Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year - Reflecting on Our Justification in Christ

As I was reading The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, I was reminded our great redemption - our justification in Christ alone. Then I thought this quote was relevant for a new year and wanted to share it here. God bless!

 If justification is the beginning of love, how can the righteousness of works precede it? Hence John, to put down the arrogant idea, carefully reminds us that God first loved us (1 John 4:10). The Lord had formerly taught the same thing by his Prophet: “I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him,” (Hosea 14:4). Assuredly he is not influenced by works if his love turns to us spontaneously. But the rude and vulgar idea entertained is, that we did not merit the interposition of Christ for our redemption, but that we are aided by our works in obtaining possession of it. On the contrary, though we may be redeemed by Christ, still, until we are in-grafted into union with him by the calling of the Father, we are darkness, the heirs of death, and the enemies of God. For Paul declares that we are not purged and washed from our impurities by the blood of Christ until the Spirit accomplishes that cleansing in us (1 Cor. 6:11). Peter, intending to say the same thing, declares that the sanctification of the Spirit avails “unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:2). If the sprinkling of the blood of Christ by the Spirit gives us purification, let us not think that, previous to this sprinkling, we are anything but sinners without Christ. Let us, therefore, hold it as certain, that the beginning of our salvation is as it were a resurrection from death unto life, because, when it is given us on behalf of Christ to believe on him (Phil. 1:29), then only do we begin to pass from death unto life. 
-  BOOK THIRD. THE MODE OF OBTAINING THE GRACE OF CHRIST. THE BENEFITS IT CONFERS, AND THE EFFECTS RESULTING FROM IT. Chapter 14, Paragraph 6


Monday, December 28, 2015

My Top 10 Reads for 2015 (+ a few bonus titles)


My Top Reads for 2015 (in no particular order):



A History of Western Philosophy and Theology
By John M Frame

Knowing Christ
by Mark Jones

Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion
by Richard Lints

We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for Worship
by Mathew B. Sims and Joshua Torrey

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Theologians on the Christian Life)
by Carl Trueman

Rejoicing in Christ
by Michael Reeves

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love
by Edward T Welch

Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice 
especially contributions by: Owen Strachan, Denny Burk, Christina Fox, Gloria Furman, David Mathis, Trillia Newbell, and Courtney Reissig,

The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God's Good Design
by Courtney Reissig

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ
by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change
by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert

Booklets to Recommend:

Why Must We Forgive?  - Cultivating Biblical Godliness Series
by Stanley D. Gale

How Should We Develop Biblical Friendship? - Cultivating Biblical Godliness Series
by Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin



Finally, honorable mention goes to this "helpful, but read with caution" title (contains some helpful ideas on practice and application for the church; however, due to a less than Biblical conception of sexuality, I wouldn't give it a blanket recommendation.):

The Plausibility Problem
by Ed Shaw

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Forgotten Generation and Late Night Programming

My generation, Generation X, is often considered the most forgotten and overlooked demographic in the country. Google the Millennials and the Baby Boomers and the material available from marketers and trend trackers will keep you up all night. Generation X, on the other hand, is rarely discussed, reported on, or considered by the big time planners, marketers, or decision makers.

This wasn't always the case, though. In the 1990s, Generation X was all the rage, making the covers of Time Magazine and Newsweek Magazine fairly regularly. We invented the internet as you know it. We developed the first websites and pioneered some of the most foundational digital and online companies still around. We were hanging out in Starbucks, looking for locally grown produce, and volunteering to help the most poor all over the world long before the likes of Portlandia or Humans of New York were ever conceived.

Who are these Generation X people? Different research groups vary quite a bit in how they define the age ranges, but I place Generation X between 35 and 55 years old, with Baby Boomers in the 55 and older age range. Many researchers see the Baby Boomers starting at about 50, and I tend to think that may be true for some. But if we're talking about tech savvy people, who've been using social media professionally since their college years, we really need to broaden the scale up to 55 years old, in my opinion. The Millennials, or Generation Y as they used to be called, would then include the 21-34 year olds.

It can seem a little bit perplexing that our society essentially jumped over Generation X. We have lived through and experienced the transition of a culture once dominated by the Baby Boomer generation to one where Millennials are now seen as the most dominant group. As the "in-between" generation, we should be uniquely situated at this point in time to correct course for some of our nation's most pressing issues.

However, we, as the people of the in-between generation, have lost our voices. As Jason Hayes of For The Church commented, the one defining characteristic among Generation Xers is they are tired. Tired of what? Hayes thinks that they are just tired of the journey of life. Or perhaps, they are tired of the treadmill of accomplishments. I think many Xers may be tired because they feel they have been sold a bill of goods in works righteousness. I've blogged about the problem before here (This is 'What's Going On').

The illusive "American Dream" that says if you work hard, you'll be successful and reach your goals. In the church, it's the issue of the prosperity gospel and name-it-claim-it ideology. Boomers and Traditionalists may have lived in a reality where the American Dream was still alive and well, but now Xers perceive that dream as having been delayed or stolen from them.

The stock market crash of 2008 immediately comes to mind. We lost as much as 40% of our 401k retirement plans, while the banks and corporate titans remained relatively immune to these losses. Dwindling Social Security and Medicaid accounts that are misused and misallocated give Xers little reassurance, despite the fact that most Xers have already paid into those accounts for 30 years or so.

Another interesting and relevant metaphor comes from a particular example of succession planning in the late night television programming industry.

Years ago, NBC brought Conan O'Brien into their late night line up, following Jay Leno on the schedule. Conan was the intelligent, avant-guard comedic talent that was selected from a lengthy study to be the heir of the Late Night franchise when Leno retired. After a long tenure, waiting in the wings and being groomed in the process, the day finally came when Leno announced his retirement from late night television. Leno would move to primetime endeavor and hand the reigns over to Conan, and bring Jimmy Fallon on board to take Conan's old spot. But this only lasted for a few weeks, when Leno decided that his retirement plans weren't quite working out for him, so instead of bumping Conan back into his later slot, the network decided to part ways with Conan.

The fans and audiences of late night programming collectively watched and voiced disapproval of how the network and Leno handled the transition and their interactions with Conan. Just like we all have passively participated and watched as society has passed over of GenX, only those who have been marginalized can change course. Lately, it seems Conan has found his voice in a different context, on his cable program. Similarly, I feel that we, have a unique opportunity to find our voices, make a comeback -- and more importantly -- make a difference.


Since none of this discussion of retirement or American Dream-crushing really explains or represents the issue or real heart of the matter, we should think hard about what might be holding us back that we can influence.

If we in the middle generation are tired, God cares and His Word speaks to that. If we are disappointed and discouraged, God cares and His Word speaks to that as well. If our hopes and plans and dreams didn't turn out as we had hope they had, God cares and His Word speaks to that.

In fact, in this season of Advent, we should look to Christ, in whom we shall find true peace. No matter what we think we need or want, Christ knows perfectly what we truly need, if we will trust in Him and His righteousness.

If we repent of the worldliness and self-sufficiency that clings to us like a body of death and makes us so very tired in this life, we will find new life in Christ. We repent not only by admitting sin and wrong priorities, but we must turn our gaze from distractions and falsehood, so that we can intently put our focus and trust on the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

Now for some Late Night Re-Programming (Praying this hymn by Phillip Brooks):

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.  
 For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth! 
 How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.  
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.  
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thinking about Women's Ministry in an Old-New Way

Perhaps if you visited a church recently and wondered whether they had a women's ministry, someone said something like this to you: "Well, we do have a women's Bible study, but we don't believe that the church is called to create a bunch of programs broken out into different demographic segments."

Certainly, if a church is creating segmented programs that are disconnected from the overall life and unity of the church, then this would be a counterproductive ministry. If women's ministry is limited to a thing that happens in an isolated place, like an event, a meeting, or an activity, without any integration into the overall body, then it's likely that the women involved are missing out.

So, what is a healthy women's ministry supposed to be like?

Well, I could tell you to read "Women's Ministry in the Local Church" by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, and end the post here. Because that really is the definitive resource, in my opinion. Rather, I'd prefer to share what I've shared with other women on the topic.

Until recently, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) committee on discipleship ministries called the women's ministry arm of its work "Women in the Church", or WIC. The name was changed to Women's Ministry, because of the confusion and misunderstanding of using the acronym, especially among newer people in the local churches.

I fear something important may have been lost when the name was changed. When we spoke of Women in the Church, it actually meant every woman member in the church was automatically considered part of Women in the Church. It wasn't a program to sign up for or a club to join, but rather it simply meant that you became part of the Titus 2 model of mentoring, where older women would come alongside the younger women. It didn't matter whether you believed in women's ministry or not, if you were a member of the church, you were a member of WIC.

Sometimes, when we speak of women's ministry with newbies, there is pushback about whether women should even be "in ministry" at all and whether the idea is even Biblical. Usually, when the model of ministry is explained, their concerns are easily answered. Yet there are times when the question still lurks about whether women are exercising authority in the church by having a ministry with committee members/officers who plan and teach.

At this point, we gladly bring up the practice of active submission. In a thriving church environment, women's ministry leaders are encouraged and reminded to actively submit their budgets, plans, books for study, and teachers or speaker to the session for approval.

In a thriving women's ministry, the leaders actively submit by coordinating teaching material with their pastors, to ensure that it complements the preaching schedule and that it complements the pastor's vision and direction for the church as a whole. A thriving women's ministry will develop the schedule and plan any events or activities in tandem with with the life of the church, so that the content and context all fit together and integrate people into the larger body of Christ as much as possible.

Another example of active submission is a recent initiative in our local church. Women's Bible study and small group leaders are now required to read and study the Westminster standards (Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms), then sign an agreement, listing any exceptions they hold. All of our women who teach other women or children have gladly submitted to that request.

When others see and experience a thriving women's ministry that is working in coordination and cooperation with the pastors, the session, and rest of the church, they are often both surprised and encouraged. It requires the veteran "older women" to set the tone by going to great lengths to create synergy and collaborate efforts with the nursery, missionaries, campus ministry, hospitality, outreach efforts, and many others.

When properly conceived, women's ministry can create and promote a fruitful environment where women are more fully integrated into the life of the church (rather than the opposite).

What to avoid
What are some of things for leaders to avoid, in order not to conceive of women's ministry as just another program?

1) Don't get sidetracked by worldly leadership models that say the church can only do one thing well (focus on a single core competency). People need more than one-dimensional ministry to thrive and flourish, especially in this hostile age.

2) Don't think of women's ministry strictly in terms of events and meeting needs. Our effectiveness to minister to one another is founded on how well women are able to think and live Biblically by studying and applying God's Word, and in prayer. Word-based ministry is the key.

3) Don't imagine that women discipling women through women's ministry somehow stifles mission effectiveness. Sure, if women spend day after day in church activities and events, then it will negatively affect their ability to be salt and light, but that is the opposite of the model of women's ministry that is needed. We do need women to spend time with other women, investing in their lives, in discipleship relationships. Women need to be able to confess their sin, repent, pray, hold one another accountable, pray, and apply God's Word to their lives. That can't happen if they don't spend some intentional time together in a gender-distinctive setting.

4) Don't limit the mission of the church to one (or two) hours on Sunday morning. Because even though preaching, the worship service, and the sacraments are the necessary components for a church to even exist, and for the believer to have a fruitful life, they are not the only things that people need to grow and mature in Christ. Especially in the case of newer believers and those who are immature in the faith, accountability and gender-specific discipleship can be crucial.

I never thought I would say some of these things, because I have very little trust for women. But thankfully, I'm at a place now where I can see that one of the biggest ways for me to continue to grow and mature in my faith is through developing more nurturing relationships with women in the church, who teach me by their example.

All of this is to say that women's ministry can be and should be so much more than a "program". Women's Ministry can be life-giving, God honoring, and complementary to the overall mission of the local church.


Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬
1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 





Saturday, November 28, 2015

Women in the Church: Praying as Life Givers


Excerpt from Prayers of the Bible: Equipping Women to Call on God in Truth by Susan Hunt (pp. 24-24)

LIFE-GIVING PRAYER

In his church newsletter, Pastor Glen Knecht wrote about attending a church service in Ukraine after the fall of communism.

How mistaken the Communists were when they allowed the older women to continue worshipping together! It was they who were considered no threat to the new order, but it was they whose prayers and faithfulness over all those barren years held the church together and raised up a generation of men and young people to serve the Lord. Yes, the church we attended was crowded with these older women at the very front, for they had been the stalwart defenders and maintainers of Christ’s Gospel, but behind them and alongside them and in the balcony and outside the windows were the fruit of their faithfulness, men, women, young people, and children. We must never underestimate the place and power of our godly women. To them go the laurels in the Church in Ukraine. 3

Several years after I heard this I was in a church in Ukraine, speaking for a women’s conference. I told the story, and my translator looked at me in amazement. “My grandmother was like that,” she said. “I was a communist so she never spoke to me about Jesus but somehow I knew. Her home and her marriage were different. Now I am a Christian. I know I am an answer to her prayers.” We celebrated. We knew we had heard a life-giving story.
.................................................................................

Dear Older Women in the church: Your wisdom, your faith, your prayers, and your presence matters!
24 

“‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’ (Numbers 6:24-26)







Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Willowback or Caluther?

A rambling repost from back in 2009:

This article at IMONK brought to mind how my thinking has developed over the past few years with regard to spiritual gifting. My view is perhaps a bit oversimplistic, but I wanted to share some thoughts here and see if anyone else might have anything to add.

According to the writer and in my experience, there are at least two major ways of thinking on how we might use our spiritual gifts as members of the body of Christ.

One of the models is that of the Saddleback/ Willow Creek megachurch model (which I'll refer to as the Willowback Model) where every member is encouraged to volunteer for service opportunities in the church by using their strongest gifts as a way of becoming mature disciples. The other model is a reformed model introduced by Martin Luther as the doctrine of vocation, and adopted by other early reformers, such as John Calvin. I'll refer to this model as the "Caluther Model." If you are not as familiar with this one, think "Protestant Work Ethic."

Under the Willowback Model, the way church members become mature disciples is essentially by being put to work by the church. Based on their S.H.A.P.E. (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experience), members are 'plugged into' ministries where they can contribute to the mission of the church's voluminous programs. A member's spiritual growth and maturity is linked directly to his or her participation in or leadership of various ministry opportunities.

When the Caluther Model is practiced and taught, the emphasis is on church members living as members of four various estates: the church, the home, the state and work (initially work was grouped under state, but was later separated from the state and includes school and other such 'occupational areas.' )

Under this model, there are two significant differences with regard to church ministry and the understanding of "the priesthood of all believers." Under Caluther, the priesthood of all believers primarily means direct access to God for prayer and forgiveness through our Mediator and Savior, Jesus Christ. And even though the priesthood of all believers in the reformed model rebukes the idea of papal authority, it does not mean that every single Christian is called to (or trained for) ministry leadership. Some men are called and ordained to lead and teach and maintain the purity of the Church. They are responsible and hold the authority of these positions, whether in full-time or voluntary status. As members we gladly submit to their authority and their shepherding. This is very unlike the Willowback Model, where the "priesthood of all believers" defers teaching and leading within the church to essentially anyone willing to volunteer and commit their time.

The second outworking of the "priesthood of all believers" under the Caluther Model emphasizes the equipping of the members of the body of Christ to serve in all four of the estates where God has sovereignly placed them. Think about the radical nature of this concept in the context of today's pragmatic churches. For instance, when I think of utilizing my abilities, talents, and gifting to serve God, am I immediately thinking: "Maybe I should teach that Bible Study that I was asked to teach?" Or "perhaps I should say yes to that committee that I was asked to lead?" Or "Should I be going to the homeless shelter to serve with other members of my house church?"

Or...shouldn't I rather be built up in the faith by the gospel and the Word in order to be a steward of the grace of God in how I:
  • serve my family and at home.
  • perform, serve and honor my boss and coworkers in the workplace (or teacher and fellow students in class.)
  • participate as a citizen in the city, state and nation where I live.
  • participate in and support the mission of my church.
This may lead to me serving on a committee on church, but how I minister as a priest or ambassador of Jesus Christ is not limited to the activities that I do at church.

Unfortunately, the Willowback Model sucks energy and time from people to support all of the programs of the church and very often causes them to de-emphasize the other three estates of life, resulting in broken families, poor job prospects, and apathy with culture. Or, on the other hand, the model can also promote a program-heavy style of ministry that tries to take on all four estates, creating a sort of "Christian Ghetto" in the process.

I wonder (and this one is really out of left field, I know), has the Willowback Model perhaps actually created the conditions whereby ordaining women does look like a good idea? In other words, 1) if the priesthood of all believers means that every believer can and should serve and lead in ministry, why should only men be ordained? Or why should we even ordain anyone? And 2) if the church creates a subculture so that members have a place to exercise all of their gifts and talents, then it becomes a home away from home, a work away from work, a community away from culture, whereby leaders must be good at more things than just teaching the Word of God, preaching the Gospel, and administering the sacraments and church discipline. When that happens, why not ordain women? Who else is better at administering the affairs of the home, keeping the workplace running, and creating a lively society and community?

Rather, I think the Caluther Model is correct -- which stays focused on the Church's core missions and acknowledges their members are sovereignly called into all four estates of vocation where they are specifically placed to live as neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends, and co-workers as they are built up in the knowledge of Christ. The challenge is how do we as the Church enter into these vocations with one another? How much greater is the need for prayer and for sharing our requests and concerns with one another? Thoughts to consider pondering...




Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 

Monday, November 16, 2015

More Blogging Chronicles

A few days ago, I contributed to a bit of the back and forth and back and forth over what might have happened to some of the mature women writers.

In my original "Blogging Chronicles", I left off with an observation of the shift that was occurring back around the 2009 timeframe, when The Jolly Blogger (David Wayne) and The Internet Monk (Michael Spencer) were both diagnosed with cancer. Concurrently, there was a significant rise in commercialized blog sites like Challies.com and The Gospel Coalition. The unity of the blogging community seemed to unravel, either fragmenting into special content interests or expanding into electronic bastions of the Christian media and publishing subculture.

I was honored to have Tim Challies reply to my post by mentioning that many of the women bloggers seemed to lead the way in migrating from blogs to newer social media modes, such as Facebook and Twitter. The trouble is, Facebook and Twitter serve very different purposes for most of us than our blogging ever did.

This was certainly true for me, as I found that Facebook greatly contributed to my ability to connect more personally with family members and friends. While Facebook started out as a great supplemental add-on to my already existing relationships, in 2009 it became a real lifeline for me. By regularly connecting me to friends, family, and church contacts, those interactions would help me through one of the toughest times of my life. My blogging tapered off, but I was dealing with many painful circumstances. My time shifted away from blogging and onto these other things.

It was during this painful time that I learned how vital my church family had become, as I was providentially and personally ministered to by the body of Christ. I dove into church life in my local church -- and my denomination as a whole. If I come across sometimes like a spokesperson for the PCA, it's because I've been a direct recipient of immeasurable grace because of our denomination's intentional focus on discipleship and care for the flock -- especially its women.

I believe the tide is shifting back toward more women blogging again, though. Facebook and Twitter serve specific and important purposes in terms of keeping us connected with one another. However, blogging serves something different, in some ways, something greater. The act of processing one's thoughts and working out various ideas by writing more than 140 characters at a shot is a growth opportunity. To do it in conjunction with other writers is a privilege.

Lately, I've had the privilege of interacting with some truly awesome women bloggers. These women are gifted, amazing writers and have been real encouragers to me personally. Women bloggers are on the comeback!

I've missed blogging regularly and would love to commit to it again. I'd love to migrate to Wordpress, as I'm not particularly fond of blogspot and dislike the template options available here. However, I don't want to lose all of my content here or take the time to recreate it over there.
Much to ponder. Guess I'll take it one day at time for now.

Here is a quote I'll leave with you:

"God became one of us, not to erase every shadow or to undo the difficulties of humanity, but to be with us in the midst of it, to transform our spectrum of darkness by bearing a truer depth of light, and to enlarge us with the joy of expectancy until the fullness of time when every hope has come to pass."
- Jill Caratinni for Slice of Infinity (December 2011)


Thank you for reading and God bless!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Weary - Five Minute Friday

Work makes one weary when it feels like whispering in the wind.
As I reflect, I remember and believe that our labor is not in vain.
What we do for the Lord matters. It has and will reap a harvest of righteousness.
Because the Lord is faithful.
His ways are not our ways, but they are so very much better than all we can ask or imagine.
This is not pie in the sky.
I have seen it happen in my life and in the lives of those around me.
These days of weariness are light and momentary in comparison to the eternal glory that lies ahead of us.
So I press on toward the goal. Today I fix my eyes on Jesus, the rock of salvation, and continue to press forward. Day by day. Step by step. Breath by breath. I place my weary mind, heart, and body into His tender care and trust completely that He will complete the good work that He began in me.

 Five Minute Friday

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Titus 2 Women in Reverse: Naomi and Ruth

Ruth 1:16 But Ruth said (to Naomi), “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

I've always had a particular affinity to the redemption story in Ruth, where the kinsman redeemer, Boaz, restores the line of Elimelech and Naomi by taking Ruth as his beloved wife. Reading that such a noble man as Boaz would be willing to risk his inheritance so that the inheritance of a deceased family member would be left intact is mind boggling to understand. This is a man who understands love and covenant. And learning that the son of a Gentile widow would not only become the grandfather of King David, but eventually would even be named in the bloodline genealogy of the Messiah, is truly an inspiration for those of us who were not born into the covenant (and raised in the church). 
The other aspect of Ruth's story that has equally inspired me in my walk with Christ has been the relationship between Ruth and Naomi. Both women  had suffered devastating losses. Ruth and Naomi had both lost their husbands during a famine in Moab. Naomi's suffering was even greater, since she had also lost both of her sons as well. Several times in the first chapter of Ruth, Naomi states that she believes the Lord's hand has gone out against her. She even tells Ruth and the other women not to call her Naomi any longer, but to call her "Mara" instead, which meant bitter, because she was bitter and because the Lord had dealt bitterly with her in her calamity.

As Naomi pleads with Ruth to return to her own family and her Moabite god, the younger woman, Ruth, responds by binding herself to the older woman, Naomi, to Naomi's people, and to Naomi's God - the only One, true God.  As an older woman, Naomi seems to have forgotten her true identity as being a child of the God of Israel. Naomi's example is far from the ideal as an older woman of the covenant. Because of Ruth's commitment to and covenant with Naomi, God provides a kinsman redeemer to bless them both -- and eventually to redeem the rest of us, too


This was no mere friendship. The younger woman, Ruth, demonstrated real covenant commitment through active faith, love, and encouragement not only to the older woman, Naomi, but to her people -- and most especially to the Lord. Because of Ruth, the Lord redeemed  the devastation that Naomi and Ruth experienced in Moab, while Elimelech and Naomi were separated from the covenant community, in the days of the Judges. Because of Ruth, we see the Lord transform Naomi's life from an untimely tale of death and discouragement to a phenomenal epic of life-giving rescue. 


In this regard, the text speaks for itself:  


Ruth 4:14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
We could use a new generation of younger women like Ruth who make the active decision to commit to the covenant community and to the older women, like Naomi, who are experiencing trial and suffering. Whether it is loss of a loved one, ill health, or just lagging faith, most older women could really use the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement that younger women often to bring to their interactions. I'm a middle woman. So, I feel the tug to be both a better younger woman, committed to the older women and the church, as well as the tug to be a better older woman who is willing to open up my life and share it with those who are newer in the faith. 

Thanks for reading!!! 



(note: This is a follow-up article to the previous Blogging Chronicles article, in which I attempted to write my background experience over the past ten years blogging.)



Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Blogging Chronicles: My Take on Where the Mature Women Bloggers Went

Recently Lisa Folmer Spence started an interesting bit of dialog with her article entitled Writing from the Middle Years. Aimee Byrd picked up on the theme, inquiring "Where are the Mature Women Writers?" Lisa is one of the gifted and faithful bloggers over at Out of the Ordinary and Aimee is one of a small band of bloggers over at The Mortification of Spin, a ministry of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

In both Lisa's and Aimee's posts, Tim Challies is mentioned as a sort of bellwether marker for what's going on in the world of reformed blogging. Given the current trends in reformed blogging, I'd say that is a fair and accurate assumption. The other highly visible, and uber popular blogging presence is housed at The Gospel Coalition website. There are many others that probably deserve mention, but far beyond the others, Challies and TGC are the most widely known.

Yet, for many of us reformed bloggers, who've been out here in the blogosphere for a very long time, we know that the blogging landscape has changed immensely in the past 10 years or so.

An Overview of the Past

When I started blogging in late 2005, I did it mainly for my own personal thought processing and as a devotional endeavor. However, in 2006, I learned about some other women who were blogging and got connected with them via blog comments and discussion forums. From their blogs, I learned about about two popular blogging aggregators: League of Reformed Bloggers and the PCABlogs. The League of Reformed Bloggers was co-hosted by Tim Challies and David Wayne, the JollyBlogger. The PCABlogs blog roll was hosted by and managed by David Wayne, the JollyBlogger.  Both were set up originally by Adrian Warnock and the prerequisite to have one's blog added to the blog list was for the blogger to subscribe to the five sola's of the reformation, the appropriate confessions, standards, or creeds and to send their link to Mr. Wayne for approval. These aggregators pulled together blog posts from all across the spectrum of reformed writers and members in the PCA, including men and women alike.

Our posts would go up simultaneously, right along side the top bloggers of that time, such as Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds (pre-Gospel Coalition, when Justin Taylor was arguably bigger than Challies.com), The Internet Monk (Michael Spencer), and others. The contributions varied from missional and evangelistic to more formal practice, and every thing in between.

Participation was encouraged by men and women alike. The feed served, more or less, as a self-correcting process, whereby one writer's blog post would often be countered by another writer's post on the same subject, but from a different angle or viewpoint. As one of the regular, almost daily participants to these aggregators, I interacted quite a bit with other men and women bloggers, and as a result, learned quite a bit along the way. And I had the opportunity to provide a unique voice and perspective that was valued in these blogging communities (including this testimony from 2007).

Nothing New Under the Sun

As I was reviewing the old posts from the JollyBlogger site this morning, a scan of the content confirmed one of the reasons why some long-time bloggers may have dropped out of the field in the last few years. Most of today's "hot topic" issues are the same as they were seven, eight, or ten years ago. So, most bloggers who've been writing for a while have seen, heard, and read all the angles more than once. It's no longer a "new thing" that we need to process to understand. As King Solomon has told us before, there is nothing new under the sun,

Here are a few examples of genres that the younger people are still chattering about today:
In 2008, David Wayne and others blogged about the issue of Women Deacons in the PCA. The General Assembly committee produced a full study and report on the issue which dealt with the scriptures and the Book of Church Order. Today, younger women bloggers are attempting to re-tackle the issue female deacons, but for the rest of us who've been there before, we feel that we've already studied all the angles and the issue has been fairly settled (in the PCA). 
As early as 2006, The Jollyblogger was addressing issues of Women in the Church head on, by engaging with both the complementarians at Together For The Gospel (pre-Gospel Coalition), and with the egalitarians alike:
Women's Roles in the Church In the comment section, you will read engagement from Ligon Duncan and Joel Hunter (not an uncommon thing, btw, back in the earlier bloggy days!!)  
The Jollyblogger held a solidly complementarian position, but recognized luminaries like Dr. Roger Nichole at RTS and others who did not buy into the idea that one's stance on complementarianism is a Gospel issue, per se. Furthermore, The Jollyblogger was cautious to warn men of how the remaining stain of our sinful human nature can often lead to oppression in some complementarian church cultures.
 This is just one example of how issues and topics recycle, and why some of us who've been blogging for a while can easily lose motivation, as most of things have been done before. A few other re-hashed themes I came across include:
Illinois Legislature to Pass Law, Adding Sexual Orientation to Protected Class (2005)
Beth Moore and Lifeway publishing - a conspiracy to take over your church? (2004!) 
The Mystery of Joel Osteen (2005) 
Media and Culture(2008).
On Politics and Society (2008 Election). 
Vladimir Putin Jokes and Tim Tebow Facts (2007)
The Curse of Individualism in the Church (2010) 
Sin as a Disposition (2009) 
 "Some Jolly Good Links" - David Wayne's predecessor to Challies' A La Carte  today  

A Blessing to the Church

All in all, The Jolly Blogger was blessing to the Church and the aggregators served as a catalyst for robust dialog on a variety of issues. Mr. Wayne did not shy away from engaging with all manner of bloggers, and didn't succumb to propping up the "big name" people (like John MacArthur or Tim Keller) or turning guys like Justin Taylor (again, possibly the most popular blogger back in those days) into celebrities. The main emphasis was about how we engaged with one another. To that end these were some of the resources quoted and referenced frequently:
As a result of the focus and emphasis, the Jollyblogger and the blogging aggregators turned out to be a tremendous boost for the voice of women bloggers and really enabled us to network with one another. I remember some of the key women bloggers in those early years, like, ConsiderableGrace (Tara Barthel), SoloFeminity.com (Carolyn McCulley), PalmTreePundit (Anne), Recovering Legalist (Emily), and many, many others! Most of these women no longer blog, but I still enjoy one or two of them!

The Year that Rocked the Blogosphere - 2009

Within the backdrop of mega conferences and coalitions forming, Mr. David Wayne was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and had to give up his ministry efforts of serving the reformed blogging community. The Jollyblogger, along with Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) and Matt Chandler of the Village Church, contracted cancer in 2009. Few remember Spencer's predictions of "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" from early 2009, just prior to finding out he had cancer. You can read him here: Part 1 "Why is it Going to Happen?", Part 2 "What Will be Left When Evangelicalism Collapses?" and Part 3 " Is This a Good Thing?" Essentially, the break up of the aggregators coincided with major shifts in the blogosphere that actually mirror Spencer's predictions quite a bit.

Timing wise, Justin Taylor had linked up with folks at Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition and transitioned his blog over to their website as their first official blogger. Tim Challies had moved front and center with his Free Stuff Fridays promotions, A La Carte linkage love, and Reading the Classics Together, which were staples by 2009.

The two key branches of change blogging wise were 1) an increase in tribalism, on the one hand, and 2) a move toward commercialization and consumer-oriented approach on the other.

Many bloggers, previously connected via the broad reaching aggregators set off to create blogging networks that focused on particular affinity areas, like missions and outreach, or promoting a more serious orthodoxy with a confessional focus. Some bloggers, seeing what Spencer saw about the coming changes within Evangelicalism, went off and cultivated a network of "discernment" focused websites. Eventually, most of the little people disappeared from the public conversation and the mammoth, highly-commercialized models superceded them. In 2009, The Gospel Coalition and Challies.com would come to mostly own the reformed sector of the interwebs from a content perspective.

Under this system of commercialism, newer bloggers largely see their work as a commodity. They are often inadvertently set up as a sort of 'Issue Avatar", where the work of one or two specific people emerges as representing the particular viewpoint or experience of a whole demographic.

Whether readers are still welcome to comment or not, the former community and atmosphere of participation has been largely discarded -- exchanged for click-throughs and shares. As a result of the consolidation of authors into mega-blogs, newer bloggers tend to be primarily be interested in seeking to grow a "platform" where their work can be seen by as many "consumers" as possible, and perhaps, even as a place where they can monetize their content. Cultivating community, dialog, and participation is no longer seen as a desirable outcome.


Additionally, these changes in the reformed blogging community since 2009 greatly improved the opportunity for many men bloggers and men authors. However, the changes have had an overall negative impact on women bloggers and authors. The majority of my former bloggy women friends no longer blog.

My Personal Reflection


For me, I mostly feel that because of the current context, anything I blog is just whispering into the wind. At other times, it is just a matter of not getting worked up anymore over a topic that has been discussed to death already. So many things that younger writers see as something novel has already been settled by previous generations in council, committees, or creeds. Unless it personally concerns me, I don't feel the need to spend time on it anymore. Maybe I should? And finally, as I get older, I just don't feel as driven to take sides on every little thing that crosses the computer screen. Besides, the things that are troublesome are more like overarching themes, such as the tribalism and commercialism that I mentioned earlier or the few recent issues I've engaged like the nature of sin and redemption in Christ.

I certainly don't speak for mature women overall, as I would hope to read and learn from more mature women than myself!! However, there is a touch of conviction in writing this that perhaps I have more to share than I even know.

And this may be the biggest thing standing in the way -- convincing the older women that they actually do have the wisdom and experience that we need! 

In which case, maybe what we need most is a generation of Ruth's... (keep reading)....




Monday, August 31, 2015

My Perspective: Women in Combat

In recent news, The Pentagon is expected to open most combat roles to women soon.

UPDATE: Today, the Pentagon announced that they will open all combat roles to women.

The decision has been in the making for quite some time. More than two and a half years ago, my friend, Joe Carter, wrote a thought-provoking article called Battles are Ugly when Women Fight, in which he predicts that young women will soon be required to register for the Selected Service, to eventually be subjected to the draft.

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not a fan of putting women in combat, nor am I a fan of "slippery-slope" argumentation. It seems unlikely to me that 1) the American public will likely support any form of a draft at this point, given the overwhelming success of an all-volunteer Army, and 2) that the American public should easily make the leap from women being allowed to do something to forcing women into the specific fields where they have to serve. We really don't need to look much further than the track record that science and engineering fields have had for attracting and recruiting young women. STEM programs and diversity clubs everywhere have actively recruited women for more than 20 years in those fields and the actual ratio still remains at a meager 8-10%, even in best case scenarios.

However, even though I find it unlikely that the public will force women to enlist into combat any time soon, I strongly believe we should advocate for the right for women to claim  conscientious objector status, should legislation be passed in the near future. Without having to prove that they are full-blown pacifists, women should be able to opt-out, solely on the grounds that they are women. That's something that I'd like to see put into place with any future legislature.

All of that said, I'm still in accord with Joe Carter's position here, particularly because I've lived through three decades of first hand knowledge regarding the changes in our military forces. Long before 9/11/2001, the slide toward women on the front lines has been in full effect. However, the tables went into full-tilt when the lines between combat and service support roles were irreversibly blurred by the asymmetric style of warfare employed by our cowardly enemies.

The global threats presented by a post-Cold War environment necessarily thrust every military member into the "warrior" role. The days of either young men or young women joining the military in a support capacity have been gone for longer than a decade. Just think about it, and remember that Jessica Lynch was a supply specialist (service support) who became a POW after she and her fellow soldier were engaged in a fire-fight. Not your typical supply specialist job description, right?

In my case, this change in roles was one of the main reasons why I left the military to move on to better callings. It was never my intent to have to shoot a weapon at another person. In fact, through most of my career, my job mostly involved shooting a camera and wielding a pen (or a typewriter back in the day). Even that role was rewritten and changed to mobile/combat camera more than 15 years ago. When our unit got called to go to Iraq, I invoked my 20-year letter option and retired as a matter of conscience.

Finally, anyone who reads this stuff knows that I'm a full-fledged PCA church member, who values my denomination's Biblical teaching and positions on topics such as these. Many years ago, in 2001, my denomination formed an Interim Study Committee, that wrote this Consensus Report, and made these Recommendations for the Wise Counsel of the Church, specifically pertaining this topic. Back in 2007, as I was wrestling with my own issues of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" regarding my military status. I was directed to these documents by the wise counsel of a Godly PCA elder, who I met while one of our presbytery events. (Chaplain Lee served in the military for many years and is currently the Executive Director of the Presbyterian & Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel for our denomination.)






Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 

The Value of Re-Affirming The Danvers Statement


As I've stated in numerous previous posts, I'm a complementarian woman and a fully participating member of a PCA church that teaches the complementarian position. As such, I find myself compelled to defend what I have come to regard as the thoroughly scriptural teaching of the Bible on the issue of manhood and womanhood. I wrote a brief introductory background on my coming to a complementarian understanding in my previous post, but did not describe what I in fact believe that position to be.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What I'm interested in doing here is to actually look at what the complementarian position is, according to vast majority of Biblical churches, and especially my own denomination, the PCA. Nearly every minister and body in our denomination that I'm aware of subscribes to The Danvers Statement, which was written in December, 1987, by the original council members of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).

The Affirmations are as follows:
1. Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood. 
2. Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.
3. Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin. 
4. The Fall introduced distortions into the relationship between men and women. · In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility. · In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.
5. The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, manifests the equally high value and dignity which God attached to the roles of both men and women. Both Old and New Testament also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community.
6. Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse. · In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husband’s authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership. · In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men. 
7. In all of life Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission—domestic, religious or civil—ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin.  
8. In both men and women a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside biblical criteria for particular ministries. Rather, biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God’s will. 
9. With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world. 
10. We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.

The importance of the carefulness and the clarity with which these original affirmations were written cannot be overstated, in my opinion. In each of these affirmations, the latitude spared for individual application and cultural differentiation seems self-evident. Hard and fast rules that are not presented in scripture are excluded. Prescriptive behaviors that fall outside of those given by the Word of God are also not mentioned. The overt wisdom of these deliberately chosen words ought not be overlooked, friends.

The Affirmations in The Danvers Statement Summarize Matters of Agreement

Again, the vast majority of church leaders, including those whose writing and teaching on the subject that I trust, subscribe to the above affirmations. In fact, I'd venture to say that even my fellow bloggers and writers who are currently challenging some of the recent articles or books written by authors associated with the CBMW would also agree with the affirmations as written.

Rekindling the Danvers Statement at this time is a way to provide a plumb-line -- a historical representation of what the founders of the complementarian position actually meant when the word was coined and the movement was launched.

Over time, the complementarian position has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and in many cases overstated or misapplied, from all sides. With the latest generation of CBMW leaders and authors at the helm, I'm most hopeful that their renewed sense of clarity will enable us all to better engage cultural issues.

One thing that might help is for us to not start with the culture or with psychological categories of "what is", but rather, for us to start with how God's Word states things "should" or "ought to be". This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Quite often, because of our own sinful nature, we tend toward seeing the overwhelming presence of cultural dilemmas in our world in zero sum terms -- as either all or nothing propositions or in win or lose categories. Thus, I think it's important for each of us to check our assumptions by the Word of God before we engage in cultural applications of Biblical teaching. Far too much of the advice floating on the internet is reactionary and even somewhat embarrassing.

In my case, I'm constantly on guard against the fact that I came from a rather unique, secular upbringing, where I was exposed to a strange mixture of personal independence and freedom, during a time when traditional and progressive gender roles were being radically re-written.

For others, being raised with a 1950's style of family ethics can be equally confusing, especially if Ozzie and Harriet are viewed as the prototypical "Second Adam" and "Second Eve" from a theological reference point. (Many excellent, complementarian Christian authors have challenged this mistaken notion of the idealized American family - see Carolyn McCulley or Nancey Pearcy for starters.).

Accordingly, my two-fold purpose in advocating for the Affirmations of The Danvers Statment as a baseline description of what it means to be complementarian follows:
1) To dispel confusion on the one side of the complementarian debate that tracks either toward culturally-contrived universal prescriptions and rules that do not have a specific Biblical warrant.  
and 
2) To encourage the other side of the debate to recover and reclaim the complementarian moniker, based on the affirmations and sound teaching of scripture, rather than rejecting it as a manifestation of a wrongly contrived cultural Christianity that has no relevance for their own life situations . 

I do not think we need to create a new "label", friends. Nor do we need to adapt the arguments of egalitarians, whose position is unbiblical. But I believe we do need to reclaim and revitalize complementarian teaching.  If we are going to represent the Lord's authoritative teaching on this issue. while at the same time not presenting silly stumbling blocks to the Gospel in the future, I say we should consider getting back to basics of complementarian teaching.

God bless.