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Conferences and a bit of a rant…

May 6, 2009

Next year my seminary study includes a requirement that we attend a national conference each semester. By “national” it means we are hearing perspectives from two or more sources – speakers. By requiring that these conferences be unaffiliated with our present denominations means we are putting ourselves in position to glean from a broader perspective. I am, actually really looking forward to what I will attend. Because of finances my national conference may end up being fairly close to “home.” But we’ll see.

So I was surfing this morning – reading up on the Origins Project (http://originsproject.org/) when I read that they will be sponsoring a pre-conference workshop at the National Outreach Convention in early November in San Diego. Now really, who wouldn’t want to go to San Diego in November (or December, January, February… just about any month of the year)? So I went to the website. This is what I saw and read. Remember these are first impressions… but they have me thinking.

National Outreach Convention http://www.nationaloutreachconvention.com/.

Theme (I’m guessing it’s the theme since it is in the heading): In the darkest times, even the smallest light shines bright. Shine bright.

Main page has three “rotating” explanations – enticements – information about the conference and why you should attend. The first one I saw when I was on the page had the heading ofNational Outreach Convention 2009:

You Don’t Attend NOC,
You Experience It.

The gathering place and connection point for those who are passionate about outreach. Be part of the 1000’s who know that NOC is the place to be empowered, re-energized and equipped for effective outreach in your community.

Register today! »

http://www.nationaloutreachconvention.com/i/intro/intro01.jpg

Be Here -National Outreach Convention

I’m thinking (o.k. I am hoping) the sponsors and organizers meant no disrespect. But I am not certain if I even see a woman in this picture (although to be fair – maybe it is a woman’s profile – the one with the glasses partially hidden or is it partially visible by the “Be Here” shirt collar)?

But I did notice that the “Be Here” image is a male profile (Am I not correct?). So based upon this inviting sub-title, “Be Here” is an invitation aimed at males. I wonder why they could not have two “Be Here’s” to express both genders. I don’t know how many people attend the NOC, but this picture and invitation alone give me the impression that this is for my male brothers to attend.

I realize that conclusion is a bit subjective, so I was curious about the convention itself: who are the speakers, what is the format, what subjects are being discussed? So I went to check it out. There are four general sessions during the three days. Each session features two speakers – both men (2 x 4=8). The general session is hosted by (you guessed it) a male. Oh yea – the worship leader is Lincoln Brewster and he is (duh) a male.

What about the breakout sessions? There are 50 breakout sessions. Yes that is a lot. Here’s a sample of the workshops that are offered:

o 5 Things You Should Know About Millennials

o Building a Church Without Walls

o Church Next: A Panel of Innovators (panel comprised of 6 men, moderated by a man)

o Churches for the Sake of Others: Evangelistic Church Planting

o Fulfilling the Great Commission One Healthy Marriage at a Time (guess what? This is lead by two men… I find it interesting that a healthy marriage does not have a woman’s voice present)

o Hindus, Homosexuals and the Hard to Reach: Evangelism in a Post-Christian World

§ (I realize now that another voice is missing in this seminar – women. Does the Church even recognize how women are excluded in outreach?)

o Permission to Speak Freely – Things We Can’t Say In Church (led by Anne Jackson)

o Rethinking Gospel and Conversion

o The Art of Listening to 20-Somethings

o The Big Story: Sharing the Gospel That Jesus Taught

I find it insightful that there are sessions about many things and different groups to reach out too, but there is nothing specifically regarding women. I find it interesting in light of something Joseph Myers shared with our seminary class on “Culture and System Change” that women are among the fastest growing people group to leave the church (which will mean that they become “subjects” for outreach). At some point the Church will be affected because a majority of volunteer positions in the church are filled by women and in most churches it is the woman that decides to tithe (not the man). But anything related to that is missing at this Outreach Convention (after all you might be saying to yourself it is about outreach not in-reach, but see then again see my previous injected point). Not to mention that women are an unreached people group. When will we have conversations on evangelism that recognizes why women are not coming to Christ?

There are more than 50 speakers at this conference, only one of them is a woman. Let that sink in, really, really sink in.

If you are a man do you just shrug your shoulders and think to yourself, “oh well.” Do you think it’s no big deal? Or is it a big deal and then what?

The sad thing is that several years ago I probably would have noticed that the photo inviting you to “Be Here” had a distinctly masculine image on it. But I probably would not have thought too much about the absence (o.k. relative absence) of women on the speaker list. It would not have rocked by boat.

BUT NOW IT DOES.

Where is the presence of innovative women leaders, or women who are courageously “building churches without walls”? We need the “art of listening to 20-somethings” (I have 3 adult children in this category!), but we also need the art of listening to women-those not in the church-something’s. Is it too controversial or do we not care? Or is it something else? I wonder.

Last year I attended an event sponsored by Off-the-Map (http://offthemap.com) that featured Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt and Todd Hunter. Jim and the Off-the-Map team designed the evening and Rich and Rose Swetman, co-pastors of Vineyard Community Church were hosts for this gathering. The atmosphere and spirit of the place was welcoming, festive and thought provoking. As part of the evening Rose interviewed Rob. Her interview and Rob’s responses sparked quite a conversation in the blogosphere (at least in the Seattle area). If you want to listen to the podcast follow this link: http://vineyard-cc.org/podcast/2008/04/15/the-rose-swetman-interview-with-rob-bell/. To Rob Bell’s credit he has worked with his church to live out a context of mutuality in shared leadership. He and other leaders in his congregation turned the direction of his ship (church), but he seemed to miss the point (and I am not picking on Rob Bell) when Rose asked him about the need for men to be influencers in the Church for women.

To be fair, how hard is it for women to listen to men complaining about the feminization of the Church? (Even if we disagree on the method and extremism expressed at some Pastor’s conferences or reductionism of some conclusions). Do we see their concerns as legitimate?

Do men even recognize that they have a responsibility to find ways for women to be at the table?

I wonder what would happen if in response to the NOC invitation to present or as individuals responded to a “Call for Presenters” that potential presenters started asking if women would leading the Breakout Sessions. If these leaders would also ask and support (maybe even insist) on the presence of women (at least one woman for starters) as part of the General Session speaking team. I wonder what would happen if men felt strongly enough that in the Body of Christ there is neither male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek but we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3: 28) that they would remove their presence if a Convention demonstrated exclusion rather than inclusion; practiced partiality rather than impartiality? What would happen?

What would happen if the lone woman presenter at this conference asked “if other women were presenting and if not why?” Maybe a lone woman presenter is a step in the right direction (Maybe she is a first?). I don’t know I have never checked into their convention before.

I realize that the whole presenter system operates for the most part in isolation to the whole. But I still wonder what would happen if people asked?

But really the “onus” is on the NOC itself. They are the ones that create perspective and balance (or lack thereof). They (whoever they are) are the ones that are planning and organizing and orchestrating. What would happen if they looked at the subject areas and checked themselves to see if this was truly a reflection of the Body of Christ?

I realize that the NOC could take this criticism and spin it for even more publicity. If people click on the links they will get more traffic, right? But…

What would happen if men simply cared more? What would happen if women simply cared more?

What would happen if the attendees to this conference began to ask why more women were not present?

What if we all cared? Maybe then the Outreach Convention would truly be national.

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Busy

April 17, 2009

That word sums up how I feel at the moment.  Two weeks remain in the semester — 3 papers to write.  One a synthesis of our semester learning (whew), a reflection paper considering the image of God that is presented in The Shack and The River Within. And yes I like The Shack.  The River Within is a wonderful book –providing insights in our walk with God and helping the reader (me) to recognize that passion comes from our very core and how the banks are built are as crucial as what we do or do not allow the current to do.  And then I am working on a research paper on women in early Methodism.

I almost forgot!  I have an update to complete for my Special Study project.

The reality of the next few weeks means that I am going to change and post twice a week for the next several weeks.

So inspite of busy-ness because of school, I am busy today because we have family gathering tomorrow to celebrate my husband, Steve’s dad. It will be his 80th birthday in a few days.

Until next week…. Grace and peace for the sake of Christ.

God’s Helper

April 15, 2009

God’s helper – is a rather bold title, don’t you think? But it is true, isn’t it?

What is a helper? We have many illustrations and life experiences that provide definition. Do any of these fit? “Honey, will you help me outside?” “Honey while you’re out will you pick up … (fill in the blank)?” Sometimes “opportunity” listings in church bulletins are really just another way of letting people know that “help” is needed for this or that. Parents are often asked for help to get one child here, another there and don’t forget to bring this (whatever this might be). I have discovered helping and responding to calls for help have helped to define who I am. I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a student, a blog writer. These are all roles that express part of who I am, but these are not all of the roles. By virtue of these roles I am often a helper and I am often helped. The reckoning has come as I realize that how I help and who I help is influenced by culture.

When I read Scripture I am influenced by my faith tradition and how it reads Scripture. My commitment to Christ was solidified during the 70’s. If my memory is still working, this was a time when the Church was in turmoil – the charismatic movement was stretching the Church and fresh “winds” were blowing as well as a time when questions were surfacing regarding the submission of women. Does anyone remember Total Woman or All We Were Meant to Be? These two books represent polar opposite understandings of female identity (I read both).

So when I read Scripture I have tended to read it through the tradition in which I am immersed. (Which is also why our reading of The Blue Parakeet is essential if we are to understand how to live God’s ways today). To let go of this is for some, akin to remaking their faith. While for others is it a process more closely associated with “journey.” The creation passages are illustrative of the “journey process” in reading and understanding Scripture.

Before we continue let’s look at the passage that mentions “helper” from Genesis chapter 2:

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’…The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.”

Genesis 2:18, 20

One of the more difficult aspects of our journey with Christ is that from time to time misconceptions must be dealt with – it is difficult because we tend to think that when a misconception is addressed that everything is then in question. In other words our boat is rocked and it just doesn’t feel good.

My understanding of “help” was one such misconception. Sometimes the process is simply untangling the rope so that you can find the end (or is it the beginning?). A woman was to be the “help-mate” to the man. A woman’s focus was on the man and what the man was doing. This assumes a hierarchy in relationship and purpose. The definition of “help-mate” was based on the understanding that man was created before woman and it was man who named the animals, therefore man is to be in authority over the woman. Trust me this logic is still used today.

This always created tension for me, even in the 70’s and 80’s. Here’s why, if a woman is supposed to be focused on being a help-mate it seems that a woman could assume a place of providing for man in a way that could create non-biblical dependence on women rather than dependence on God. It also seemed that if I as a woman am so focused on being a help-mate that I lose a sense of who I am as a person, the only avenue then to meet my own needs is through manipulation. Which I remember thinking when I read Total Woman. It seemed like more than one idea presented in that book had more to do with getting what a woman wanted rather than a New Testament understanding of “serving one another.” But here was the tension for me at that time in my life – I wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to please others and be accepted, and there were no other explanations for “help” in my Christian community.

So what does help mean? The Hebrew word used in the Genesis 2 passage is ēzer.[1] But learning the Hebrew word doesn’t rock the boat or get to the beginning of the rope unless we are willing to look at when the word ēzer is used in Scripture and who is associated with its use. Guess who is providing help when this word is used in other places in Scripture? God. Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26 & 29; and Psalm 33:20 are ones you can look up if you want to check it out. In these texts the meaning refers to God as a “rescuer.” We have wrongly concluded that help – “help meet” or help-mate inferred authority or submission. Gilbert Bilezikian, retired professor biblical studies at Wheaton and author of several books including Beyond Sex Roles explains that “if anything the word points to the inadequacy and the helplessness of the man when he was bereft of the woman in Eden. God provided him with a “rescuer” to become with him the community that God had intended to create all along.”[2]

We dare not flip this to say something he is not saying. The issue is not subordination or authority of men over women or women over men. The focus must be on what God intended to create. To create community there is need to recognize what is truly coming into focus – aloneness. To carry out the task designated by God could simply not be accomplished by one individual. The creation story provides insight, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.(Genesis 1:27). In these first two chapters – before the fall—there is no hint that as ones created in the image of God that man has authority over the woman. They were given authority over created order (Genesis 1:26). The charge in Genesis 1:26 brings into focus on “them” fulfilling God’s intent together – companions. Our understanding of ēzer must include the realization that assistance[3] is provided because Adam was not created to be alone and “Eve was created precisely to ‘help’ him become with her the community of oneness that God had intended for both of them to be together.”[4]

Hopefully, with fresh insight into this important word within God’s design we can begin to look anew at our relationships with one another and with God. God’s dream still lives.

I have a role – an identity that I hope transcends them all – I am a follower of Christ and I am God’s helper. My husband and I have been having some conversations about being equally yoked. His insights and my study are deepening my understanding.

Grace to you.


[1] James Strong, revised by John R. Kohlenberger III & James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001] page 498, 1434

[2] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family 3rd edition [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005], page 22.

[3] Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2005], page 86.

[4] Bilezikian, page 22.

A New Day Dawns

April 13, 2009

The day after Easter, the disciples know that Jesus has risen. Some have even seen him and for those that have not, the unimaginable has reached their ears. They have heard and they have seen. We too have an opportunity to live into the promise and reality of Easter’s celebration. Everything changed in Christ’s death and resurrection. Even today we continue to come to terms with what it means to have new life in Christ.

Therefore it is quite appropriate that we reconnect ourselves to the covenantal dream of God. We first learn of it in the garden, “in the beginning.”

Genesis 1:26-28 “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’”

My understanding for many years was from the lens that in subdue and dominion were the meaning of “use for my own purposes.” I don’t think I exaggerate the point to say that we continue to struggle with this incorrect outlook. But there it is and I believe that it influences our understanding of atonement as well as our understanding of human relationships. I recognize I have just “thrown something” out there without the due process it deserves. However by the end of the road (of this blog study) what I have just said will be addressed.

There is something quite obvious – it is something so obvious that we perhaps have missed it. I know I did for many years. Evident in the garden is relationship. There is relationship between humankind and the animals – after all who named them? Would something be named if you were not in relationship with it? God is in relationship with humankind. In the garden is the revelation – the knowledge of what our relationship with God was designed for—what it was to be—the potential that even now exists. Christ not only demonstrated this for us, but He provided the means and opportunity for us.

And there is relationship between man and woman – both created by God.

Before we begin to look at this relationship I want to take a few moments to remind us that God has never given up on His idea (it certainly wasn’t our idea) to be God’s partners. There is something quite amazing that God entered into covenant relationship with humans. It’s there in the garden – in the very purpose in creation and extended to Noah (Genesis 9:1-19). God revealed his design and purpose to Abraham in Genesis 12, verse 2-3: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” I know that that we can easily misread these words or to stop after “I will bless you and make your name great.” I have to be honest it fits with my pursuit as if my happiness is my right. Or to read the text to say that those I curse, God will curse. But it doesn’t say that or imply that.


God tells Abram that he will bless him, but even in this the focus is not on “self.” The focus of the passage is squarely on the larger landscape —in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. God’s intent for his relationship with Abram is communicated in the beginning of relationship. It shaped everything that was to follow.

God did not let go of His dream –purpose or intent anchored in restoring and renewing the relationship between humankind and God. He takes it up again with Moses and the children, eventually the nation, of Israel. And it is announced loud and clear for us by Christ in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament by its writers.

For much of my Christian life the message had been framed by the understanding that I had missed the mark and sinned, that I was capable of nothing good (cue the Caedmon’s Call song, “Thankful” – “There is none who seek God. No not one, no not one. I am thankful that I’m incapable of doing any good on my own”[1]). Don’t get me wrong it is necessary and important for us to come face to face with our sin and its impact. But this is what has changed, I no longer hold to the prevailing viewpoint of Christ’s atonement as solely focused on appeasing God’s wrath aimed at us because of sin and therefore God sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins. Stated another way it is no longer the frame from which I understand my relationship with God. It has taken its rightful place as part of the picture, in the picture. It is no longer the frame.

My understanding of sin has broadened to recognize that sin thwarts God’s intention for us. It affects our relationship with God, others and creation.[2] Stanley Grenz explains it in terms we readily understand,

“God’s intention is that the growing human develop wholesome, healthy attitudes that balance personal independence and a sense of self-worth with a full awareness of an interdependence with creation, other humans, and ultimately the Creator.”[3]

Perhaps one of the tragic consequences of sin is that we have lost the sense of balance between personal independence and interdependence. In losing full awareness of our interdependence with creation, others, and God have we also lost our sense of community?

Is that why we look so intently to see structure and order within human relationships and within God purposed community (the Body of Christ)? If we have a dominant framework from which we understand sin and atonement does that put all other relationships within that framework? What happens when we realize that the “alienating effects of sin reach into our personal existence. We do not fulfill God’s design for us.”[4]

What if we began to see sin from the standpoint of God’s design for us, rather than seeing sin through the standpoint of sin?

Our understanding of atonement affects not only our understanding of sin and redemption, it also affects our understanding of who we are and what God had in mind in creation. Todd Hunter helps us make the connection by reminding us that when we have made a commitment we hold each other to that commitment. We may well fail (in fact we probably will more times than we want to), but we aren’t kicked off the team instead in response to our sorrow and repentance we are invited to get back into the game. That’s what God has done with us. God has invited us to join with God in God’s purposes and intent, “God’s story is about being the cooperative friends of Jesus, creatively seeking to do good for the sake of others through the power of the Holy Spirit.”[5]

As Christians if we give ourselves to this calling, this purpose, then we will find a way forward that will give us a willingness to seek what God had in mind for man and woman in creation, what God has committed to renew and what we are obligated in covenant relationship to follow. This is indeed freeing.

Personal reflection:

· If the focus of “why” Christ came has been on individual salvation how has this affected your relationship with God? Others? Creation?

· In what ways do you recognize that we are alienated from our “true selves”? With others? With creation?

· Does it change anything if God story’s is about being cooperative friends of Jesus creatively seeking to do good for the sake of others through the power of the Holy Spirit?” If so, what changes?

Looking ahead…what is your definition of “a helper”? The answer to that question might surprise you. Until next time.


[1] Derek Webb, “Thankful” New Spring Publishing/Niphon Music © 1999. By the way Caedmon’s Call is one of my favorite groups.

[2] Stanley J. Grenz, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998], page 99.

[3] Ibid., page 98.

[4] Ibid., page 100.

[5] Todd Hunter, Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009], page 28.

The Blue Parakeet — The Bible & Story

April 10, 2009

I hesitated to write today. It is Good Friday and I find my thoughts in places other than reviewing and reflecting on The Blue Parakeet. But then I realized (mind you, while I was reviewing) that understanding the Bible as story is vital to our understanding of Christ and deepens the reality of Good Friday – and (for that matter) Easter.

So here we are on Good Friday 2009 opening the pages of The Blue Parakeet once again. We have entered into Part 1; today we are going to take a look at two chapters: Chapter 3 “Inkblots and Puzzles” and Chapter 4 “It’s a Story with Power!” With our earlier reading as a backdrop Scot McKnight focuses us on what we are looking for when we read the Bible, “the ability to turn the two-dimensional words on paper into a three-dimensional encounter with God, so that the text takes on life and meaning and depth and perspective and gives us direction for what to do today.”[1] The “ands” do their work, don’t they? It isn’t just one thing or one thing that is more important than another; it is all of them together. I find myself realizing these “ands” are important and necessary, without them we miss the multi-dimensional aspect within the Bible.

Last year in my first year of seminary studies we began with the Old Testament. We couldn’t bring our New Testament understanding or expectations into the text. As our wise professor reminded us – trust me it took more than one “prod”—the New Testament hadn’t been written in Old Testament times. Our inductive studies kept us in the text at hand. Dr. Delamarter forced us to read the Bible as story and to stay in the story. I remember later in our first semester during our weekly on-line discussion on certain aspects of 1 & 2 Kings. I don’t remember the exact conversation but several of us brought Chronicles into the conversation. Although at first glance we might think of them as the same—both are historical books right? But no, they are different—written by different authors, written at different times, written from different perspectives, with different purposes in mind. That year of study provided a metamorphosis for me.

McKnight exposes why reading the Bible as story is crucial. And he does so by exposing our tendencies. He “got me” in the process for I have seen the Bible (and in some ways God) in each of these “shortcuts.”

· Shortcut #1: Morsels of the Law. The Bible is a collection of laws telling us what to do and not to do, what pleases God and what doesn’t please God.[2] I acknowledge that this is part of my foundational heritage as a Christian. I grew perceiving this was a rule book.

· Shortcut #2: Morsels of Blessings and Promises.[3] O.K. I confess I almost laughed out loud when I read this, after I almost choked (figuratively, of course). For many years I carried around a little pocket book that was full of one verse promises from the Bible. Don’t get me wrong and don’t get Scot wrong. They have their place. But of course if we focus on Scripture as segmented then we lose the context. We lose story. McKnight’s point is that we recognize that the blessings and promises of God emerge from real life story’s that demonstrate life itself is lived amid brokenness, unfulfilled promises and shattered dreams, as well as health, fulfillment and realized hopes. What we need to realize, McKnight reminds us, is that “the Bible tells realistic truth.”[4] This is indeed, good news!

· Shortcut #3: Mirrors and Inkblots.[5] Did you wonder, “Huh?” McKnight reminds us why psychologists use inkblots. The inkblots are not necessarily any particular image, but the one looking at the inkblot tells the observer what they see. I remember seeing a butterfly in some college course where we participated “to get” the concept. McKnight only writes two pages about this shortcut, but it is a revealing two pages. With mirrors and inkblots we see what we want to see, “reading the Bible as an inkblot is projecting onto the Bible our ideas and our desires.”[6] We see the Bible or Christ through a mirror – reflecting back the image we have, rather than what the Bible is really saying. Ouch. My wise professor knew something I hadn’t become aware of yet. Delamarter knew we had to let go of our inkblots and mirrors if we were going to realize the beauty of story. McKnight knows this too.

· Shortcut #4: Puzzling Together the Pieces to Map God’s Mind.[7] Yep, been there and done that, have you? The focus is on solving the puzzle. Once the puzzle is completed, every piece is in place, the right place and it’s done. True confession, I’m not very good at puzzles, but I have always sought to put the puzzle pieces in the Bible into their right place. McKnight stresses several things to recognize with this shortcut. This system of thought presumes we know what God is doing and we have it all figured out.[8] Secondly, this approach “ignores the parts of the puzzle that don’t fit.”[9] Third we have to realize that it is impossible to piece together all the pieces into a system.[10] Fourth, (hang in there with this one) “puzzling calls into question the Bible as we have it.”[11] Rather than see the Bible as a system (and I am beginning to understand just how much and how easily we do this) which can be known or conquered (image flash — jumping up in the air with arms outstretched doing a Rocky. Please note: Scot didn’t write that, I thought of it while I was reading). Or as Scot mentions, “mastered.” He suggests that the story of the Bible is the system. The emphasis is on “story.” With the title of the book in mind, McKnight offers, “God did not give the Bible so we could master him or it; God gave the Bible so we could live it, so we could be mastered by it.”[12]

· Shortcut #5: Maestros.[13] For a great many years I thought I “got” the gospels. Let’s focus on the meat – let’s study the Pauline epistles. McKnight mentions that he too let Paul inform his understanding of Jesus.[14]

McKnight ends his “shortcuts” with an observation worth our consideration. It is tied to our spiritual formation. “Reading the Bible through a maestro’s eyes gives us one chapter in the story of the Bible. One-chapter Bible readers develop one-chapter Christian lives.”[15]

Clearly Scot McKnight is not saying reading the Bible one chapter at a time is wrong, rather we need to see the context of that one chapter as part of a larger story. As McKnight continues in Chapter 4 he emphasizes what is for him the “secret to reading the Bible: that was then and this is now.”[16] To understand what he wrote is to understand the Bible is a story – one we are to live in.

If I am understand what McKnight is writing then it is crucial for us to grasp this, not control it, but to hold onto it in such a way that we recognize that as story God spoke within the context of the story. So when McKnight reminds us, as he does in this chapter, that “God spoke in Moses’ days in Moses’ ways, and God spoke in Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways, and God spoke in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways.”[17] He is providing an opportunity for us to affirm that “he speaks in our days in our ways—and it is our responsibility to live out what the Bible says in our days.”[18]

I think we have to remind ourselves and others that McKnight has not written, at any time, that we then manipulate or fashion the Bible into the story we want, something akin to cultural dressing. We as readers need to remind ourselves that McKnight has done just the opposite by helping us to realize that we may have in fact done the very thing we are opposed to – remember the shortcuts! What Scot McKnight does for us in The Blue Parakeet is what my Old Testament professor did for me (and my colleagues) and that is to remind us that the Bible is God’s story and the story of God’s people.[19]

McKnight continues his train of thought (after he reminds us of the gift and sacrifice of William Tyndale) by focusing on the language of the Bible. Always present in language is the context. If you have the book and are reading the book then you know what I’m talking about, if you don’t …well we might miss something.

Today when I was reviewing Chapter 4 I was reminded that we can learn quite a bit about someone from their accent or even the words they use. Just think about it – a Canadian is recognized by certain words and tones, same with someone from Brooklyn or New Jersey. My kids went to a Christian sports camp in Missouri and when they came home they had realized that everyone else referred to soda pop by soda and in Washington we used pop. The context of language matters. It communicates.

I remember reading Judges 11 and thinking that goes to show you do not make vows, it will get you into trouble. I think I’ve even heard that mentioned in a sermon or two in my lifetime. But it wasn’t until my Old Testament class that I understood that Jephthah’s vow was part of the ritual of holy war. “In order to keep his position, he must be willing to sacrifice everything to obtain his goals.”[20] Suddenly the inclusion of Jephthah in the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11 makes a whole lot of sense.

McKnight, a wise and learned professor is teaching us by helping us to recognize and realize that God continually is reworking the biblical story, uses different methods, different authors, in different times and continues to do so, so that the old story is spoken in new ways for their day.[21] The point McKnight is making and that he invites us to understand is that the Bible is a story, that each story is held together by the whole story and (this is important and just might spin your head around), “the only way to make sense of the blue parakeets in the Bible is to set each in the context of the Bible’s story.”[22]

This too is important for us, when reading the “wiki” stories within the Bible’s larger story each one “tells a true story of that Story.”[23] Things are beginning to become clearer.


[1] Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], page 41-42.

[2] Ibid., page 44.

[3] Ibid., page 45.

[4] Ibid., page 47.

[5] Ibid., page 48.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., page 49.

[8] Ibid., page 50.

[9] Ibid., page 51.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., page 52.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., page 53.

[15] Ibid., page 54.

[16] Ibid., page 57.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., page 58.

[20] Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Social World of Ancient Israel: 1250-587 BCE [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 2005], page 21.

[21] McKnight, page 64. Actual quote on page 64, All I want to focus on here is one element: the ongoing reworking of the biblical Story by new authors so they can speak the old story in new ways for their day.”

[22] Ibid., page 65.

[23] Ibid.

a servant

April 8, 2009

“Jesus remains Lord by being a servant.”

I read this sentence in Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning earlier this morning.   I can’t get by it.  It is so obvious; of course we “know” that Jesus is a servant.  Philippians 2 jumps into our minds.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8).

The image I am confronted with is my tendency to see Jesus high and lifted up.  Rightly so, but Brennan Manning confronts any inclination to see Jesus only as high and lifted up through his “kingship” alone.   His reward if you will as something I benefit from, something I receive.  It is easy to see Jesus as powerful when He is a risen King.

“Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11).

It is very subtle, but I realize that by focusing on the after-Easter experience it is possible to miss that Jesus was first Lord as a servant and remains the servant.  Perhaps his most powerful statement came as a servant, humbling going to the Cross.  There would not have been a resurrection without the Cross.  I am seeing both through a different lens.

We are mid-way through the week, Holy Week, a week filled with remembrance and entering in. Because my Baptist heritage and later church experiences had placed the primary emphasis on the resurrection — Easter Sunday my knowledge of Lent is one that I am acquiring through deepening acquaintance and experience.

Again this year, as in recent years I felt as if I wanted to avoid the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services and I did not understand why.  What was it about those times?  Why did I feel a sense of loathing?

These are reflections and musings.  In other words what I am writing is a personal reflection.  I invite you to join with me in these reflections.

I know that few of us like to “discipline” ourselves.  We are often too lenient or too stringent.  It is easy to deceive ourselves.  A true assessment comes only as we grow in our ability to receive God’s assessment of ourselves.  The “why” of discipline, acknowledging my real motivation helps me understand my need.   It forces me to face my “besetting” sins.  Am I trying to please God or earn God’s approval to be acceptable or prove myself to God?  Is my core — the very essence of my motivation sourced in relationship?  In knowing Him?

In Philippians — right before the “invitation” to have the same mind that was in Christ, Paul writes, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:4).

How often I have focused on “me” within the scope of Holy Week… Christ died for my sins; it was my sins that put Christ on the Cross.  Please don’t misread what I am saying.  These things are healthy.  This is a time for introspection, but not on our own.  Left to ourselves we will disguise our heart.  We dare not be introspective apart from grasping that Christ’s actions were sourced in love not substitution.

But this is what I have realized.  Finally, I think I am beginning to understand why I felt frustrated amid Holy Week.  The need in our reckoning “with me” is the recognition that it is not “only with me,”  but it is with “we.”  The “me” is like my left hand, a part of the Body, but that hand must be joined with my right hand, the “we,” which is also part of the Body.   The focus is so often on my individual salvation and redemption that I have lost sight of the “we” — the corporate body of Christ.

It is so easy to get lost in the sadness of Christ’s death.  It is also so easy to see the resurrection as Christ rescuing us.  He is now the triumphant King.  What Brennan Manning did was make me realize I dare not see Christ’s servanthood through the lens of his “King-liness.”  But that I see his Kingship through the lens of his servanthood.  Not, I repeat, not as something to be used for my advantage or purpose with the focus on me — my well-being, my health, my desire, my pleasure… no, not that at all.

But for the sake of others.  Jesus is our Savior, our redeemer, our Lord.  And He remains forever a servant.

Did Christ’s servanthood look different than mine (ours)?  That is the question.  If it does, then what is the difference?  If “Jesus remains Lord by being a servant,” have I missed something, have we?  Perhaps one aspect of my individual repentance is to recognize that being a servant means that I am looking for the interests of others, not my own interests — heck not even if I am fulfilling a personal mission statement or a church mission statement, if the reason I am doing what I am doing is focused on accomplishing a task or a mission or a project or a program I might be missing something.  This is even more subtle than I had imagined.  I start out with a mission or a purpose to renovate, or create community (starting a new small group), and desire to incarnate Christ — to be the hands and feet of Jesus and very subtly the focus shifts to what I am doing.  The “doing” is important, but if I let go of serving, my focus can end up being more concerned with personal satisfaction, my interests or what I get out of serving and doing.  I realize it is possible for me to miss the individual right before me.

I also realize that I can be overwhelmed and feel I need to be all things to all people.  When I look at the servanthood of Christ — I do not see frantic action or behavior.  His ministry flowed from his context — from where he was and who he was with.  He put himself in position to meet the needs of the larger community; at cost to himself.  He found time as well to renew within by being with the Father. This occurred amid ministry and in places of solitude. Even amid the pressure of ministry and untold need, Christ demonstrated a rhythm, a way of life.  I do not think serving others could have happened apart from this.  It seems the anchor for Christ, the servant was compassion, because he knew the heart of his Father.

Throughout the gospels, we have noticed in his interactions with women, Jesus was “present” to others.  He was attentive.  The relationship was centered upon acceptance. He placed himself and the disciples outside the expected and acceptable realm of religious behavior. While I am concerned with ministry and doing I cannot let the needs of those right before me go unnoticed. When I sit in our services this week I am realizing that I am just one, but I am not complete apart from those with whom I am present. I am realizing that to be a servant I must be listening to the voices around me, to listen and place myself in posture of compassion, which means I am more concerned with the needs of others. It is the posture Christ took when he knelt to wash the feet of the disciples.

Christ’s compassion even extended to those who would betray and deny him.

Brennan Manning is right. Jesus remains Lord by being a servant.

Where are we going?

April 6, 2009

We often want to know where we are going.  In fact we often ask a companion question, “Are we there yet?”  Both of these questions are relevant to our journey of The Table Together. Today’s post recaps what we have focused on, the “why” behind the focus, and where we are headed.

Over the past several weeks I have brought an intentional focus to some of the interactions between Jesus and women.  We are often so familiar with the Gospel stories that we take for granted what was extraordinary in that day and time.  I know I have.  In paying attention to these interactions we begin to recognize the affirmation and elevation Jesus provided for women. In fact the heart of Jesus reveals a tender place for those marginalized and on the outside in society. I also am realizing how inclusive the Gospel writers were in the composition of their texts. Quite often there is a story reflecting something men could relate to, followed by something women could relate to within their present circumstances. Luke actually does this often; let’s look at the flow of Luke 13 and 14 to see how he did this:

· Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

· The parable of the mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19). The reference to a garden would naturally catch the attention of those that are farmers (men). [1] Especially since the mustard plant was considered a weed and not welcome!

· Followed by the parable about yeast (Luke 13:20-21). Kneading yeast into the flour to make bread is something women would relate too because of household responsibilities.

· Luke 13:22-29. The two previous parables concerning the Kingdom of God, spoken to specific groups of people reflected by gender are now brought into focus as he addresses both men and women in response to who will be saved (verse 23). Luke records Jesus as stating, “Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” There is no distinction between men and women, poor and rich.  The picture here is one of an inclusive community comprised of people that are learning what it is to love God and love others — a covenant community if you will.

· Luke 13:31-35 is Jesus lament over Jerusalem. The words Jesus speaks reveal a depth of emotion and yearning, an expression of deep compassion. “How often have I desired together your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Verse 34). Here Jesus uses “mother language,” the care of the female for her young to express the depth of God’s compassion.

· Luke 14:1-6 Jesus heals again on the Sabbath. This time the one healed is a man. “Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away.”

We often focus on Jesus healing on the Sabbath, but miss that Jesus healed both women and men. In doing so He drew attention to women and elevated their status. In this section a parable addressed to one group of people is complimented with a parable the “other” gender would relate too. As you read or study Luke you will notice how often this occurs. Jesus uses feminine language to convey the depth of His compassion for Jerusalem.  Does this surprise us?

As we have looked at “Jesus and women” and “women and the Bible” we have also been looking at “women before us.” It seems clear that Jesus has intentionally stretched out his hand and made space for women. That women were included as disciples – Christ followers and accompanied him on his journeys is noted by the gospel writers.

While these stories and even their implications might be recognizable among Christ’s followers today. I wonder if we fully recognize the new community Christ was revealing.

Questions remain, I’ve heard them and I grew up with them. They are in the back of my mind when I study and as I write. They have been asked sincerely by those seeking to know and to grow and by those whose minds are made up.

    · Women were permitted to be leaders in both the Old and New Testament only when adequate male leadership was lacking.

    · Women “always” desire to be in authority over men. This has been inferred, attributed to the Fall and Genesis 3:16. The irony is that I have heard this from women (not once from a man), and I’ve even thought and said this myself. Is this a descriptive or prescriptive? Is this a reflection of our fallen nature or is this truly who we are as those experiencing Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross?

    · Eve was the first to sin, women cannot be trusted, and we are inferior to men.

    · Women are permitted to minister if they are in ministry together with their husbands. There are examples of this in Paul’s epistles. Is this a standard?

    · What do we do with the “tension” present in God’s word? Even Paul seems to say two different things at times, what do we do with passages in Romans, the letters to the Corinthians and Paul’s instructions to Timothy for the church at Ephesus?

    · God is hierarchal by nature and therefore within the Church there is hierarchy in relationship and governance. What I’ve just written has been expressed in different ways but the gist has been that the Son is submitted to the Father, the Spirit does the work on behalf of the Son, under the authority of the Father. Therefore the wife is submitted to the husband and within the Church women are under the authority and covering of men.

In the coming weeks ahead we are going to look at these things.

I am inviting and asking women to share their stories – their experiences as a woman in leadership in the Church. We want to hear your voices.

We also want to hear the voices of men in leadership that have welcomed women. What difference has that made in their lives and the life of the Church? If there was resistance how did you find a way forward? Do we presume women leaders are welcome or are we actively demonstrating an inclusive community modeled upon Christ’s example?

I know the way ahead is not easy, but as we understand that Jesus announced the presence of the Kingdom “now” – in the present tense while realizing the final fulfillment was yet to be, I pray we will find courage individually and corporately. That we will be filled to all the fullness of God, that we will yet become the expression of Christ that His body is intended to be and to become. Perhaps then we will have the answer to the lingering travel question, are we there yet?


[1] Kenneth C. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008], page 194. Bailey cites several examples where Jesus addressed men and women through different parables and teachings.