Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On women pastors and other controversial subjects

My dear friends FedEx and Charity visited a couple weeks and we spent several wonderful nights staying up late talking about their ministry, church, new friends, and some controversial topics such as "can women be preachers or pastors" and the verses on homosexuality in the Bible.

I love their ministry,  "Men of Praise" - a motorcycle ministry based in Colorado Springs. They regularly have people into their home for dinner and fellowship and I love to hear stories about the people that they meet and their missional way of living. They are truly living out a life of grace and love, and that thrills me. I am always convicted that I should be living more of a life like that, reaching out more.

But when it came to their theology on women pastors and homosexuals, I was uneasy. I told them I would dig into the Word and consider some of things they shared, in the spirit of Acts 17:11, where the Bereans "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."

They explained that the original Greek words in 1 Tim 2:11-12 (on women) and Romans 1:26, 27 (on homosexuals) are mistranslated. The verses relating to homosexuals may instead pertain to temple prostitutes, so we should not call homosexuality a sin.   I looked at these verses in the Blue Letter Bible (which gives you hyperlinks to a Greek lexicon and concordance - thank you FedEx for telling me about this great resource!).

I couldn't find anyway to interpret Romans 1:26,27 except as homosexuality (the words are very specific and address both male and female homosexuality) and that it is unnatural and unclean (1:24) and is one of the acts of a reprobate mind (1:28) that leads to death (1:32).

Charity has been ministering to a girl who is homosexual. She has welcomed her into her home and church and Bible study as a friend. They've discussed that while sex outside of marriage (which includes homosexual sin, because the Bible does not support same sex marriage) is sin. However, is a "homosexual bent" still sin, if the person in question is not committing any immoral acts? Such a person can never marry, but if they do not marry, and abstain from sex, then... they are not in sin. Still trying to wrap my head around this.

Matthew 5:27,28 says: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

So we know that it is also sin to lust after someone even if you don't act on it - but this would be true for both homosexuals and heterosexuals, and certainly all of us as Christians have stumbled over lustful thoughts and confessed them to the Lord.  

I love that Charity is embracing this girl and loving her whole-heartedly. I love that her church and Bible study are welcoming the girl without judgment or condemnation even though she dresses differently and talks differently and has a "scary" background. Does Romans 1:26,27 or any other related verses say that as Christians we should not love homosexuals, befriend them, invite them to our churches and Bible studies so that they can learn about God, His love and His Word and His grace that saves us?

What happens when a homosexual is in a church or Bible study and they start asking about those verses? We shouldn't make any excuses or stretch interpretations for those verses. It's important for everyone to study exactly what the verses do say but also what they don't say. For instance, they don't say that homosexuals are excluded from God's love and grace.

I think it's also important not to focus solely on topical studies of any one thing in the Bible, whether it's issues pertaining to women or homosexuals or drinking or anything else. We all know that we have to take verses in context, both immediate context but also the context of an entire chapter, book, even the entire Bible itself. Let us always remind each other that we are ALL sinners, that we are all guilty whether our sins are homosexuality, greed, pride, or host of others. We are all equally in need of God's grace.

We should always come back to the essential teachings such as in Matt 22:36-40:
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commands."

The question of women as pastors came up because FedEx and Charity really admire a church in Denver called the Refuge, which is a missional church, reaching out to many people who would most likely feel rejected or at least uncomfortable in a traditional evangelical church (you know the stereotype: "we don't drink or dance or chew or go with girls who do.")

The Refuge has three co-pastors, one of them a woman.

I looked up the website for the Refuge and here's what their "about" page,, says:

We believe (so far):
  • Jesus meant everything He said
  • the Bible
  • the Bible is in places hard to understand and even harder to apply
  • that believing is sometimes difficult
  • the more we learn of and experience God, the more questions we have
  • miracles happen, sometimes quickly, but mostly they are so slow in coming
  • we need each other to know God fully and live the life He dreams for us
  • it is our responsibility to advocate for and tangibly love the poor, marginalized, and oppressed in equality and dignity for all regardless of sex, race, socioeconomic status, or a myriad of other things that typically cause us to power up on others
  • we are embarrassed by how the word "Christian" is perceived in the world today and we are sorry for our part in that
  • that mostly people need to be loved, not just told they are
  • church is messy
Wow. I love everyone of these statements and I think they are all true.

I think there is a very real problem that many people feel either judged or uncomfortable in church and therefore avoid it (even some believing followers of Jesus).

Church is messy - that is so true!!! I love my church, where I have been a member for 16 years, but there have been times I disagreed with the leadership, wanted to walk out in the middle of sermons in a huff, have felt shamed, judged, belittled, or felt that I was inconsequential, unloved, an awkward outsider who doesn't fit in.

A little bit of this was the fault of people in the church. MOST OF IT however was the fault of a certain devious being called Satan who loves to tear apart churches as much as he does families. And some of it was my own fault, my own selfish sinful nature demanding attention and affirmation and a host of other things.

Now I come from a pretty clean background without any drugs, alcohol, prostitution, abuse, or criminal records. I still have some issues in my past - shoplifting in high school that I never was caught at, sleeping around in college, lots of insecurity still remaining because I've never made friends easily and often feel overlooked. But anyway, my point is that if it's this hard for me to feel comfortable in church with my relatively clean background, I can imagine how hard it must be for someone with a criminal record or a drug habit to walk into a church or brave it on a regular basis. Especially if they are truly repenting and trying to keep from falling back into sin, but they keep falling - just like I consistently fall back into my area of weakness and sin, over-eating. The Bible clearly states that gluttony is a sin, and yet my "sin" is a lot more acceptable in the church's eyes than adultery, homosexuality or drug use or drunkenness.

The idea of a church as a refuge, where anyone can come, regardless of what pit they were just pulled out of (or might still be in), is a wonderful thing.  Why our churches often fail could cover a hundred blog posts or more.

The issue I'm dealing with in this blog post is women pastors. But I guess the stuff I just wrote about above sort of points to how complicated all of this church business is, how touchy we all are.

So I went back to the Blue Letter Bible to analyze 1 Tim 2:11-12 and I really recommend to anyone the extra time it takes to look up the Greek words (esp. now that it's so easy), because you learn so much. For instance, the Greek word hēsychia is used twice in these verses, for quietness and silent:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

The Greek word has two meanings: the first one describes "the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others." The second meaning is just, silence.

My guess is the first meaning is the one that applies to this verse and it really adds a new dimension to the verse, doesn't it? I was raised by a feminist mother, and the idea of having to be silent and let men do all the talking really rankles. But the idea of not meddling in the affairs of others is actually really good, sensible advice.

So then there's the "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" issue which is the basis for not allowing female pastors.

The Greek word for teach is didaskō. It has a pretty straightforward definition - it covers pretty much every aspect of teaching. It's really hard to wiggle around this one, folks. Some people discount Paul as a chauvinist, but that's pretty much the only excuse to get around this directive. We're just going to have to trust that God knows what he's doing when he commands women (through Paul) not to teach men.

The Greek word for authority is authenteō. This is a little more interesting. It's only used once in the entire Bible, and the lexicon gives these meanings:
1) one who with his own hands kills another or himself
2) one who acts on his own authority, autocratic
3) an absolute master
4) to govern, exercise dominion over one

Christian feminism really gets excited over this word - I won't go into details because it's all gone over in detail in this post, The Mistranslation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Their argument basically boils down to there are two types of authority used in the NT, and women should stay away (rightly) away from authenteo type of authority, but there's nothing that says they can't exercise the other type of authority - a spiritual type of authority - over men. 

However, that ignores the rest of the verse about not teaching and the following verses 13-15 that back this up. Again, this post is already too long to go into detail but here's an excellent post, Eve was deceived so now I'm paying with silence? that explains it very well. It's written by a woman trying to reconcile her feminist tendencies with the Word of God. It's also worth mentioning that the next chapter of 1 Timothy details requirements for pastors and elders, and one requirement is that they be men.

So I don't believe the Word of God allows for women pastors but I'm still glad FedEx and Charity brought this up so that I'd be challenged to dig into a study of the controversy.

And am I going to jump all over this church, the Refuge, and point my accusatory finger, because they have a woman pastor? No. I'd actually like to visit them sometime. I could probably learn a lot. If God wills it that they change their position on women pastors, it will happen: but a lot of shouting and gesturing and Bible thumping on the part of us sinful, quick-to-judge humans isn't going to help.

I'd rather focus on the bigger issue: the needs of  the poor, the sick, the lost. Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9:12-13). And that's what the Refuge is trying to do. That's what FedEx and Charity are trying to do. Bravo, and Amen. I support them.

Note: I'm still studying (and praying) about all this; I'm still learning and always open to direction from God and His Word, from my church, and my husband (my sources of authority) on these matters. I also realize that there are verses such as 1 Corinthians 5:11 and others, that should be taken into consideration before reaching conclusions. Understanding is always a journey.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hanging on tight to my Daddy's leg

This is an ent. Read to find out why he's here.

Back in September, I wrote how God taught me four important things about the seasonal depression I struggle with. But one thing I was still searching for was a specific verse that addresses the "escapism" that tempts me whenever I get stressed, and how that contributes to depression.

See, it's easy for me to give into "escaping" for a while - esp. since I don't use drugs or alcohol for escapism, so I can justify that there is nothing wrong with what I'm doing. My favorite way of escaping is actually to pick up a good young adult romance to read (these are clean romances, unlike  Harlequin style romances). Seems harmless, right?

So I escape into another world for a while, and all's good, except for the fact that I'm ignoring my family for hours at a time. (I've heard Blaze sometimes grumble to the other kids - "don't bother Mom, she's reading and it makes her grumpy"). (The grumpy part comes when they dare to interrupt me).

The other problem is when the book ends. I'm ejected from my escapism back into reality and things are even more stressful now because of my procrastination. It offers temporary relief from depression, but like any sort of substance abuse, when the temporary relief is over, you're in worse-off shape than ever.

With the winter months arriving - the season my depression kicks in - I was still searching for a verse that I could use to fight the temptation to run away from responsibility and even from communication. One of the very last lessons in Beth Moore's study "Breaking Free" finally provided the verse I was searching for - and it was a very familiar verse I've loved for years. But Beth actually dug into the Hebrew words behind this verse and shared some new insights about it that cast it in a whole new light for me.
Isaiah 40:31 Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they rise up on wings as eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint.

The word "hope" in this verse is qawah in Hebrew and it means "to bind together (by twisting)... to be gathered together, be joined; to meet; to lie in wait for someone; to expect... to be confident, trust; to be enduring." She suggested re-reading the verse and inserting these synonyms in the place of the words "hope in."

She says "I believe Isaiah 40:31 is telling us to wrap ourselves so tightly around God that we end up automatically going where He's going."
"Why does Isaiah present the concept of binding ourselves to God in context with being weary and faint? Think about the illustration of the game my children and I played [they'd each grab onto her leg and hang on while she dragged them around the house]. Who did most of the work? I did! What was their part in the game? Binding themselves to me and hanging on tight. Do you see the parallel? When we start feeling weary, like stepping out of the way for  a while, we're probably taking on too much of the battle ourselves."
Now I will preach this verse to myself when I'm overwhelmed and wanting to shut down, to avoid doing the work I know I need to do - putting it off. Do I need the strength to do it? No - all I have to do is grab hold of God and hang on, letting him carry me along.

In real life this translates to saying the verse and focusing my thoughts on Him. Picturing myself hanging on to God's leg. Since he's my spiritual Daddy, this is perfectly okay. (God's leg is like a slender but strong tree trunk. That moves. Sort of like an ent, like in the picture above). (At other times I picture God quite differently, less leaf and more light!)

I do this instead of picking up some fiction to "escape" from my world for a while. Sometimes I have to say the verse over and over again, sort of arguing with myself. But gradually the battle turns to my side; I start to feel relieved, my stress lightened, my overall mood shifting from frustration and despondency to peacefulness. While I'm being dragged along by God through making dinner, spending time with the kids, helping with homework, etc (instead of dragging myself through)- my attitude begins to improve. 

Am I cured?

No! So far I've only remembered to fight escapism a couple times this way. More often, I forget. (It's so much easier to pick up a book). It's not even the roughest time of year yet, the worst of my depression kicks in during February and March.

But the solution is there, if only I remember to grab hold of it and hang on.

And that's what I'm thinking the crux of the whole Christian life is. Remembering that we have a Savior, that He is ready and willing to rescue us, time and time again, if only we reach for Him and grab hold.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

1000 gifts: my two little flower girls

Continuing my list of gifts, blessings that I write down to remember all the wonderful things that God gives me along life's journey (from Ann Voskamp's book and her blog, A Holy Experience).

My BFF N.L. got married on December 18 to one of my husband's good friends, B.W.. My twins, Serious and Starlet were her flower girls, so I was thrilled! And a lot of my "gifts" in this edition have to do with her beautiful wedding...

380. A Pair of Pink Dresses

381. Elegant details on a wedding dress
I'm actually not a big fan of wedding dresses these days: how the style is invariably the same bare shoulder, breast-hugging top, which basically makes all the dresses look the same. So I loved the details that made N.L.'s dress stand out - she had a friend sew cap sleeves with beaded trims on to her dress. And how about that matching tiara and necklace? Gorgeous and glittery. Here's a picture of her with one her bridesmaids, Teresa (also an old friend of mine).
382. Lace-up backs
Her dress had one of my most favorite wedding dress details (which I don't remember ever seeing when I shopped for my dress 12 years ago, bummer) - a lace up back.
383. Pink shoes 

384. Arranging flowers with Mom 
My mom did my flowers for my wedding, and I talked her into doing them for N.L.'s wedding too, because I know she loves arranging flowers and I thought it would be something fun for us to do together. Well, what I didn't count on was Mom being so worried about getting everything exactly perfect for N.L. (and this all happening just a week before Christmas, too) that it ended up being a bit more stressful than fun. But the end result was wonderful and N.L. was tickled pink (oh, unintended pun. Her whole wedding was pink). (Side note: I was afraid her reception would be too pink, but I was amazed at how beautiful it turned out. She was also afraid the pink would clash with the Christmas decorations, but if anything the twinkling lights and golden ornaments only added to the glamor of it all).

385. Pinning flowers on men
After Mom and I put together the boutineers and corsages, I rushed off to the church to get them pinned on the wedding party before photos. Ah, all the handsome men who lined up in front of me for their turn to be pinned! I admit I got just a tad flustered from all the "attention" - I didn't stick any of them with a pin, but I did stick myself. Here's my handsome husband (the best man) all pinned up and kissing on another pretty girl in the wedding party.

386. Celtic violin/guitar duo 
N.L. said she had always wanted two things at her wedding: fresh flowers (check) and live Celtic music. For some reason the Celtic music had me thinking "mournful", but the violin/guitar duo who played at her reception were foot-stomping fun!

387. Visiting with wedding guests - lots of old friends!
It was wonderful seeing Karen and Ed, Emily and Ann and lots of other old friends - ah, the good old days.

388. My twins turning 5 years old
December is also a month of birthdays for us - the twins, B. and Stars. I took the twins to see Arthur Christmas for their birthday (such a creative spin on the usual Santa story - think Santa meets Star Trek, or maybe Mission Impossible). Then we had a little party for them. One of their gifts was a pair of sleds, which of course they had to take outside and try out. My parents have a slight slope to their front lawn - with their older sisters giving them a big push, the twins thought it was a blast. And I thought it was hilarious that they were so excited about the rest of their birthday presents that they couldn't put down their gift bags: they had to hold on to them while sledding!

389. Discovering a new "old" Christmas song
Mom and I always go to the University Christmas Concert, which is a neat mix of traditional tunes and new pieces. This year I discovered this song, Walking in the Air, from the movie based on the book, the Snowman. Apparently it's a Christmas classic in the UK. I loved the haunting music and the Northern Lights at the very end!

390. Flash mob Christmas carols
Apparently flash mobs started as a social experiment, partially to poke fun at hipsters: but Christians have appropriated it to reach large crowds of people with songs with a strong Christian theme - but in a fun  atmosphere of surprise. Here's one from this December at a mall (the quartet on the escalator is my favorite part, but the live creche scene at the end is neat, too)

391. The Twelve Days of Christmas for writers (source)

On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

A six-figure deal for my trilogy

Eleven full requests from editors

Ten-page critique from JK Rowling

Nine more beta readers

Eight adverbs permanently erased from my memory

Seven drafts that auto-revise

Six days alone with my work in progress (no distractions, yeah!)

Five golden story ideas

Four more hours before my laptop battery dies

Three agents offering representation

Two cups of coffee

And writing hut on an island in the South Seas!

392. Bagpipes instead of ringing bells for Salvation army donations
I've seen this guy around town playing his bagpipe several times in the days leading up to Christmas. I always dig up some change for the girls to put into the pot.

393. Winning NaNoWriMo for the fourth time
Though the idea has been in my head since I was 14 years old, I had never developed it beyond just that - just the bare bones of a science fiction story. This year I decided to tackle the old idea for my November writing month and see if I could turn it into a novel. I actually started the brainstorming and plotting and character development in October in preparation, and it was such a rush. Writing toward a goal of 50,000 words in a month is so exhausting, but so rewarding. This has become an annual experience I look forward to all year, a creative outpouring that oddly enough also fills me up.

 Ed and Karen (or Red and Rarin' as B. calls them) (sometimes I call them Ked and Erin by mistake) stayed with us for the weekend of N.L.'s wedding and we had some wonderful late-night talks about all sorts of faith-related things (some of which I plan to share in future posts). Ed eats up theology like I eat chocolate, and he showed me this wonderful free Bible study tool, the Blue Letter Bible, where you can break down verses so that each word is cross referenced to a Greek lexicon, Strong's concordance, a Bible dictionary and more!

395. The worship of lament
Karen also gave me a book for a Christmas present (the best kind of present): A Sacred Sorrow, by Michael Card. "Many of us don't feel right expressing our anger, frustration and sadness in prayer. Our personal worship experience is not complete unless we understand the lost language of lament."