To be so bold…

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10 NIV)

I’ve read this verse many times. But during this last read through of the letter to the Galatians, this verse popped off the page of my Bible and smacked me across the face. I had to stop for a moment and think through what Paul was talking about, what he would be talking about, and why, seemingly out of the blue, this one verse seemed to be grabbing a hold of me with no plans to let go any time soon.

Just prior to this verse, Paul is discussing the reason for his writing to the Galatians, namely the fact that the church in Galatia was being influenced by a group called the Judaizers, who were teaching that Gentile believers had to obey the Law and become circumcised in order to be truly saved. In other words, they had to become “Jews” before they could become fully Christian. Paul called this “another Gospel” and strongly rejected this teaching (“let them be accursed” – that is about as strong as rejection as you can get!).

After making this declaration he writes the words I quoted above. I can imagine that speaking against this group of teachers and bringing curses on them was not going to win Paul any popularity points. But his devotion was to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to the teachings of man. He was called to be faithful to God, not to the Judaizers, or even the Galatians for that matter. His single-minded focus on that one thing caused him to be bold in his assertion that this teaching and any other that goes against what Paul and the other apostles had taught from the beginning be soundly rejected.

Oh, how I long to be so bold.

True confession: I’m not always so bold.

Many times, I waver, hem and haw, or just plain keep my mouth shut out of fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being humiliated. Fear of being rejected. Not by God, but by man. By people. It seems that so many times I am good at dishing out the opinions and commentary, but I don’t really want to take it. I like being right too much to be told I’m not, even if it’s true. How prideful and short-sighted.

Much of the time I wonder if there is something wrong with me. That I am somehow not smart enough, not spiritual enough, or I don’t believe strongly enough. But the questions, all those pesky questions, never go away.

I want to know all the things. And by all the things, I mean ALL the things. But there is no possible way for me to know ALL the things. In order for that to be the case, I’d have to be God. But wait a minute – isn’t that what Satan wanted? Isn’t that what got him thrown down to earth? Isn’t that the line he used to tempt Eve – you will be “like God”, knowing ALL the things (my translation)? How did that work out for us? Not so well. Knowing all the things is not what it’s cracked up to be – and we don’t even know it all! But what we do know is enough to get us into a mess of trouble.

Everyone believes that their set of particulars are THE way to know all the things. Well, maybe not all of them, but all the things we can know. It’s amazing to me how many people I read are so fully convinced they are correct and others are wrong – where does one find such confidence? Half the time I am flailing in the water, crying out for Jesus to help me.

But I don’t want to be seen as uninformed, even though information comes at me far faster than I can ever hope to process it. I don’t want to seem flaky, even though half the time that’s exactly what I am. I want to continue on with the illusion that I can know all the things, even though deep down I know for certain I cannot. So, I sit silently in fear. Fear of what others will think of me, as if they are thinking of me in the first place (that pride thing again…I can’t get away from that pesky pest!).

I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know this much:

I am saved only by God’s grace shown through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am not saved to simply sit in a safe little church house and receive my blessings.

My salvation redefines my identity.

My redefined identity changes my priorities.

There is no conflict between speaking of right belief and right practice. It is possible – and in my view important – to talk about both at the same time.

I can’t reconcile believing in Christ and not caring for and about the disenfranchised and oppressed. And by caring for and about, I mean doing something as the body of Christ to alleviate the suffering.

God is bigger and grander than our systematic formulations of Him. We should never stop seeking understanding, but we should also not depend solely on our intellect to acquire knowledge and understanding of God.

Emotional and intellectual faith can and should coexist – in the same person.

Ultimately, my primary desire should be to please God. If I am still trying to please people, I cannot be a servant of God…

Oh Father, help me to be so bold.

Default position…

Initially, this was going to be a series of tweets. But once I started writing, I could not stop…

I am not an SBC member. But I am a Christian woman who has encountered unwanted advances from a “pastor”. Thankfully, I was not assaulted, but it could have easily happened. The thought of bringing the incident to the attention of the deacon board of the church was so incredibly frightening to me that I refused. Instead, I and my father confronted him privately. But although he confessed privately to us that what he did was wrong, he would never acknowledge it before his congregation. So, I left. He remained, and continued on with his behavior, ultimately leading to disastrous consequences. When I learned this, I felt guilty. What would have happened had I come forward?

The same thing that is happening to all of the women coming forward today. I would have been shamed. I would have branded the whore, the seducer, the liar. I would not have been believed. And the wounding that had already occurred by his initial action would have been compounded by the character assassination I would have endured. In the end, sadly, the outcome for him would have likely been the same: he would have remained and continued down the same path that led to his downfall.

It saddens me that I can predict this with such certainty. But I know how it works. And it is wrong.

We are taught that to be good, Christian women we must submit to our male authorities. We are further taught that men are given the charge to shepherd and lead. But what happens when a man does not shepherd and lead well? What happens when a man uses his leadership role to abuse and exploit? Is there any safe space for a woman to testify to abuse at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect and lead? Are we honoring the image of God in either the man or the woman when we shove such sins under the rug, instantly assume the woman is lying, or traumatize women into silence?

And if this is the culture we inhabit – one in which a woman who does come forward is further dehumanized and debased by those whose purpose is to protect the reputation of the man and the fragile hierarchy of the institution – why are we then surprised that women choose to stay silent? If the outcome can be predicted with such brutal precision, self-preservation will cause someone to shy away from exposing herself to further abuse.

If the first instinct when I woman comes forward is to demand to know why she waited so long, or question if she is “sure” she was assaulted, or to simply call her a liar, why would a woman ever come forward? Would you? Why must we “wait for the facts” before judging the man (even if all the facts are laid bare before us in stark relief), but instantly judge the woman coming forward and brand her suspect?

Would you come forward in such an environment?

There so many qualifiers I could place on what I am seeking to convey here; so many “What about”, or “What if” scenarios that can be put forward. No one would say such cases are easy, or that wisdom and discernment are needed to separate truth from fiction. But if the default position is always to suspect the woman and protect the man, then there is a problem with how we are doing things.

My heart is sick about what I am witnessing in the SBC. Even though I am not SBC, my solidarity with believers transcends denominational boundaries. This is a wound on the body of Christ. It is a self-inflicted wound. And it hurts all of us.

We are supposed to be the light of the world. We are supposed to be pointing people to Christ. But we are acting just like the world.

Shame on us.

Random thoughts on “Thoughts and Prayers”…

Another tragedy is unfolding in a high school in America, this time in Santa Fe, Texas, where a gunman opened fire on an art class. At least 8 people are dead and 6 wounded, including the Resource Officer on duty at the time.

I just watched an interview with a student who was in the building at the time of the shooting. The reporter asked her if there was any point during the ordeal where she questioned whether it was really happening; she emphatically shook her head “no”. He asked, “Why not”. Her response cut my heart to pieces: “It’s happening everywhere. I always knew it would eventually happen here.”

Asking our government officials to pass laws that help curb the number and power of guns on the street is not the same thing as advocating for a complete reversal of the Second Amendment. This is a false flag, a distraction from having a truly honest, gut-checking conversation about guns in our country. I personally wouldn’t own a gun, but I would not tell my neighbor he or she cannot. But there are things that we can do to help stem this tide that land in between a free-for-all and an all-out ban. This is a false choice and should be rejected for the nonsense that it is.

Lamenting the violence that is occurring on a regular basis in our school and communities is not the same thing as believing that it is completely on the government to fix everything and parents and teachers and fellow neighbors have no role to play. Again – false flag. What’s up with the zero-sum game we’re playing here? Why does it have to be either/or of two extreme choices? Where did the wisdom of the middle road go? Can’t this be a “both/and” situation where the law and the people come together and form a collective solution?

To add to this: advocating for stricter laws, even something as limited as universal background checks do not make you a Pollyanna that thinks laws will stop all gun violence. Laws against theft and murder don’t stop all crimes – so we should dispense with these laws as well?

Thoughts and prayers…thoughts and prayers. Yes, I think; and I most definitely pray. But John stated in his first epistle the following:  “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer[i] in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him?” (1 John 3:17). And James reminds us: Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. (James 2:18b). Neither author is advocating for works-righteousness; they are affirming what Jesus speaks about when He refers to the “least of these”.

I am a private citizen with little real political power. I speak my mind; I vote; I write my elected officials; I try to love the children in my sphere as best I can. I do what is within my limitations and abilities to do. And yes, I pray. I pray all the time. I ask God to move. But we are required to do something too. We are required to MOVE too, not just think and pray. Constantly listening to men and women who are in positions where they could make a difference simply say they are “thinking and praying” when each new tragedy happens is frustrating. Eventually, those words are meaningless. And then they get the point of inciting anger and rage in people who just don’t get what all the thinking is praying is about if it is not about helping your fellow citizens find a solution to a very real problem.

You may not agree with me; that’s fine. But why do our children bear the brunt of this insanity? Why does it seem that we care more about our guns than our children?

I don’t understand. I just don’t. Lord, have mercy on us, I pray.

More later; until then, grace and peace…

A leg to stand on…

So. It’s my week for clichés apparently. My apologies if you have a strong gag reflex. But it seems to fit in this case. Sort of…

As I mentioned yesterday, I want to share the “Non-Negotiables” that I have been referring to over the past week or so. These are my foundational beliefs upon which all others must stand. If I am considering an argument or position, it gets put through this filter. This, of course, is a simplified version of each of these positions, and there is nuance that I do not get into here. But for my own internal processing, the statements outlined below represent the general direction of my thought process as I move through this process. This is the “leg” upon which I stand so to speak. Corny, I know. But it works for me.

Introduction
I find myself at a major turning point. There are many important issues that I need to think through and consider. Race, gender, politics. Many people can walk through life and not think or worry about these things. But, try as I might, I am not wired that way. These things are important to me, and I believe that is how God wired me.

My challenge has been that I’ve not taken care to maintain my foundational beliefs. This has caused me to drift, waffle, and otherwise fold in many areas. If I am to carefully and consistently assess all the voices and consider all the positions, I need to clarify my foundations.

That is what this document is for.

What this document is not: This is not the exhaustive final word on everything I believe. These are foundational beliefs that help me navigate through all the peripheral issues that pop up in my purview. These are my non-negotiables. Once the non-negotiables are established, I can work through the peripherals with better clarity and peace. If I’m standing on a firm foundation, the unanswered questions are easier to bare and easier to work through.

There would be some that would disagree with my non-negotiables, either wanting to add to them or subtract from them. I’ve tried to be as basic as possible, using the traditional categories of systematic theology as my guide. This is the important part: a subject being listed in the “peripheral” category does not in any way imply that it is not an important element of consistently walking out my faith. What it does mean is that it is not necessary for me to believe a certain thing about that issue in order to be reconciled to God. In other words, it’s not a salvation issue. What I believe about God, about myself and about Jesus are salvation issues. What I believe about race is not necessarily a salvation issue; however, my new position as a child of God should inform and change my understanding of race and see racial history and racism in different ways.

Oh, so complicated. Which is why the foundation is needed.

So, without further adieu, let’s get started…

Definition of terms
I alluded to them in the Introduction, but I just want to state clearly at the outset what I mean by the two main categories I will be working with here.

Non-negotiables, or NNs, are those beliefs that form my core convictions, my worldview if you will. These are things that I will go to mat for, the hills upon which I’m willing to die.

Peripherals, or PLs, are the “non-essential” beliefs that are informed by the NN’s but are not core to my worldview. In other words, if I discover information that is strongly persuasive, I am open to changing my mind on these things. I am willing to be proven wrong in these areas, as long as it is done graciously and respectfully. Likewise, if I find that my “side” is determined to be the most persuasive I wish to be gracious and respectful in return. Other items that fall into this category are things that I don’t feel I have enough information about to make a full determination. I have a feeling that as I go through this process, I will find that this list is the longest.

The Non-Negotiables (NNs)

This list is not going to be super lengthy. Which is exactly as it should be.

The Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God. It is truthful in all that it teaches. All that is fleshed out beyond this point is based on this Word. The bible has both divine and human origin. God used human authors to write the Scripture. The doctrine of Inspiration explains how the human authors wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

God is the Creator, the Source of life, and the Sustainer of life. He has always existed, is perfectly holy and just, and all-powerful. He exists outside of space and time; He omnipresent and omnipotent. He is all-wise.

God is one essence that exists in Three Persons. This is called the mystery of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons that eternally exist in one essence we refer to as the Godhead.

Jesus is God incarnate, the Second Person of the Godhead. He is both fully God and fully Man. He was born of the Virgin Mary, lived a perfect, sinless life, and died on the cross. He rose again and was ascended to heaven. Through his death, burial, resurrection we have been made whole and have been reconciled to God. He is the Messiah, the one the OT foreshadowed. All of God’s promises find their answer of “Yes” in Him.

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Godhead and is fully God along with the Father and the Son. Christ dwells in believers through the Holy Spirit. He quickens our hearts to understand and believe the message of salvation. He convicts us of sin as we work out our salvation (see Sanctification). He illumines our hearts and enables us to understand the Scriptures.

Humanity was created in the image of God as male and female. This is a matter of creation and biology. We were created to fellowship and commune with our Creator. God commanded us to exercise dominion and care for His creation on His behalf.

Sin and death entered the world because of the disobedience of the man and the woman to a direct command from God to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent (Satan), enticed the woman to eat of the fruit, and she then gave some to her husband and he ate also. For their disobedience, God banished them from the Garden, and death has reigned since that time.

Salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. There is no other way to be reconciled with God. Salvation comes through grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We add nothing to our salvation; we can only receive it from the hand of God. even the faith that is the instrument through which we believe comes from God.

Sanctification is the process through which we become more like Jesus. This is a lifelong process that will not be complete until we meet Jesus face to face.

Jesus is coming back to consummate His Kingdom. All believers will be with Him in the new heavens and new earth forever.

The church is the household of God, all believers past, present, and future. We are united through the blood of Christ into one new body that consists of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The sacraments of the church are The Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

The Great Commission is the task of all believers to share the Gospel with all those they encounter, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching the Truth.

So, there you have it. These are my NNs. I’ll leave it here for now. Until later, grace and peace…

Don’t block your blessings…

That’s one of those clichés that I’ve heard more times than I care to think about. It is usually meant as a form of encouragement: Don’t resist or seek to avoid those things that may seem unpleasant or unwanted. A hidden blessing may lurk underneath.

Cue the eye roll…

But there seriously is some truth to that statement. At times, our blessings come to us in the most unexpected ways and from the most unexpected places. On the flip side, what we think are blessings can often turn out to be anything but.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am currently journeying through a process to decide what I think about this whole biblical womanhood thing. I’m thinking about this as a single, childless 40-something Christian woman who wants to faithfully live out my days for the glory of my Lord and Creator. During this process, I’ve spent an awful lot of time trying to determine who I should and shouldn’t listen to, what voices I should embrace, and which ones I should shut out. And to a certain degree, that is a good thing. Some folks just don’t know what they are talking about, bless their hearts. Or they are so far afield they are dangerous.

But even in seeking to understand those who may not have it right or with whom I do not agree, I can still have a charitable heart and listen, even if I don’t agree. My foundational beliefs are there – my God is there. Ultimately, He is what grounds me, keeps me steady, helps me discern truth. In fact, it is in those conversations or interactions with teaching that I don’t agree with or understand that my own beliefs and convictions are refined and sometimes redefined. I have to be open to the fact that I am wrong sometimes.

So, as I embark on this new adventure, I’m not going to block any of those blessings! I am ready to be challenged, to grow, to move. I have a starting point – my non-negotiables (which I will share tomorrow). And I have my foundation in Christ. He steadies me and tethers me to Himself. I can depend on Him.

More later; until then, grace and peace…

 

Monday Randomness…

I now have a group of friends that are holding me accountable to publish a blog post at least once a week. So you’ll be hearing more from me. Yay! I’m grateful for good sister/friends that are seeking to lift each other up. That is so very important.

After a long, arduous journey, I am slowly rediscovering my love of writing. Really my need for it. I process my thoughts through the words I write, and I am doing A LOT of processing right now. Processing and changing.

So let me just be real with you. I am in the midst of a major thought shift. I can’t quite put my finger on the source, and I have no idea the outcome, but I do know my heart and mind are changing about a few things. Where I will land is anyone’s guess, but I thought I’d share with you where I am in the process.

A few weeks ago, I spent some time walking through my foundational beliefs. The question I posed to myself was this: What are those things that are absolutely non-negotiables for you and what are “peripheral” issues that you have beliefs about, but that you hold more loosely. Peripherals can be things where I don’t feel I have enough information, or where I have information and think I know what I believe about the topic, but still feel like there are grey areas that are open for debate.

The litmus test for a non-negotiable is it has to be a belief or doctrine that makes us “wise unto salvation”. This list is surprisingly and delightfully small. Things like the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, Resurrection. While each of these items can branch off onto all sorts of rabbit trails, my goal was not to adjudicate every possible split of every theological hair related to each item. The point is that I believe in the Trinity, in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Inspiration of Scripture and so forth. If I desire to be consistent, I can’t not believe these things and still consider myself “Christian”. These are the biblical and theological hills upon which I will die.

But those peripheral issues…whoa boy. That is where it all got complicated. After three pages worth of discussion about race, and a page and a half about so-called “biblical manhood and womanhood”, I had to take a break. These are easily the biggest topics, at least for me, and it seems for the American church today.

I am not going to get into the discussion about race for the purposes of this post. I’m not even close to a place where I can discuss that. And my mind and attention have been moved to another hot-button issue – womanhood.

What is meant by “biblical womanhood”? How do I know if I am a “biblical woman”? Much of this debate centers around two camps: Complementarians and Egalitarians. Complementarians say that men and women are both created in the image of God, and therefore are equal in worth and dignity. However, there are distinctive roles and functions that are specific to each gender; primarily, the focus is on the headship of the man and the submission of the woman in the church and home. In contrast, Egalitarians focus on the mutual submission of believers to one another and consider gifting to be the determining factor for leadership in the church and home, regardless of gender. These are generalizations and are not intended to bring out the nuances of each position. But these are the nutshell definitions as far as I understand them.

This is a hotly contested subject that shows no signs of abating. And as a woman who is passionate about ministry, theology and the Bible, I have a stake in this conversation. I long to be faithful to the testimony of Scripture, and truthful about the reality of life on the ground. My reality right now: I can’t say that I’m “Complementarian”, but I don’t know if I’m “Egalitarian” either. Are these the only two options? Is there a third way? And how do I find the answer?

This is the crazy thing about it…both sides appeal to Scripture to argue their point and make their stand. Both groups are passionate about their position, and fully convinced they are correct. Some go so far as to question someone’s salvation or commitment to the gospel if they do not fall in line with the “correct” position. These extreme reactions are what I wish to avoid like the plague.

But what is the “correct” position? That is what I seek to explore. And perhaps it will take me my entire life to figure it out, but I want to be free and open about where I am on the journey.

The Pandora’s box has been opened. Let the fun begin…

Broken crayons, patience, and grace…

I used to love getting that brand new box of crayons at the beginning of each school year. You would have thought I’d won the lottery. And those few times I was able to convince my parents to get me the big 64-color box with the sharpener on the back? Watch out! I was in heaven!

The frustrating thing for me was that those crayons wouldn’t stay “new” for long. As I would use them, they would slowly wear away, or worse, get broken. I wasn’t much for coloring with broken crayons. Even that fancy sharpener on the back of the box couldn’t fix that. And so I would long for the next school year to start, or for that magic moment when my crayons looked too awful and I would appeal to my parents for a new box.

At times, we can treat our lives and our relationships in this same fashion. That breathless feeling of a new relationship; the promise of a new job; or the excitement of moving to a new city can be intoxicating. But when that newness wears away, we can sometimes start to fade away. We can get restless and impatient, and our wanderlust kicks in as we search for the next new and exciting thing to give us that euphoric feeling again.

Life cannot be this way all the time. Life is not an endless stream of adventure and new things. Much of life is slow and steady. Predictable. Normal. Ordinary.

This year, the Lord has been walking me through this idea of ordinariness. There is nothing wrong with being “ordinary”, especially when you consider what ordinary means. It is in the normal ebb and flow of life that roots form and deepen, habits are formed, relationships are established and fortified, and commitments are confirmed. Even the process of writing requires that steady, methodical rhythm of routine and discipline. Ah yes…the “D” word. How we love that. Patient, steady faithfulness requires it.

Don’t despise the ordinary in your life. God uses it to bring depth and color to your life. Much of our lives will be filled with these large spaces of simple, faithful living. Walking out or callings or vocations, loving our families, cultivating our friendships, taking care of our homes. We need patience and grace to fulfill this calling, to fill these spaces with the rich color of faithfulness and dedication. Integrity and character.

This is the thing about broken crayons: they are great for filling in large spaces with deep, rich color. You need a sharp edge to make sure you are coloring “within the lines”; but to fill in that big spaces, the soften wedge of a broken crayon cannot be matched. We need our broken crayons. We need those parts of our lives that feel broken, ordinary, or mundane, to fill out our character and grow us up. As we walk through this life, it is easy for us to feel like those crayons, once so sharp and new, being broken and worn and frayed. But oh, how rich the color our lives can bring to our world if we surrender our brokenness to the Lord and faithfully walk with Him.

More later…until then, grace and peace…