I Went Home.

Many of the Christian women writers, teachers, and preachers I follow have posted this week about John MacArthur’s deplorable behavior at a recent men’s conference. He was asked what two words come to mind when he hears the name “Beth Moore.” He replied, “Go home.”

Beth Moore has been a powerful Bible teacher for 40 years, teaching women since her Southern Baptist Church won’t permit women to teach men. Her reach has extended far beyond the Southern Baptist Church, however, through her books and videos and conferences. She is intelligent, well-read and -studied, dynamic, and one of the best preachers I’ve heard in any pulpit anywhere. Arguably, she is the Billy Graham of female preachers.

And John MacArthur et al quite obviously feel threatened by her influence, because they think it’s funny to publicly mock her. I purposely haven’t watched the video, because I have read it thoroughly described by several respected sources. And because I have heard and experienced similar words from men; some meant well, others used their words carelessly and, perhaps, unaware of their own bias.

For most of three decades, I’ve spent my career in the Church. I showed up day after day, year after year, in one, two, three churches, using my gifts, skills, and creativity in every possible way to express God’s truth to God’s people. Until I finally admitted that I was too tired and too hurt from banging my head on the glass ceiling.

I went home.

But I haven’t given up, and I will not be silent. As long as I have breath in my lungs, I will use whatever platforms I have to speak truth:

God loves me.
God loves and gifts all His people (male and female; white and POC; old and young; rich and poor; straight and LGBTQ+; throughout time and the world over) to share His love.
All God’s people are preachers, though only some use words.

I may never again step foot in a pulpit (though I don’t rule that out), but I will never stop sharing God’s love. I am a God-loving and God-gifted woman. Even from home, you can hear me roar!

For more of the story of my ministry experience, please read this post.

Read these posts from two women I respect:
Cara Meredith
Sarah Bessey

Cover photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

What’s the News?

A couple years ago, I decided I needed to curtail my practice of ending each day with the first fifteen minutes of the 10 pm newscast. For most of my adult life, I watched the news before bed. But gradually I realized that I wasn’t sleeping soundly, that images or issues from the news wound themselves into my dreams or, worse, left me tossing sleeplessly through the night. Adulting can be difficult enough without insomnia.

Towards the end of 2016 I decided that, for my sanity, I needed to forgo TV newscasts altogether. The presidential race brought out the worst in everyone, me included. Above and beyond the ‘commonplace’ stories on worldwide political shifts and violence, America’s angry politicians and their supporters had turned up the volume. In response, I turned it off.

Although we had stopped taking the paper years earlier, the time had come to once again read the news. To that end, I am grateful for The Skimm, which (ahem) skims the national and international headlines and presents summaries in a nonpartisan, headline style with links to more information.

I need to stay informed, but there is just so much bad news!

Without trying hard, I could rattle off bad news on too many world-changing issues. Yet when I ask myself, “What’s the good news?” I’m not sure I know how to answer.

What is the good news? And, now that we’re thinking about it, don’t we all love those too-infrequent feel-good news stories? The ones where the good Samaritan does some wonderful sacrificial act that changes the life of a wheelchair-bound child, or a homeless person, or simply their neighbor who has fallen on hard times. Maybe someone should produce a regular good-news cast (Is there such a thing? If so, point me in the right direction, because I need it!).

Some days—many days?—I forget that gospel = good news. I forget that Jesus told us all about this: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I forget that God’s still in charge: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

I suspect I’m not alone. Not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the world’s troubles. Not alone in finding it incredibly difficult to be still. Not alone in forgetting that God loves the world, this world, the very one He created, populated by all the people He fearfully and wonderfully made.

Not alone at all, because God loves me. And God loves you. And God asks us to love one another.

That love one another thing can be hard, especially with all the bad news. You and me, we may not even like each other. We may be on opposite sides of battle lines, barbed wire, drawn guns, hatred.

Jesus found Himself there, too. And, despite all the bad news that we are, He loved us so much anyway that He did the most wonderfully sacrificial good-news thing ever: He gave His life in our place, for our sins, so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Jesus’ story–which becomes our story–makes for the ultimate good-news cast.

Walk in Love
Week 10: Walk in Love
1 John 4:7-21

Connect
What good news have you received recently?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 4:7-21.
Why should God’s people love one another?
What does God’s love for us look like?
How does God’s love for us change us?
According to this passage, what does the Spirit do for us (vv13-16)?
Compare vv12 and 17. What is the difference between God’s love being made complete in us and among us?
How do God’s people loving one another make God visible (vv12, 17, 20-21)?
What is the connection between love and Christian confidence or “no fear” (vv17-19)?

Live
Does John mean to say that everyone who acts lovingly has a saving relationship with God? That anyone who does not act lovingly does not? Explain.
How do you know God loves you? How do you experience God’s love for you? What’s the difference between knowledge and experience of God’s love?
In your experience, does love or fear inspire more obedience? Better character? Explain.
When have you acted lovingly despite not feeling loving? What was that like?
“Remarkably, loving someone who is unlovely brings into focus the power of God’s choice to love us in our unloveliness” (Gary M. Burge). Have you ever experienced this? If so, describe it.
How would you sum up John’s version of the gospel’s good news from this passage?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you know and experience His love so that you have generous love to share with others.

Believe. Love.

Many years ago, in my first church job, I had the privilege of working in the front office. Which meant I was the ‘face’ of the office, handling all the various requests of both members and those who walked in off the street. Brenda, the mentally-absent and sweet homeless woman whom we often let sleep in the women’s lounge, was one of the most colorful ‘characters’ in the mix. Oh, but we all have our character traits that lend to the stories of our churches–and our lives.

Another woman, a leader in her area of volunteer responsibility, was particularly ornery. I don’t know why, perhaps she couldn’t articulate it herself. She came to my office regularly to bark complaints at me. It was always my fault, even when it wasn’t, and she had no time for explanations. I cringed when I saw her coming.

After months of regular, painful, interactions, I put her at Jesus’ feet in prayer. I asked God to help me love her. Of course it would be great if God decided to change her, but meanwhile I would ask God to change me.

I took action. I smiled every time I saw her. I listened with all the patience I could muster. I did everything I could to soothe her frustration and help her in whatever ways she needed. I even committed to greeting her with a huge smile and a hug every Sunday morning during worship. After all, she sat on the aisle only a few pews back from my regular aisle seat.

At first she seemed skeptical. She yelled at me all the time; why would I hug her? I persisted with a big puppy dog-faithful grin. It wasn’t fake–I hate fake! Rather it was a courageous act of obedience to our loving God. Even when we don’t feel loving, we can choose to act lovingly. And sometimes, thank God!, our actions will work into us the feelings.

Over time she melted like an ice cube. She stopped grumping at me. She smiled back. Eventually, she even smiled first. She opened up to share her joys (with the occasional frustration thrown in). When the time came for her to move away to be closer to her grown children in her older age, we shared a genuine, tearful goodbye.

God did change her, but He changed me first. I decided to believe in Jesus, and to live in the truth that Jesus loved her as much as He loved me. Sheesh, Jesus loves me even when I’m the biggest grump in the world! Of course He can strengthen me to share His love with others. Even when it’s hard. Even when they’re hard. Especially then.

1 John 3:23–“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us”–sounds a lot like the Great Commandment–

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Believe in Jesus. Love one another.
Love God. Love others as you love yourself.

When we believe, we have the courage to act. When we love, God changes us.

Walk in Love
Week 8: Belong to the Truth
1 John 3:19-24

Connect
To which organizations or clubs do you belong, and what are some of the rules of membership?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:19-24.
What might cause someone’s heart to condemn them (v20)?
How can Jesus’ followers set their hearts at rest (vv19-24)? In other words, from this passage, what evidence would indicate that someone “belongs to the truth”?
Notice the balance between what we know and what we feel. Why are both important?
How would you explain vv21-22 to someone who says they prayed but God didn’t answer as they hoped?
How does this passage explain our role and God’s role in our relationship with Him?

Live
Have you ever doubted your relationship with God? What helped you through that time? Alternately, what reassurance have you offered to someone who doubted?
What comfort does it give you that God knows everything?
How might conflict between people who claim to follow God affect one’s faith? Explain the emphasis on the command to love one another.
What does it look like in your daily life to fulfill the commands to believe in Jesus and love one another?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you believe in Jesus and love others.

 

 

J.O.Y.

I attended Jr. High at the beginning of the 80’s when Preppies ruled the school. I had one white Izod shirt and, though I stood several rungs down the social ladder from Popular, wearing it made me feel pretty.

I had a crush on an 8th grade boy who had expressed interest in me despite my 7th grade status. We talked on the phone for hours, the curly phone cord stretched taut from the kitchen across the hallway and into my bedroom.

When he invited me to join him at the roller rink, I wore my Izod and a pale pink lip gloss. I felt cute until I stepped out of my mom’s car. The boy’s eyes took in the little alligator logo high on my chest and his whole face fell. His disappointed eyes found mine, and I wanted to sink into a crack in the pavement.

I had blown it. The one thing the boy didn’t like: Preppies. Easygoing as he was, he hated Izods. I had heard him express disdain for people using money and status symbols to gain popularity and, despite the long phone calls and my interest in him, I had worn the one thing that marked me as not like him.

We skated for a couple hours. We talked a few more times. The relationship ended.

My Izod shirt was no moral failure, but wearing it on that occasion demonstrated that I had put myself before my friend. My desire to look cute outweighed his youthful stance on a social issue he felt concerned us both.

When we care about someone, we take into consideration the things about which they feel strongly.

Big segue: If we love God, we care about what He cares about.

God has taken great care to give us an entire Book filled with descriptions of what He cares about. He even boiled it all down a few times, in the Ten Commandments and even further in the Great Commandment.

Love God. Love others.

A few years before I wore an Izod shirt to a roller rink, I learned a Sunday school song that taught me that J.O.Y. came from loving Jesus, Others, and You, in that order. I no longer remember the tune, but the acrostic stuck.

We demonstrate that we love God by obeying Him, by getting involved in the things (and restraining ourselves from others) about which He feels strongly.

Chief among those: loving others.

Some people in God’s family can be hard for me to like, let alone love (of course others may feel the same about me). But God made them, God loves them, God included them in His family. God asks me to love them, so I work at it. I pray for a change of heart. I pray for them. I bite my tongue. I choose to serve them. I resist the temptation to judge them.

John wrote to help his readers know that God wants us to love Him–and so obey Him–and that an important way we obey Him is by loving those He loves.

Which we don’t do if we apply John’s message to others: See that guy? He says he’s a Christian, but look at his life! If he really knew God, he wouldn’t do that, and that, and that…

Nope. My job is to examine my life, to love God and let Him lead me to obedience. Some days, judging others comes far more easily than loving them. And that’s when I need to return to JOY–Jesus take the wheel, and help me love others as you have loved me.

Walk in Love
Week 3: Obey God
1 John 2:3-11

Connect
Reflect on the process of getting to know someone with whom you are close.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:3-11.
How does John describe believers (vv3-4, 6, 9) and what do those descriptions mean?
What assurance do we have of our relationship with God (vv3-6)?
Read John 14:15-17. Why does John emphasize the Truth of God?
How must believers live (in other words, how did Jesus live? v6)?
Why is it important to love other believers (vv9-11)?

Live
What’s the difference between knowing about God and knowing God?
How would you explain the correlation between knowing God and obeying God? Between knowing God and loving other believers?
Does John write to encourage self-reflection or judgment? What potential risks lie in applying this passage to others?
What actions have you taken to love those you find it difficult to love?
What will you do this week to obey God and love others?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with the strength and courage that come from knowing Him to help you obey Him and love others.

Find Center

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a Jesus-lover since forever. I have spent most of my professional life working in churches, and I am also married to a pastor. And I (mostly) love the church in all its beauty and brokenness.

All of this can lead to a flurry of activity: worship attendance, so many groups of various sizes and kinds for study and prayer and community, volunteer service, special events, even cookie baking.

So many things on the calendar threatening to crowd out the heart behind them. In fact, truly meaningless without the heart behind them.

Lately, I’ve had four words cycling through my head: Love God. Love Others.

That’s it, folks. It all boils down to love.

Because you can do all the things, but if you don’t do them for the love of God and others, why do them at all?

Jesus blasted some harsh words at the folks in His day who did all the things, were very proud of themselves for doing all the things, but had completely missed the point of all their activity: loving God and others. He called them “white-washed tombs.” Eww…I don’t want to hold the dead things. No sirree, I want Life!

Lately as I’ve practiced yoga, my intention has been along the lines of gratitude (hello, Thanksgiving!) or strength (because, exercise). Today my word was “center,” and as soon as it landed it struck every nerve in my being in the best way.

In so many ways yoga is all about center, core, balance. As a Jesus-follower, GOD is the center of my being. Or, that should be true, but I don’t always live it. When I don’t, I’m off-balance, toppling this way and that, and life doesn’t work nearly so well.

Throughout my practice this morning, I mentally and physically returned to my center, my God whose love and gentleness and goodness overflows my life in ways I don’t always recognize.

When engaged in a balance challenge, it helps oh so much to set your gaze on a stable point directly in front of you, whether that’s straight down on your mat or two feet in front of you. Holding your gaze steady helps to strengthen your center and steady your balance.

A yoga newbie, I am way wiggly, but I’m working on it. As a long-time pursuer of Jesus, I should be less wiggly. It all depends on where I put my gaze: on me, my challenges or obstacles, my fear or anxiety? Or on the immovable God who created me, knows the plans He has for me, and promises to give me strength to meet anything He puts before me? Let’s see, which makes more stabilizing sense?

They tell me that no matter how long you’ve practiced yoga, sometimes one side will be tighter than the other. I’ve found that true already, that some days I can stretch deeper or balance with more stability on one side than the other.

Same goes for loving God and others. I venture most of us find it easiest to engage in loving others, flesh-and-blood, visible right before our eyes. But then some of us tend toward contemplative introversion, so loving God can feel more natural than engaging with actual humans.

Still, with our gaze set on God, His love flows through us back to Him and out to others. It’s always a both-and.

So that’s where I’m at as we enter one of the busiest seasons of the year, Advent, in which we anticipate Christ’s birth and second-coming. The decorations are coming out today to be ready for the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow. The calendar is filling up. I’m praying God will keep my gaze centered on Him. Then all the activities can filter through the two sides of the fulcrum: does this help me love God? Does this help me love others?

Known

Talking with friends last week I mentioned that I’ve taken just about every personality test out there, including the silly ones on Facebook. “Ooh, which Disney princess are you? [beat as Friend examines my face] Never mind, you’re Belle. Definitely Belle.”

Spot on.

I have seen Beauty and the Beast twice this month, three times if you include Crosswalk: The Musical (even if you don’t watch all of it, watch some. It’s silly and hilarious!). Our amazing high school put on the stage play, and yesterday our family saw the live action movie.

I may be prettier than James Corden, though not as breathtaking as Emma Watson, but Belle is my Disney princess doppelganger. Like Belle, I am bookish and odd, with my head in the clouds. Belle is outcast for her unusual priorities. The Beast is feared for his appearance. While Gaston, the handsome doofus, receives the admiration of everyone–women want to be with him, men want to be him–even though he may be the scariest character of all.

One line in the movie version caught my heart: the curse caused everyone who loved someone in the castle to forget they existed. Beyond the castle walls, they were no longer known. So sad!

Every human being wants to know and be known. It sounds simple enough. Yet too often we allow our own priorities and our judgments to obstruct how we perceive others. We get in our own way and miss the beauty and love of others who are not like us.

Yesterday I received a message from a friend I’ve known most of my life. I haven’t seen him in person in years, but we’ve kept up through online conversations that sometimes last days and go surprisingly deep (less surprising if you know either of us personally). He had been reflecting on something flippant he’d said about our friendship, something that reverberated. Which compelled him to share it with me.

He didn’t have to share, but he did. Others might have felt too vulnerable. He wrote about me, and the (in his opinion, uncommon) love and gentleness I’ve shared with him. That I am unlike others has been my strength and has had an unlikely effect on him. Though we disagree on core beliefs, my sincere hope and willingness to love him no matter what has allowed him to feel safe to meet me on common ground. He sees in me strength I don’t always feel, and he believes in me.

Reading his words, I felt seen, known. He knows me essentially in a way others with whom I regularly interact don’t. Despite the rejection I sometimes experience, his confidence inspires me to feel newly confident.

This might surprise the crud out of him, but I think God sent my friend at just the right time with just the encouragement I needed to know that God, too, sees me, knows me, and loves me. I don’t have to be afraid. I am not alone.

If I can leave you with a thought: take time to truly see people and acknowledge the best of who they are. Encouragement is a gift you won’t regret.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Week 4 – Known: John 10

Connect
What sets apart someone you would follow from others you wouldn’t?

Study
Read aloud John 10:1-15.
Describe the difference between the shepherd, thieves and robbers and the hired hand.
What does the shepherd do for the sheep?
Why do the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger?
How is the shepherd good?
Retell this scene in a contemporary setting: who would be the shepherd, thief and sheep?Read aloud John 10:28-30.
What does Jesus promise, and how can that be comforting?

Live
How do you get to know the Shepherd?
How do you keep focused on the Shepherd’s voice when there are multiple voices calling for your attention?
Who are the “thieves and robbers” or “wolves” threatening the sheep today?
What can you do differently this week to tune your ear to your Shepherd’s voice?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will continually listen for your Shepherd’s voice.

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Found!

If you attended our church this morning, you heard Guy preach this story. If you know me well, you may have heard me tell this story. Having studied Luke 15 earlier this week, this story has lingered on my heart. It has become a touchstone of faith for our family, a reminder of God’s love and protection.

Mother’s Day weekend, May 2011, we went camping with friends in Yosemite National Park. Between us we had four adults and five boys, ages seven to twelve. Tween was the youngest, having turned seven just a few days earlier.

Saturday morning we made our way up the Vernal Falls trail. Less than two miles round-trip, it’s still a moderate hike with a 400 foot elevation gain. We went slowly, re-configuring along the way: at times I walked with my Guy, other times with my friend. The boys, older adventurers in the lead with the youngers working hard to keep up, mostly scrabbled up and over the rocks to the left of the trail, reappearing now and again.

Tween loves to adventure with his brother, but he’s less adventurous at heart. He needs to periodically touch Mama before racing off after the boys. I was grateful we’d dressed him in a long-sleeved, bright red, highly visible T-shirt.

At one dramatic vista point, we stopped to admire the raging Merced River below, a rare sight in the California drought. Guy nudged me onward, but I lingered; Tween hadn’t checked in. At that spot, he really should have. We shared a look, and then began running.

The other couple had four boys, but not five. Where was Tween?

Panic-struck, the men dropped their packs with me and ran in opposite directions: one up, the other down. The other mama continued walking with the boys, while I stayed put with the packs I couldn’t lift anyway.

Commence the longest hour of my life. When it had passed, you could have told me it had been five hours and I would’ve nodded, yes, of course. Time elongated, tortuously so.

Tween was born five weeks early. The pastor who came to pray with me read Psalm 91. Verse 11 jumped off the page–this baby, too early on his way into the world, needed God’s protection. We have prayed this verse for him all his life: God will put His angels in charge of you to protect you wherever you go. Considering he’s a true homebody, preferring to go nowhere, it has provided regular comfort.

Over and over and over I claimed that promise for my lost baby as I sat alone on that trail. I focused on the waterfall trickling on the rock face across from me, trying to block images of my fallen child, foot stuck between rocks, or washing away in the mad river. Each time people came around the bend I hoped they had my little one in tow. They didn’t, but one young girl wore a shirt that read: “God is good all the time.” I accepted it as reassurance that God was, indeed, protecting Tween.

Feeling overwhelming responsibility, Teen came back to sit with me. He cried angry tears. How had he lost his little brother? We prayed together before he ran to catch up.

When he came back again his face was still wet with tears but he shouted: We’ve got him! Just as Guy arrived at the ranger station and the ranger picked up the phone to call Search and Rescue, our friend arrived at the Vernal Falls footbridge and found Tween with a family with kids about his size. He called his wife who called Guy, then sent Teen back to me so we could all rejoice in the good news.

Somehow Tween had landed on the trail ahead of our group. He thought he was behind, so he raced on. He described his mama to everyone he passed, and when this family realized he was lost, they kept pace with him. When Tween didn’t see us at the footbridge, he wanted to keep going. They kept him safe, knowing that parents wouldn’t keep hiking up the Mist Trail without their young child.

Two weeks later neighbors suggested we spend Memorial Day at Muir Beach. We’d never been and we love the beach. That day, though, turned out to be cold and windy, a hard beach day. I couldn’t sit still to enjoy idle conversation. Dogs and kids played–my polar bears even waded into the water–while Guy and I walked the length of beach, back and forth, moving just to keep warm.

As Tween jumped behind a boulder, I realized he was again wearing his red T-shirt. Sheesh, you’d think he’d be easy to see! He popped back into sight and kept running after his brother.

The boys hopped from rock to rock when we heard, “Is that Tween?” Honest to God, the same family who had found him in Yosemite were standing on the beach. Seriously, what are the odds? We thanked them again, profusely. Tween calls them his angels (later we had to encourage him that, while God did use this family to protect him, we couldn’t count on them to show up if Tween acted irresponsibly…)

Beginning when he was four, we read The Jesus Storybook Bible with Tween night after night. One night a few months after Tween met his angels, we again came to the last story. It was sweet to snuggle and read together, so we kept going. Here’s the last page:

I looked at Tween. He was beaming and I realized more was going on than just bedtime stories. I asked, “You believe that, right? You’ve said ‘Yes’ to Jesus?” He smiled and nodded, so I continued, “That means that, even more than my child, you are God’s dear child. He loves you and you belong to Him.”

Those 25 minutes were the highlight of my week, and that may not be saying enough. God gave me the assurance that my child loves Jesus and wants to live God’s story for his life. The hour my child was lost was the worst of my life, but he has been found. Jesus came to seek and to save His lost children. Thank you, Jesus, thank you, a thousand times thank you!

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Found: Luke 15

Connect
When have you searched for something you’d lost?

Study
Read aloud Luke 15:1-7.
Jesus assumes that his audience would have the experience of searching for one of their own lost sheep. How might Jesus tell this parable today?
How is the sinner like the lost sheep? How is repentance like being found?
What is the shared emotional response between finding the sheep and the sinner’s repentance (vv. 5-7)? Why is that significant?
What is the role of “friends and neighbors” (v. 6)? Why are they important?
Who are the 99 righteous? Do they really not need to repent?
Why do the Pharisees and teachers complain (v. 2)? How does Jesus’ parable respond to their complaint?
Parables have one main point. How would you state Jesus’ one main point in this parable?

Live
How does a critical attitude get in the way of hearing Jesus?
Who went looking for you when you were lost? Who have you gone looking for?
Who are your “friends and neighbors” with whom you can celebrate found sheep?
How might joy be the antidote to criticism? What can you do to cultivate joy in the Lord?
For which lost sheep are you praying?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray specifically for the lost sheep you love to be found by Jesus.

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