or at least hung…on a cross…

Romans 12:16 is not a stand-alone verse.  We come to this verse after a lengthy discussion of what sacrifice is and what love is.  The bottom line is that love and peace and sacrifice are not concepts but rather a person.  When God sent Jesus, heaven came to earth.  Jesus brought peace in the form of a living breathing person who because a dying sacrifice who conquered death – an our lack of peacefulness – in the day of Easter.

The fiction of peace is that we are extending something to each other.

When we share the peace with one another in a liturgical church setting, we are not extending our peace with one another.  We extend the peace of Christ – God himself – to one another.  This becomes less about us and all about what God has done and is doing in the world.  Romans 12:3-15 describe what it looks like to be the church in action  – to be Christ’s peace to one another.

I am not saying that allow ourselves to be doormats.  Boundaries are healthy.  Toxic relationships should be handled with care.  We should make wise choices about how we relate to those who have deeply hurt us.

More often than not, though, we use this as an excuse to harbor resentment, to put up walls in relationships where bridges should be built, and to create havoc in the lives of others because of our choice to withhold peace from them

Kerry asked me to write about “being a wife” and what that means.  Being a wife means to be someone who is willing to live at peace to the extent that it depends on me by relying on the One who is peace to be the peace I bring to my relationships. To be clear: I have not perfected this concept of peace in all of my relationships.  There is still plenty of work to be done.

So…let’s get to work, shall we? Together.  Let’s all be peacemakers in our hearts, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our country, and in our world.

ps: You can bring this concept to your Facebook feed…smile!Stace Waterfalls

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Women Through the Ages

me and beth zoo
Beth and Me at the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck, ND, (I picked the picture!)

About today’s author:  Elizabeth Bender is a junior at Baylor University studying Medical Humanities and Child and Family Studies.  She hopes to become a certified Child Life Specialist after graduation. She enjoys reading, watching movies, sleeping, and spending time with friends. Previously, her writing has been featured in Wherever” – a devotional book published by Village Creek Bible Camp and on a church Lenten blog.  You can read that post by clicking on “Fasting from Fear.”

You can read more about how Elizabeth has influenced Kerry’s life as his daughter and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading yesterday’s post by clicking on “My Daughter Taught me to Speak.

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I appreciate that I grew up with parents who encouraged me to seek out knowledge. They encouraged my passions as well as my random interests. The academic program I am a part of at Baylor University also encourages its students to take a wide range of classes both inside and outside their area of study.

During my fall semester of 2015, I had the opportunity to take Christian Heritage with Dr. Rosalie Beck, a required course. While it was a requirement, I enjoyed taking this course and learning more about the history of my faith tradition. I believe this course enriched my faith as well as my understanding of Christian history. I loved the way Dr. Beck set up the course and her obvious passion for the topic. Therefore, the following fall semester, I registered for Dr. Beck’s course “Women in Christian History.”

I registered for this course not just because of how much I enjoyed Dr. Beck’s other course but because the topic interested me. The course focused on the role of women throughout Christian history. It explored Christianity’s view towards women and how that view has morphed over time.

For the majority of history, women’s sphere of influence was limited to the home. Women, however, maintained control and heavy impact within their sphere. They were took on the role of spiritual heads of their families. Throughout history, mothers instructed their children and often their husbands as well in spiritual matters. Women held spiritual well-being of a family upon their shoulders. With the growth of Christianity in the early centuries, women continued to wield significant spiritual influence in families.

There are countless men (i.e. St. Augustine, Basil of Caesarea; John and Charles Wesley; etc.) whose lives and impact on Christianity are owed to the influence of their mothers, sisters, and female friends.

Christian women used their sphere of influence, whatever it was, to impact the course of Christianity and the world. Later, as women’s sphere broadened, they continued to influence their families and considered their community an extension of families. Later still, women impacted the culture at large and gained respect to be recognized for their influence.

Here are my three takeaways from the overall course:

1. Women have taken both background and prominent roles throughout Christian history; whether in the background or the forefront, women ALWAYS worked with passion and conviction! Some were culturally respected in their call for change and others approached change counter-culturally courageously speaking in the face of opposition.  And sometimes, just like today, women stood on opposite sides of issues. Regardless of how women approached their role, the current state of Christianity, and the world as a whole, today would be different if those that spoke out had chosen to remain silent. May we listen to the women around us and integrate their voices into our discussions and approaches to change, and may we as women have the courage to speak.

2. Women fighting for equal rights within society often set their desires aside to assist in making change in respect to other issues. Specific examples of this within the United States include women’s involvement in the Temperance Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. Women chose to fight not only for their own rights but for other inequalities and injustices, at times sacrificing their own rights in doing so.

3. Whenever you define or characterize one group, you automatically define or characterize the other group. Specifically in this course we discussed whenever you define woman, you also define man. Likewise whenever you define man, you define woman. I am not arguing that this is negative, but I am arguing that we can not be passive “definers.” These definitions, either explicit or implicit, can have the unintended consequence of limiting or restricting someone.  May we recognize that our words have greater meaning and power than we know. May we make space for the ‘other’ to define themselves. May we use our voices to characterize the voiceless with justice and with love.

In addition throughout the course, I learned about a variety of women.  Some of my favorites you may want to investigate include:

  • St. Teresa of Avila (I also read her book The Interior Castle and I highly recommend.) 
  • Phoebe Palmer
  • Katharina von Bora
  • Sarah Grimke
  • Perpetua and Felicitas
  • And many others!

I enjoyed hearing their stories and the impact they had on Christianity during their time and into the future. I am thankful to those whose stories are told and recognize that there are countless stories of women who remain hidden in history; I am thankful for their providing me examples of strong women.

I hope you take some time to investigate for yourself women in Christian history who have changed the course of history.  I hope that you will take some time to consider the women that have changed your own story, your own history. 

I hope you consider what type of Christian woman you want to be and what type of Christian woman you want your daughters, wives, and friends to be. What impact can you have on the church’s view of women and how can you shape the world’s view of women?

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Church Yesterday

Jesus-Feminist-insta
image from Sarah Bessey’s site, “instagram credit @kenberd”

I had the privilege of hearing Sarah Bessey preach yesterday at UBC (University Baptist Church) in Waco, TX.  As of yesterday, I didn’t know about Sarah, but since the message yesterday, I have read several of her blog posts and am looking forward to reading her book, Jesus Feminist.

It’s pretty clear that Sarah and I wouldn’t agree about everything; that being said, isn’t that true about everyone?

After hearing her preach and reading several of her blog posts, I wanted to include her in this series “Celebrating Women” for International Women’s Month (only 4 more days after today!).

The main reason I want to include her is because I have been trying to put words to a thought that has been stuck in my head.  I have been wanting to describe:

  • that one can be both authentically Christian and a feminist (whether you are a man or a woman),
  • that you don’t have to be a feminist inspite of your Christian convictions, but that you should be a feminist because of your Christian convictions,
  • that some who proclaim the themselves mostly loudly as Christians and feminists do things that embarrass me as a Christian and feminist, and
  • that I feel both of these terms, Christian and feminist, have been hijacked, but that I am unwilling to give either of them up!

In Sarah, I found someone that for years has been putting words to feelings and thoughts that I have been having for years.  Therefore, today’s post simply points to a blog post that she wrote earlier this year.  I hope you enjoy it, I hope it challenges you, and I hope to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

Even though I have only known about Sarah for a short time, she is one of the women for whom I am thankful.   Who deserves to be celebrated whether you are a Christian or feminist — or if you have the good fortune of realizing that you are both.

Here is the post:  “On Being a Christian and a Feminist:  And Belonging Nowhere.”

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Seeing God’s Work in Others

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
–Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

I remember the first tentative conversations I had after I sensed my call into full-time vocational ministry.  They were awkward at best.  One of them, however, changed the tone of all the conversations that would follow.

After struggling with this sense of call over the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I went to the house of Gary and Myra Watts.  Gary was one of my professors at Jamestown College, and his wife, Myra, was a friend and mentor.  She was the director of the Learning Advisement Center at Jamestown College.  In that capacity she coordinated tutors, made sure students were connected to advisors, but for me (and my future wife, Stacy) she was a non-judgmental ear that provided guidance without projecting a sense of obligation to follow the advice.

I arrived at the Watts’ house that day, and the kids were running around and playing — I think their son was playing a video game.  I sat down with Gary first and told him that I thought I sensed God’s call into ministry.  Gary said that if I hadn’t figured that out by the end of the summer that he and Dr. Edwards were going to bring me into one of their offices and throw me against the walls until I figured it out.

Myra’s words were similar but gentler.  I don’t remember what she said word for word, but in general, she told me that sometimes our paths are seen more clearly by others walking alongside of us.  That she, and others, could sense God working in my life, and that she had been confident that it would become clear to me.

I had never really considered God working in my life — that God had started something in me, and that if I trusted in Him, He would complete it.

I knew that God did things.  I knew that God worked in people’s lives. I knew that God was active.  I just never considered that His work was active in my life or that others could see this activity.

Myra taught me that day to look for God in the lives of others — to look for His activity in the lives of those who didn’t even see it themselves.  My life has been richer because of it.  I have seen God more in the lives of others, and I have sensed His presence more clearly in my own because of her.

Tomorrow you will be able to hear from Myra in her own words from where the power to see the potential of others comes.  I know you will be blessed by it as I have been blessed by her.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

The Ultimate Co-Worker

About today’s author:
Jen and her husband Todd live in the Twin Cities. They will soon have a child in elementary, middle, and high school as their oldest enters 9th grade in the fall. Jen works in the church office at Faith Baptist Church and volunteers in a variety of Christia
n Education roles including as chair of the Children’s Ministry Team. She has a passion for learning and teaching more about God’s work in and through His people across time. In the last few years, she has had the opportunity to help author VBS curriculum focused on Church History as well as contribute to devotional projects (to check out and possibly buy one of these devotional projects click “Anchored” and “Wherever“).

You can read more about how Kerry knows Jen and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading yesterday’s post by clicking on “Women’s Work.”

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I love working with people on projects. I like brainstorming, discussing ideas, figuring out how to implement, even evaluation. But sometimes, working with people can be annoying too – mostly because they don’t do things my way.

Just the other day my husband and I had a “discussion” about something we needed to do. It was such a small thing. We just needed to send a quick email about a trip. But it turned into a “discussion” because I thought we should do it one way while he had another in mind. And of course, I thought my way was better. If I’m really being honest with myself, most of the time, my way isn’t better; it’s just different. My husband and I do things differently and approach things differently because we are different.

This isn’t just true in marriage; it’s true in the church too. God gives each one of us different gifts and skills that enable us to do the things He has called us to. Those gifts aren’t meant to put us at odds with one another, or better one another, but rather to accomplish God’s purposes and plan. The church in Corinth was struggling with this issue of different gifts and “ways of doing” when Paul chastised them saying,

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”    –1 Corinthians 3:5-7

What I believe Paul is getting at is that we are co-workers. God has called us to serve. He hasn’t called us to serve alone. The Bible is clear in so many places that he has given each of us different gifts, experiences, and skills that uniquely prepare us for the specific work He is calling us too. We are co-workers with the people in our church, our families, our communities…to accomplish His purposes. God doesn’t just work through me. He works through those around me too. I need to value the gifts God has given to those laboring beside me. In doing so, I’m recognizing God’s work in, and through, their lives.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. As I consider what He has called me to do, his next words are something I need to hear often. The results are not my responsibility. And they aren’t the responsibility of another person either, they are God’s responsibility. We are co-workers with those around us, and we should seek to work with them in harmony, but ultimately, God has invited us to be His co-worker in the work He is doing in the world. Let that sink in for a minute. The God of the universe has called me, and you, to join Him in His redeeming work in this world.

I’m learning more each day that I need to be willing to rely on the co-workers God has placed in my life and their gifts and skills—not just my own. BUT even more than that, I need to trust God as my ultimate co-worker. The outcomes are His…not mine. Not easy words. But true ones.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Women’s Work

As a child, I hated group projects in school.  My grade?  Dependent on someone else’s lack of motivation?  NO THANK YOU!

I have to admit that my view of group projects hasn’t improved much since becoming an adult.  There is always a slacker — or someone who has their own ideas — how annoying!

But Paul understood the importance of group projects, of working together, of fellow workers in Christ.

Because of this, Paul’s letters are filled with lists of group project members, requests for the presence and help of others, and praise for those who were fellow workers in Christ.

Phoebe is one of the women who makes Paul’s list of fellow workers — of a group project member.  As a matter of fact, Phoebe receives a special honor.  In Romans 16:1, she is described by Paul as a “sister” and as a “deacon” or “minister” in the church at Cenchreae.  This is a huge deal!  Paul, in the first century, a former Pharisee, coming out a patriarchal system, lists a woman as a minister or as an official office holder in the life of the Church!

Of course, Phoebe’s position as a deacon is passionately debated; if you don’t believe me, just Google it.  The word that Paul uses for “deacon,” the Greek of which is “diakonos,” is a word that can mean servant in general when translated.

The early Church adopts this general term and impregnates it with special meaning, so it can mean servant for the early Church.  However, it can also mean a specific office, the office of “deacon,” within the life of the Church.  Therefore, many english translations choose to translate this term as “servant” instead of “deacon” to describe Phoebe.  This would mean that she was not an office holder in the early Church but rather a simple servant of the Church.

But let me briefly put forward four quick arguments to see Phoebe as a deacon:

  1. Paul’s use of this Greek word is primarily, if not exclusively, tied to being a minister in the work of God, not a general servant.
  2. Paul ties this particular instance of this word to a local church — strengthening the argument that this is an office or at least a specific ministry.
  3. The early church (late 3rd/early 4th century) saw Phoebe as a “deacon” listing a woman named “Sophia” as a deacon and as a “second Phoebe” (for a full discussion of this see Elizabeth McCabe’s Society of Biblical Literature article, A Reexamination of Phoebe as “Diakonos” and “Prostatis”).
  4. If Phoebe had been a man, I wouldn’t have needed reasons 1-3.

I recognize that some readers may disagree with this position and that a quick Google search will provide enough ammunition to share in the comments; however, I think that Phoebe’s record — both by Paul’s own words and the view of the early Church — speaks for itself.

It’s tragic that the translators of many English translations consistently translate Paul’s use of “diakonos” as “deacon” or “minister,” but translate  the same Greek word in Romans 16:1, referring to Phoebe, as “servant.”  It is equally tragic when we “translate” or view the work of men and women with the same lenses within the Church today — valuing one as ministry and the other simply as service.  I realize that this is a nuance, but nuances are important!

This is not an argument for women to be pastors or elders, nor is it an argument opposed to that — that can be a topic for another day.  It is simply an argument that we should see the ministry of women, the work of women within the church, and the offices that they hold within the life of the Church with the same respect, honor, and appreciation that we have for the ministry and offices that men hold.

womens-equality-dayAt the end of the day, there is no “women’s work” or “men’s work;” there is only the work of Christ that must be done to demonstrate his love to the world!

I have had the privilege of working with some amazing women who are workers, servants, ministers, office holders, whatever you want to call them.  They are amazing people, and they have my utmost respect.  To try to list them all would be impossible — from the women that taught me Sunday School, to my college mentors, to professors at seminary, to the women that strived for the Kingdom of God with me in the churches at which I have had the privilege to work.

We worked on constitutions and bylaws together.

We cleaned the sanctuary together.

We wrote Sunday School curriculum for children and adults together.

We planned worshipped services together.

We folded bulletins together.

We prepared church meals together.

We went on mission trips together.

We served on teams, committees, and boards together.

The list could go on and on, and the benefit and knowledge that I have gained from the women with whom I had the privilege of serving alongside — well, that continues to go on and on as well.

For tomorrow, I have asked one of these women, Jen Woyke, to write a blog post about being a co-worker in Christ.  I had the privilege of working alongside Jen in numerous capacities, and I have had the opportunity to take a Church History Sunday School class from her that rivaled any class I took in college and seminary.  We served on boards together and went on a mission trip to Cameroon together.  Upon returning from that trip, she preached a Sunday morning sermon that I am not ashamed to say was one of the best sermons preached during my time at Faith Baptist Church.

Her hard work, commitment, and knowledge has benefited me and the Kingdom in countless ways.  And she is only one of scores of women that I have had the privilege to minister beside.  Any of them could have written tomorrow’s post, and those who read it would have benefited tremendously from it.  I hope that each of these women will sense my deep appreciation for them as they read this post and tomorrow’s post.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

The Story of a Christian/Muslim Friendship

Marilyn R. Gardner is an adult third culture kid who grew up in Pakistan and then lived as an adult in Pakistan and Egypt. She birthed 5 kids on 3 continents and went on to raise them in Pakistan and Egypt before moving to the United States. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, just 15 minutes from the international terminal where she flies to the Middle East & Pakistan as often as possible. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging, and her newest memoir, Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith (click on the titles to check out the books at Amazon). Because of her passion for the Middle East, 50% of all royalties for any purchase of Passages goes towards refugee work there. She is also a prolific blogger at Communicating Across Boundaries (click on the blog title to check out Marilyn’s blog).

You can read more about how Kerry knows Marilyn and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading yesterday’s post by clicking on “Loving the ‘Other.’

marilyn

Every September, when cool breezes off the Nile River replaced the sweltering heat of summer, the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt would reunite. Most employers planned a variety of activities to introduce any newcomers to Egypt in general, and the gigantic city of Cairo in particular.

Our employer, the American University of Cairo, put together an orientation week full of events and talks all designed to ease these overwhelmed rookies into life in both the city and the university. It was during orientation week that I met Lubna for the first time.

On the first day, I noticed Lubna standing alone at the break. I ignored my conscience and left her alone. On the second day, the internal nudge was too strong to ignore. I felt compelled to go and speak with her. I was nervous. Lubna was fully veiled. She wore both the abbaya (long black coat) and a niqab, the veil that covered all but her eyes. While I was used to communicating with women in the hijab (head covering), I had no friends who wore the full veil and I felt my discomfort acutely. I stumbled a bit as I asked her how long she had been in Cairo.

After seconds, we were engrossed in a dynamic conversation and within minutes found significant commonalities. Raised in Canada by an Egyptian family, she had married a Tunisian man who had immigrated to Canada just a few years before. She had one child, a baby girl.

A couple of weeks later, Lubna invited me to her home. Until this time, I had only seen her at outside events and I looked forward to being able to sit with her over tea and get to know her better. I arrived at her apartment around 10 minutes late – a little early for a Middle Eastern visit. I knocked on the door and a beautiful woman with long, dark hair that curled around her face answered the door. With exquisite make up and a chic outfit, she was lovely. I stared at her and in a halting voice explained that I was there to visit with Lubna. Was she available? The woman burst into laughter. “It’s me, Marilyn!” She laughed. “I can’t believe you didn’t recognize me!”

I had already seen Lubna numerous times, fully veiled with only her eyes showing. I was stunned at the contrast. As we laughed, she vowed she would never let me forget this first reaction.

Lubna and her husband were conservative Muslims. The niqab was the visual evidence of this, but this was really only one piece of the whole. Islam was a way of life, not just a religion of words. Lubna and her husband ordered their lives according to Islam, from the Call of Prayer (azzan) at the first light of dawn to the last echo heard across the city before bed, this was who they were.

Our commonalities were significant, our interactions over everything from faith to family were rich and interesting. But as our friendship developed, a curious side effect emerged. I experienced a crisis of faith. I had always imagined my faith to be far deeper and stronger than those who did not adhere to my truth claims. While I could acknowledge the faith of another, in my mind their faith was not as strong, not as binding.

As I grew to know and love Lubna, I entered into a new understanding of faith. Her faith was zealous and sure, providing her with a cement foundation not easily moved. I struggled as I watched her. How could her faith be just as strong as mine? As a Christian didn’t I have a market on faith?

It was through Lubna that I learned I didn’t and I don’t have a market on faith. It was through Lubna I learned that I could hold fast to my truth claims, yet still develop a deep friendship with another – not compromising, not betraying what I believe, but connecting within relationship. The orthodoxy of our faith defined our truth claims and the goal was not that we would agree – the goal was that we would communicate, that we would become friends without strings attached.

It’s been many years since Lubna and I shared tea and life together, but many others like her have come into my life; others who have taught me valuable lessons on connecting and offering friendship without compromising on truth claims. With each of them I have remembered what Lubna taught me about listening and loving, learning and enjoying. And I remember that this isn’t about forcing a faith, it’s about forging a friendship.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

 

 

Loving The “Other”

Ernst_Barlach_Barmherziger_Samariter
“Good Samaritan” by Ernst Barlach
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Click here to read the rest of the parable.

 

Growing up I thought “scandal” and “Scandinavian” came from the same root word because of the scandal it was when a Scandinavian entered our predominately German American culture.

Ok, that isn’t exactly true, but what is true is that my parents spoke exclusively German as young children and didn’t learn English until starting school even though they were both second or third generation American citizens.  In addition, everyone in my church, my school, and among my friend group all looked pretty much the same.  Because when you grow up in south-central North Dakota, everybody looks pretty much the same.

The “other” — except for the occasional stray Scandinavian — was a distant concept for me, and because of this I didn’t have to think about my personal response to those who had a different skin color, or had a different religion, or spoke a different language.  I was ignorant to the struggles and difficulties as well as the hopes and joys of those who were different from me.

And though my circumstances changed after I left the farm for college and there was greater diversity around me, I never gave much thought to my changing surroundings.

Without my knowing, I turned in my ignorance for apathy.

I fear that this progression, at least for me, would have been from ignorance to apathy and then onto animosity.  It seems to me that this progression gets played out too often throughout human history.  I was fortunate, however, in that this progression was halted (or at least put in check on my best days) because of the influence of people who challenged me through their words and their lives.

There are a number of people who come to mind when I think about those who have helped me consider the “other.”  There is one in particular to whom I want to say “thank you” as I thank the women who have influenced me in this series.

Marilyn Gardner, along with her husband Cliff, led a college ministry along with my wife, myself, and a few other people while I was attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the late 90s.  Marilyn was and continues to be a passionate and compassionate person.  Evident in her life was a deep love for international students and the “other” whoever they were or from wherever they came.  As I had the privilege of ministering alongside of her to college students, she ministered to me — not just her words to me or her hospitality to our entire family — she ministered to me as I learned from her strength and compassion.  Her Christianity and love — at least in my eyes — was not hindered by the ignorance or apathy that I had towards the “other.”  In my eyes, she balanced a family (she had five lovely young children at the time — they are all grown now) and work outside of the home all the while demonstrating God’s love for the “other” without appearing frantic.  I am sure there were frantic moments — with five children I can imagine there were more than Marilyn would care to admit.  The point, however, is that to those of us to whom she ministered, she didn’t seem frantic or too busy.  She never “crossed to the other side of the road” or “hurried along her way” but rather stooped down to the one in need, bound up their “wounds,” and cared for the “other.”

She is one of those people that years later — after you have moved far away — you think to yourself, “Self, you should have been more intentional about learning from that person!”

Fortunately, at least in the case of Marilyn, that wish has been granted.  I continue to learn from her through her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries (click on the title to read her blog).  And I am looking forward to reading her most recently published book Passages through Pakistan (click on the title to read an excerpt).

She continues to minister to me; she continues to challenge my apathy towards the “other.”  Most importantly ,she reminds me in her writings  that I am the “other” more often than I think.

“Other” can often be seen as pejorative.  Every time I wrote it in this post, I cringed a bit — I hope you cringed a bit reading it.  But God sent Christ for the “other.”  Christ died for the “other.”  And God commands us to care for the “other.”

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook a quote that anyone who doesn’t learn English should be sent back to their country of origin — I think learning English is a good thing, something we should with compassion help others to do.  I did not get the sense, however, that this was the tone of the post.

This post reminded me once again that my parents were the “other” in this country.  My friend’s post would suggest that my family should have been sent back to the persecution from which they fled Russia (my heritage is Germans from Russia an interesting history and a blog post for another day).

I am thankful that my family was able to stay in a country where they were once the “other.”  More importantly I am thankful that Christ came for me, the “other.”  And I am thankful to the many marvelous people, especially Marilyn, who remind me of my call to love, care, and minister to the “other.”

Tomorrow’s post will be written by Marilyn Gardner!  Thanks, Marilyn.

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”