Tuesday, July 27, 2010

take down the signs...women in ministry

I've been researching the treatment of women during biblical times. Here are my thoughts on what I've found so far.

Gender bias is still widely accepted and remains unacknowledged in many churches and denominations.

Back at the beginning of time, GOD created humankind. Male and female he created them…in his own image. Men and women are different, yet both are made in the image of GOD. Allow me to stereotype for a moment so as to make a point. We tend to think of men as being rock-solid, thinkers, strong, decision-makers. Women are thought to be softer, emotional, intuitive, nurturers. All of these are characteristics of GOD. When we fill our ministry positions with only one sex, we almost completely miss out on half of who GOD really is. We handicap ourselves. GOD, I dare say, has both masculine and feminine aspects to his character.

During the time of Jesus, women were allowed to enter the temple and observe worship but only up to a certain point, and they were not to actively participate in worship.

I don't know this from my research, but I imagine that perhaps there were signs posted in strategic places in the temple that let women know where they were allowed and where they were not and what was acceptable.

Jesus made it a point to challenge those limitations placed on women. He disregarded the signs in his ministry.

Take the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. During this time, Jewish women were expected to be hospitable, but the teaching of women was considered taboo. Women were considered on the same level as children and slaves.

Granted, I'm taking a little artistic license with my re-telling of this story. But just hear me out.

Jesus goes to the home of Mary and Martha. While Jesus is in the living room speaking and teaching his disciples, Martha is where she is expected to be…in the kitchen preparing food for those in her home. She notices that yet again Mary has sneaked out and is now sitting at Jesus’ feet. Mary knew better than that. People who sat at the feet of a teacher were considered disciples. That was not a role befitting a woman. What was Mary thinking?

In my opinion, Martha has been scrutinized and misunderstood over the years. (I was told a few months ago that she was not much more than a nag. I have to respectfully disagree.) Martha was doing what any good, godly woman would do. Hospitality was a role she considered as her godly duty (Let me interject that it is very noble, but women are not limited to just this gift). How presumptuous of Mary to place herself on the same level as the men! A disciple. Really?

So, naturally, Martha asks Jesus to intervene and tell Mary that she needed to do her expected duty just as she, herself, was doing. When Jesus rebuked Martha, I believe it was not a negative thing. I don’t think he was chastising her about being a busybody or a nag. I think his heart was breaking. Martha had a self-imposed sign in her own home and heart. She was settling for the status quo, the widely accepted belief that women didn’t have the capacity to learn and grow. Jesus wanted her to know that she was valuable, worthy and able. After all, he was there when she was created. He knew she had the capacity to be so much more than what society dictated to her. He formed her brain, her heart, her soul, her body. He, more than anyone else, knew that she could be so much more. And he wanted her to know it, too.

Mary ignored the oppressive, restrictive sign. She understood that with Jesus, signs like those were non-existent. *Jesus spoke to women, he spoke highly about them, he looked at women, he taught women, he released women to minister, he invited women into his inner circle, he allowed women to touch and talk to him. He broke rules that held women back. He was revolutionary. He refused to make signs that put out of reach the good news to women, that excluded women from learning, from worship, from ministry.

And here's where it gets personal...

Imagine walking into your church this week and seeing a sign that reads, “no women past the third row from the back.” No one would dare to do that, yet I challenge you to take a closer look at your ministries and your vocabulary.
  • Do you have some ministries for which you don’t consider a woman when filling positions? Like ushers, parking lot attendants, greeters, deacons or elders?
  • Do you not hesitate to let women speak to women’s groups or Sunday school classes or children's ministries yet you haven’t had a woman preach from the pulpit...and on a Sunday?
  • When assigning titles to people, do women regularly get “leader”, “director”, “worker” and “coordinator” while men get “pastor” or “minister”?

Women can be teachers, mentors, ministers, prominent business people, presidents, pastors, denominational leaders, and much, much more.

If you have such signs in your church, I challenge you pastors and leaders to take them down.It doesn’t matter how they got there or who put them there whether it be men OR women. As in the account of Martha, she imposed those limitations on, not only herself, but on other women as well. And I ask you not to do it quietly either. Educate the women and men of your church and your denomination. Be intentional. They need to understand.

And follow the example of Jesus who acknowledged the value of women, who encouraged women and showed them their worth. Help them see their potential. Sometimes we women are so busy nurturing others that we neglect to see our own beauty and talent and potential. Take the time to appreciate beauty in all people. Take time to develop and nurture the talents and abilities in both men and women. It's not about one sex over the other. It's about reconciliation and working together and respecting each other and sharing the good news.

And remember this the next time you find yourself needing to fill a ministry position:

“There is only one calling. Not one for men and another for women.” –Vonette Bright.

Take down those signs. Take 'em down.

*see John 4, Luke 18, Luke 8 for additional reading.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

live intentionally

Life is an arrow – therefore you must know
What mark to aim at, how to use the bow –
Then draw it to the head and let it go!
- Henry Van Dyke

our reality? life is short.

i was hit with that reminder this week with the passing of a friend. and after the initial shock began to wear off, i found myself reflecting on the thought that if i want to live a life of no regrets, i must live intentionally.

i remember being told during my childhood things like..."your room won't clean itself" and "that paper won't write itself." a clean room and a class assignment required effort on my part in order to reach completion. the same applies to a full life. it won't happen unless i decide to do something about it.

people don't know we love them unless we take the time to communicate that to them. relationships don't flourish unless we cultivate them. fences don't get mended unless we tend to them.

phone calls don't get made unless we pick up the phone and dial the number. books never get written if we don't write the first sentence. masterpieces never get painted until we pick up the brush. marathon's don't get run if we never train.

here's the thing...if you don't live YOUR life intentionally, other things and other people will live your life FOR you.

don't let that happen.

here's a thought for reflection: imagine yourself coming to the end of your life. what do you want to have accomplished? what relationships do you want to have intact? what do you want to see when your life flashes before you? now take the steps today that will give you that life. start today. live intentionally.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

a few words about wendi

from my heart, i just wanted to say a few words about a beautiful person that passed on this week. her name is wendi stinchcomb steger.

there are others who were much closer to her than i, but she meant a lot to me, too. and i feel it appropriate and necessary to say a few words in her memory.

i knew wendi when we were just kids. my mom told me that we used to go by and pick her and her sister up for church sometimes. she was a little over a year older, and i kind of looked up to her because of that. at our ages back then, one year was a big deal. of course, i would have never let her know that then.

we lost touch for a few years, but i never forgot her. she's one of those people you always remember. we reconnected briefly as teens. that's when i realized how beautiful she was both inside and out and what a sweet spirit she had. i've read a lot today how everyone knows her for her beautiful green eyes, but i remember her for her warm and welcoming smile.

once again, we drifted apart. but thanks to facebook, we were able to reconnect as 30-somethings. i was excited to catch up and renew our friendship. i gave her a hard time about her relationship with her husband jeremy. she was always telling someone she loved them. usually it was jeremy. and usually located right under her statement of love for him was a comment reciprocating that love. i actually began to look forward to seeing that daily exchange. it made me smile.

even if you didn't know wendi that well, it was pretty obvious that family was very much important to her. she was pregnant with who everyone thought was baby girl lanie. turns out it was baby boy eli. =) and many updates came about that little one and all their preparations for him.

wendi was always posting some funny incident in the steger home. i think the last conversation we had was over a status update about jeremy getting stuck in the dryer. he was trying to help his pregnant wife by doing the laundry. they were always doing sweet things for each other. what a shame she didn't have the camera ready. i almost fell out of the chair laughing as i read about the incident.

i will cherish wendi's last few months. i was inspired by her zest for life and her love for others. had i known that she wouldn't be with us much longer, i would have taken the time to tell her that i had been inspired by all her silly little updates. i started telling those closest to me how much i love them more often. i smiled a little more, probably mostly due to reading her status updates. and i remembered to stop and celebrate life. i was constantly looking for updates about her pregnancy.

the world lost a wonderful person, and heaven shines a little brighter.

eli, we never got to know you, but you were one very loved little boy. and your momma was incredible.

wendi, you will be missed. and i won't stop letting others know that i love and adore them. we've drifted apart again, but we'll reconnect someday. we always have. and i look forward to that, but until then, i plan to honor your memory by cherishing life and love.
wendi stinchcomb steger
december 12, 1973- july 19, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

do decisions ever get easier?

i've seen and heard that question a lot this week. truth be told, i've been wondering that myself.

i grew up being taught everything is black and white, right and wrong. no gray. no in-between. life is fair. the good guys eventually win. what goes around comes around.

and then i grew up and found life was...well... a little more complicated.

here's what i've learned. it's easy to make a judgment on an issue. but it's harder to make a judgment when that issue becomes a person with a face and a heartbeat. black and white wash into gray.

here's what i've learned. it rains on the just and the unjust. sometimes life is hard and unfair even when you say and do all the right things. sometimes those who don't follow the rules win. disillusionment becomes the word of the day.

here's what i've learned. what may be wrong for one person may not be wrong for another, and what may be right for one person may not be right for another. personal convictions are not the same for all across the board. they are...personal. and while i'm at it, christianity is not a political party. GOD is not a republican, nor is he a democrat. and we are all entitled to think for ourselves. the line between right and wrong becomes blurred.

i've wondered recently about some of my decisions and personal convictions. i wish life were more concrete, but the beauty of life is that it's more fluid than that.

i don't know sometimes if i'm right or if i'm wrong, but when faced with a judgment call, i now remember every issue has a face. not everything works out as i think it should because at the end of the day, life isn't only about being fair. and GOD loves diversity, and that's why we're all unique with unique perspectives.

i'm learning that if i must decide, decide with selflessness. if i must act, act with integrity. if i must err, err on the side of mercy.

i won't always make the right decisions, but i hope my heart's always in the right place.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

how to make GOD laugh

Like Billy Mann's song, "if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."

that's what a friend told me when i told him about the direction GOD seems to be taking us these days. i was making my plans, and i was pretty sure GOD understood them. then he goes and throws a wrench into some of those plans. i swear i think i heard him chuckle! =)

GOD does indeed work in mysterious ways, and just when you think you have everything perfectly planned out, GOD starts changing your heart and mind.

now i don't know for sure what GOD's plans are (notice this time i said GOD's plans rather than my plans), but i'm starting to get an inkling. i have the sneaking suspicion that i'm going to be ok with these plans. i guess we'll see.

sometimes i think GOD really gets a kick out of me. i wonder if he ever falls off his throne laughing. after some of the things i've said and done, i wouldn't be at all surprised! =)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

does GOD care?

Has there ever been a season in your life when you looked at your circumstances and wondered if GOD really cared?

plan b
pete wilson
chapter 1: reality

yep. in fact, that's happened on a few occasions. there have been times when it seemed no matter what i did or said, i couldn't find him. i'd cry out only to be met with silence.

at other times, i felt him as if he were sitting right next to me. it's as if i could feel his breath. but even with him right there, my circumstances didn't change. these times were probably harder than the times of silence. more than once, i would scream out, "don't you care? you see what's going on. you could stop this if you wanted to. why don't you want to?"

i grew up being taught that you don't question GOD. you just accept without question whatever comes your way. however, as i read my BIBLE, i came across scriptures like...

James 4:2...you do not have, because you do not ask.
matthew 7:7...ask and GOD will give to you. search and you will find...

i wanted answers.

when i began asking and searching, GOD started showing me things. i still have some unanswered questions. some questions took days, weeks, months, even years to be answered. i've even forgotten some of my questions until GOD reminded me of them by answering them.

GOD is big enough to handle our doubts, fears, questions, anger. and the very fact that he hasn't mowed me down with lightning after some of the conversations we've had may be proof enough that he cares. whether or not he answers my questions, he always manages to let me know he hasn't forgotten about me. little reminders of his love just seem to pop up at just the right time.

i know how it feels to think GOD doesn't care, but after all our time together, i can't deny his faithfulness or patience or gentleness in my life. and our past history together keeps me going during the tough times.

Monday, July 12, 2010

reflections on plan b

i started reading a book this past week called plan b: what do you do when GOD doesn't show up the way you thought he would? by pete wilson.

i'm only in chapter 2, but already, i'm being affected.

i used to think i had life figured out, that GOD's plans for my life were the plans that i had laid.

and then...BAM! life got turned upside down. life wasn't fair. GOD wasn't fair. i didn't know how to handle that. my plan A went right out the proverbial window. i wasn't sure there was even a plan B.

it has taken me years to learn trust and acceptance and faith. i still don't have it all together. even as i write, my plan A is being shaken up. i have to just shake my head and laugh this time as GOD shows up completely different than i imagined he would. well...on to plan B...again.
i LOVE a book that gives discussion questions/study guides so that i can dig a little deeper. and this book has that. good goin', pete!

so... i guess i have a number of blog topics for a while.

for anyone reading this, i encourage you to answer those questions for yourself...and while you're at it, you might as well grab the book. looks like it's a good one thus far!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

i have more to offer than i thought...go figure

a while back, i made the decision to go back to school to pursue a career in public relations. i start in august. guess what i found out?!?

businesses pay BIG BUCKS for stuff i've done for free in churches for years!

i've developed and led ministries, systems and teams, worked to integrate people into churches aka assimilation, assisted and coordinated summer camps, trained leaders, produced children's musicals, worked up outreach plans and radio church ads, worked with revitalization teams. i've worked in various ministries including children, youth, adult, music, hospitality, small groups, and i've assisted my husband with his responsibilities and goals. and with the exception of about a year's time, i've done it on a volunteer basis. ...and i did it with 4 kids and all that comes with being a wife and mom.

i'm not trying to toot my own horn. honest!

here i was thinking that i have zero experience and nothing to offer the world. i think i may have been wrong about that.

what got me thinking about this?

i read an article about stay-at-home parents and job experience and resumes and all that good stuff. there are others who have the same feelings and insecurities as i. we have a lot more to offer than we knew. contrary to what i thought, i have been honing those skills needed for public relations for years.

that suprised me and put a smile on my face.
i'm feeling just a wee bit smarter... and experienced!

and if anyone else is reading this...perhaps you know this feeling. perhaps you feel like you don't have much to offer. my guess is that you're more valuable than you realize.

Monday, July 5, 2010

perfect love dispels fear

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. --1 John 4:18 (NLT)

i have to admit something. though i've been trying for so long to deny it, i just can't get around this anymore. i am afraid of church. i'm also afraid of anyone who talks about church or speaks christianese.

i fear being hurt, being judged, being guilted into throwing myself into the busy-ness of churchwork.

i don't fear GOD. i mean, i do, but not in the same way. i have that healthy fear and awe of GOD being a just and all-encompassing high being and creator of the universe. but i'm not afraid to carry on a conversation with him and reveal my innermost thoughts and shortcomings. i trust him enough to expose my heart to him. that has not come easy. it has been a long journey, but i do trust him. i believe in him.

GOD is LOVE. love expels all fear. yet i fear a lot. most people don't realize the extent of my fear.

GOD knows. we talk about it. and when we talk, i'm not afraid. i know he won't take my heart that i entrusted to him, throw it on the ground and stomp all over it.

i long for the day when i can open up my heart to people again, especially those of the christian ilk. perfect love casts out fear. there is shortage of perfect love.

i don't like guarding my heart. i hate the disconnect. it makes me cold and self-preserving.

GOD, show me how to love. show me how to accept love. make evident that perfect love that dispels fear. remove the fear that keeps me from living life to its fullest, that keeps me from loving, that keeps me from being loved. continue to heal my heart and make it strong. i trust you to do that. i trust you with my heart.