Sermon Audio: "Mary: Surprised by Hope to Carry the Gospel" by Suzanne Burden

Listen to more sermons at 3rivers.church.

The secret is out: I love preaching on women of the Bible. Preparing to tell their stories feels like a great excavation project, where I am uncovering pieces of their stories that are often untold. And, woven throughout their narratives is the beautiful picture God is weaving, of women and men joined as allies, side-by-side, to advance his Kingdom.

Nowhere is this more true than in the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as told through the gospel of Luke. Listen in as we explore Mary's story through Luke—most likely told to him by Mary herself, as she marvels at how God could use such a simple girl for such an amazing task as carrying the Messiah. Filled with hope and a challenge for each of us to make room for the Gospel ourselves.

And watch a one-minute video clip of Mary in "The Nativity Story" here.

Your turn: How does Mary's story inspire you to make room to carry the gospel? What insights have you gained from her example?

Suzanne Burden is a pastor, writer, and friend. But  most importantly, the Beloved of God. She speaks on a variety of topics, including: Women of the Bible, Allied: God's Intentions for Men and Women, Apprenticed to Jesus, and Run Hard, Rest Well: Restoring our Souls through Four Biblical Rhythms of Rest. Contact her here.

For evangelical women who are discouraged (and the men who care)

"They have largely succeeded in keeping us from leadership," she said.  "And you must run into it on a regular basis. Why do you think it is bothering you now?"

My mentor's question came on the heels of me attending a church leadership event that was geared for white males. This event happened the day after the recent weekend the "Trump tape" hit the news media. I was still physically sick to my stomach over the degradation of women and others made in God's image that Trump espouses.

But I was soon to realize our first speaker at the church conference came from a tradition that does not allow women to be pastors.* I am a part-time female pastor, and our church was the only one with women in attendance. We have our lead pastor to thank for including us. There were five of us women, and about 60 or 70 males.

This, combined with the overt endorsement by many white male evangelical leaders of Donald Trump, even in the face of the radical devaluing of women, people of color, immigrants, and others, made something inside of me die.

In hindsight, something deep inside of me died while something else was set on fire.

As a female pastor and a person who deeply believes that so many of us are entrenched in this political season in a search for power—a thirst for power that Jesus warned us against—I am fighting an internal battle for sanity, hope, and the courage to face another day.

Pastor Abigail Gaines described her struggle and mine so well on The Junia Project blog this week: 

And is this not what a pastor does?
To sit in the tension between the dark moments of the human existence, while holding steadfastly to the wondrous light of resurrection? To wade in the pool of death while keeping hands firmly gripped onto the life-filled hope and joy of Christ? Is it not to say, I will be present there because God is present there? . . . The pastor is willing to die in the places where God comes alive as her cry becomes, “If death is what is necessary for resurrection, take me with you Jesus!”

I am also fighting another battle. Because I believe the message of the Kingdom of Jesus is good news for girls and women as we wrote in our book Reclaiming Eve, I can no longer stand by and participate in a script that is exclusive and privileged, white and male. 

Gaines' blog post went on to quote a woman in seminary who echoes my state of mind these days. When given clarity of what was pleasing to God through her journey and studies, "she was unable to return to former scripts and patterns not in alignment with the heart of God for her."

My mentor's question still haunts me: "Why do you think it is bothering you now?"

That was hard for me to say. Probably because I keep silent far too much. This woman who is mentoring me did me a great service in naming one of my most constant struggles. Where do I belong in this church Jesus came to build? And if I often wrestle with where I might belong, how can I winsomely make the case that other girls and women belong here, too? 

And now you know what Jesus and I wrestle with in our conversations; you have been given a window to my soul's cry. 

"We know this is not the way of Jesus," my mentor said.

And I sighed as I remembered this truth, as I remembered the truth of the Kingdom and how far away from it we wander.

In the past, I have sometimes been dismissed casually when I mention that I believe our treatment of—and subjection of—women in our churches contributes to the devaluation and abuse of women in homes, churches, and society. 

This is a biblical interpretation issue on which well-meaning people disagree, I'm often told. It's a secondary issue to the gospel

But not from where I sit. From where I sit, from the Bible I read, from the Kingdom I witness through the pronouncement of Jesus in which the oppressed are to be set free and the blind made to see, this is the gospel. This is part of the good news!

I was raised in a culture that designated women to a role and rules that would keep them secondary. For this reason, I am the first to believe there is room for growth and discovery, for a  new understanding befitting the ways of Jesus. I believe we are placed in male and female bodies for a reason, and that it can be a delight to discover how we can minister and live together, complementing each other in a mutuality only Jesus could have designed. 

And I know that change is still happening in white male evangelicalism, though it may be rare: my former pastor, one of my father's best friends, just changed his 50-year position on women in the home and in ministry, and you can hear his sermon here.

In a season when many evangelical women have been turned upside-down and inside-out by political candidates who have a stained record when it comes to the value and abuse of women, and when "good Christians" endorse and stand by them, I am not always sure how much longer women currently in the church pews will stay there.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood," Paul wrote, "But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

I have never been more sure that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and that what is at stake is not only the dignity of women but the effectiveness of the Kingdom when over half of its workers are crushed, sidelined, or dismissed.

One of the things I see happening when a woman's agency is stripped from her, that quality that is to define an image-bearer representative of the living God—is that she will struggle to give voice to the injustice she witnesses in a meaningful way. (Evangelical women are pushing past this barrier, thanks be to God, due to their voices being amplified via the Internet, as Beth Moore recently proved, and this HuffPost article reviews.)

But restore a girl's or a woman's voice, give her a platform to witness to God's power to set the oppressed free, and truth will ring out that will bring revival to our churches and homes, to our schools and our businesses.

Yes, give us a platform and we will prophesy: 

Girls and women are not objects for men's lust, but created to do good, representing God and his interests. We are created as "strong powers" or "ezers" as mentioned in Genesis 2:18. We are coworkers with our brothers in the Kingdom of righteousness and justice Jesus announced, sustains, and will bring to completion. We will stand against the sexual harassment, assault, and diminishment of all females in the name of Jesus. And in his name, we can pursue mutual leadership and relationship with our brothers that leads to healing, hope, and life not only for the U.S., but for the nations. 

May it be so!

* Clarification: I checked on the conference presenter and confirmed that on the pastoral staff of his megachurch there are no female pastors. They do not, however, have a formal statement about female pastors on their site, and so I apologize for not simply stating that they have no female pastors. My discouragement was with their practice and not any formal statement. Although not identified, I believe this church is doing some great work. I am hopeful for the day when both men and women will be working side-by-side on pastoral teams at this church and others. And I am blessed to be at a church where men and women faithfully partner together in leadership for the Kingdom's sake.

For further reflection:
Post and Podcast: "Locker Room Talk, the Power of Words, and the Hope of Revival, Theology on Mission
Word by Word: Creating and Destroying the World by Leslie Leyland Fields
"Reclaiming Eve" talk by Suzanne Burden at Taylor University

Your turn: Are you discouraged and why? How might the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus restore your hope?
Divisive political comments will be deleted. Kind engagement encouraged.

 

Revisiting #ReclaimingEve: Cara Strickland's story

cara

Personal Note and update: The book Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God and the Small Group DVD continue to stimulate discussion and impact both individual lives and the Church as a whole. Cara's story was posted over a year ago, but for some reason my new squarespace blog removed it. Her story touched me, because gender reconciliation has been and is such a huge area of first pain and now healing in my own story. Read an update to her ongoing story here.

The whole series of can be found here. And many thanks to Cara, who shines light today on those aha moments that lead us to go about reclaiming Adam even as we are reclaiming Eve. Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter. She likes making new friends.

What would it take for me to believe that men are the beloved of God?

When I started reading Reclaiming Eve, I didn’t expect to be confronted with complicated feelings about the Eden story. I’ve always felt a certain compassion for Eve, and I clad myself in these feelings as I flipped through the pages. There was only one problem. I might not have a problem with Eve, but I do have a problem with Adam. 

I’ve been through a long journey, through many kinds of churches and theologies. I was uncomfortable with female leadership in church until late in my college career before slowly picking up pieces of the beautiful heart God has for women, and finding freedom in how I saw myself and other daughters. But though I had started attending a church whose senior pastor is a woman, and begun to find healing from many hurtful ways of thinking I’d gleaned in my youth, I still hadn’t forgiven Adam.

In those churches from my formative years, I was taught that men were there to protect and defend women. I learned that women were weaker and smaller and slightly less important. But in Eden, I saw no sign of that sort of man in Adam. He didn’t even seem to be the main character in the story of the fall, and he certainly wasn’t looking out for Eve.

I read about the ezers on an airplanethe Hebrew word used for Eve indicating she is a strong power—and as I did so, I wept. Step one, for me, has been learning that women are beloved by God. Step two seems to be learning that men are, too.

My father is not a terrible man, but he learned to parent from imperfect people. As a result, I learned from a very early age that I am too much or not enough. For a time, my father was also my pastor, further confusing my young mind about how God felt about me.

Over the years, I have dated people who were a lot like my impression of Adam: not quite the main character of the story. I have looked and hoped for a wonderful man to partner with in marriage, and have been disappointed many times. As I read about the way adams and ezers are meant to ally, I realized that I haven’t believed that this was possible. I have given God credit for making the daughters of Eve full of potential and Image, but not for doing the same with the sons of Adam.

I’ve spent many dark nights crying out to God, wondering why I’m single still, after all this time hoping. I’m beginning to think that the hurt I felt as I read this story again might be why.

I have spent time frustrated by my feelings of being on the outside as a single, childless woman. Those panes of glass often exist, of course, but the wives and mothers are not always putting them up by themselves. After all, they have chosen to love and partner with people that I have difficulty trusting. That makes it hard to trust those women, as well.

This all leads back to God, as everything does, sooner or later. I don’t know what to think of a God to whom I attribute the creation of the sort of Adam I imagine. I cry out for a lovely man to partner with, but I haven’t believed that one exists. This is the tragedy of the fall. Not only did sin alter the way the sons of Adam thought about and treated the daughters of Eve, but it changed the daughter’s of Eve’s perception of the sons of Adam, standing in the way of the partnership God intended, trickling all the way down to me, so many years later.

Since I read them, these words have been continuing to resonate in my mind: “For him [Jesus] if something were to be perfect, it would fulfill the purpose for which it was created.” (87) I let out a deep breath at that, reaching all the way to the bottom of my perfectionist soul. For so long, I’ve been trying to do the right thing, to check all of the boxes. It is easy to think that it is the failure to do these things which stands in the way of the life or relationships I want. It is not so great a leap to think that those imperfections are keeping me from my vocation, from my purpose. If only I always said lovely and affirming things, then I might be considered worthy to be a wife. If only I were more traditional, or nurturing, or soft-spoken.

But I have a few ideas about the purpose for which I am created, and it looks a lot like the easy yoke Jesus describes in Matthew. I sighed because though I’ve read similar things over the years, they haven’t ever struck me like this. The freedom to be exactly who I am, turns out to be exactly what I need to remind me that God dreams of that freedom for everyone, woman and man.

On #

ReclaimingEve

: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”

— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author,

Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece.

Order here

.

My most life-giving interview on #ReclaimingEve

It's not every morning a girl gets to talk about the beauty of God's design for his daughters laid out in the Creation narrative.

A full hour of deep, provocative discussion on how God has designed women to work alongside men, how we are tempted to live up to the fall instead of the reconciliation Jesus ushers in, and why it matters. Don't miss this! (With Lynne Ford of The WBCL Radio Network.)

Interview here.

Does the gospel rescue men from patriarchy? An interview with Carolyn Custis James on #Malestrom

malestromMEME_5Thrilled to host author Carolyn Custis James today for an interview on her important new book Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. Buckle up and prepare to dive deep as Carolyn discusses God's intentions for men and for women.

***

Once in seminary, I proudly showed a male professor my new copy of the InterVarsity Press Women’s Bible Commentary. Having heard that women have written less than one percent of all the commentaries on the Bible, I was thrilled to have found an admittedly slim volume that offered scholarship from respected evangelicals like Alice Mathews.

Let me just say that my professor was visibly less than impressed. His other comments only reinforced my assumptions. He said that it would be good if I became a chaplain, for there is a real need for chaplains to minister to women. I received the message loud and clear: women are needed in some roles, but not in the academy, not in the pulpit, and not next to a man’s bedside or desk with an intent to minister, counsel and bless. 

If there was one thing I knew then and know now, it is that God created two genders to enrich our experience and understanding of him. When the woman’s voice gets slighted, our practice and scholarship and theology become decidedly lopsided, with holes many of us are only now beginning to discover.

Have you ever wondered: What in the world have we missed in our theology because women have been kept from studying, exegeting and writing and teaching on God’s word over the centuries?

Heaven only knows.

Enter women like Carolyn Custis James. A scholar and student of both the Bible and the culture, James has now poured years into exegeting both, and the results have been a game-changer for many like me.

Her careful scholarship and insights from a female perspective have uncovered critical theological truths that have led other women to write books like the one my coauthors and I wrote, Reclaiming Eve, and so many others. While her books Lost Women of the Bible and Half the Church both opened my world to new vistas and hopes for God’s Kingdom and his world, her newest book utilizes the same razor-sharp analysis and deep thoughts on God’s desire to save men from the cycle of violence continuing to churl through our world. Her assertion is straightforward: Patriarchy is not God’s dream for humanity. Not for women. And not for men, either.

She answers a few key questions below on what she calls the “Malestrom,” prompted by her book of the same title:

Carolyn Custis James

Carolyn, you write that the malestrom (a play on the word maelstrom) is the particular ways in which the fall and sin impact the male of the human species, specifically pushing men toward being socialized by violence. From your view, what are the top three ways we see this play out globally today?

Traditional definitions of what it means to be a man vary widely from culture to culture. Each culture has ways of reinforcing those definitions and socializing men to conform. At its core, the malestrom is about those forces that cause men to embrace cultural definitions of manhood and lose sight of who God created them to be as men. Sadly, the malestrom does lead to violence against other men as well as women.

In more primitive cultures—especially where survival depends on the willingness and ability of men to defend and provide for the community—socialization takes the form of initiation rites that require young boys to endure brutal treatment without wincing or crying out. Achieving manhood teeters on a boy’s ability to endure, and there are those who don’t make the grade.

In our own culture, locker room violence and other forms of social pressure condition boys to reject any behavior or inclination that is deemed “unmanly” and to conform to the prevailing cultural definition of masculinity. It can turn men into emotional islands, unable to cry, to be vulnerable, or sensitive. It cuts men and boys off from the wholeness of their God-given humanity.

More socially acceptable forms of “violence” against men occur through shaming as men are berated from evangelical pulpits for failing to “man-up” and told, “you are not a man” for failing to measure up to some masculine criteria, such as taking charge at home or being the primary breadwinner and protector at home.

Unfortunately cultural definitions of manhood themselves can lead to violence. Sociologists identify an insidious link between concepts of masculinity the wars and violence that we hear about daily in the news. ISIS is a chilling example of masculinity gone awry and producing appalling levels of violence against other human beings, including fellow Muslims, and the exploitation and trafficking of women. The belief that a man is supposed to “be in charge” at home means his manhood is at stake if he doesn’t get the kind of submission he expects. Manhood definitions can wrongly legitimize abuse and violence on battlefields, city streets and behind closed doors. In the U.S. 1 in 4 women have suffered domestic violence. This statistic includes women in the church.

Besides leading to abusive and violent behavior, cultural concepts of masculinity not only are the antithesis of God’s exalted vision for his sons. He gives them their identity and calling at birth as his image bearers. It is a birthright, a gift. It cannot be earned. He creates his sons to know and reflect his heart for the world and to look after things on his behalf. No man or boy is left behind. It can’t be taken from them or lost or destroyed. Their identity is indestructible and designed for their full flourishing as human beings.

So the evangelical discussion of manhood/masculinity is wholly inadequate if it fails to take into account the wider global issues or to consider the serious repercussions surrounding how masculinity is defined and lived out. We have ISIS to consider.

Tell us why you believe patriarchy—a system in which males rule over women and others—is Malestrom-cover-art-borderdismantled as we observe Jesus’ version of manhood. And if so, why do you believe exclusive male rule (although a gentler version than hard patriarchy) is still considered a norm in many evangelical churches? 

The fact that patriarchy appears on virtually every page of the Bible has led Christians to conclude that patriarchy is the way God intends for us to live. At the heart of the problem for the American church is the fact that we have embraced patriarchy (albeit in a modified version) as the Bible’s message. We maintain male authority and female submission but toss out common patriarchal elements such as the prizing of sons over daughters, child marriages, honor killings, polygamy, and slavery.

Although events in the Bible play out within a patriarchal context, patriarchy doesn’t emerge until after the Fall, in words of curse spoken to the woman: “He will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). That is a description of what the Fall will produce and how male/female relationships takes a terrible downturn from what God original envisioned for us.

The rule of any human being over another is an inversion of the cultural mandate which turns the rule of God’s image bearers outward to the creation, not laterally against each other. The “rule” of humans over one another quickly manifests itself in violence when Cain kills his brother Abel for outshining him. Attempts to make kinder gentler versions of patriarchy salvage pieces of a post-fall system that remains destructive both to women and to men. It turns our focus onto each other instead of centering us on our Creator and the monumental task at hand of cultivating and caring for his world and for one another.

What is disturbing and needs to be discussed within evangelical circles is the fact that global definitions of manhood, including soft complementarianism, sit on a cultural continuum. Here’s what I wrote in Malestrom: “Anthropologists describe a continuum of manhood that ranges from machismo (a strong, aggressive, masculine pride and bravado) at one extreme to cultures completely unconcerned about masculinity issues at the other. Modern urban western versions of manhood land somewhere in the middle. Evangelical definitions of manhood—all claiming to be built on what the Bible says—are scattered all over that continuum.”

The whole discussion of gender (both inside and outside the church) takes place on that continuum. I’m convinced that while patriarchy is the cultural backdrop of the Bible, it is not the Bible’s message. The Gospel Jesus proclaimed takes us off that continuum to a radically different, way of living as male and female.

Jesus completely upended the way human culture works by how he lived and what he taught. He even upended how we typically think. He was emphatic when his disciples started asking questions about authority and rank. He said in essence, “That’s how the world works. That's not how we do things,” and pointed them to serving others. We’ve dressed that teaching up and called it servant-leadership. But that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus’ gospel calls us to put the interests of others ahead of ourselves and to promote the flourishing of others. That’s leadership according to the Jesus model. He took it even to the point of laying down his life for us. That ought to transform how we think and talk about gender issues.

A recent gospel coalition review of your book insisted that the blog writer’s complementarianism and your egalitarianism (his words) were not that far apart. From where you sit, can we have mutual submission and the inclusion of both men and women in leadership in the church, home and world, and still recognize that we complement one another by design? If so, how?

One of the pitfalls of the current evangelical gender discussion is that it loses sight of the fact that this is a global issue. In American evangelical churches, we’ve reduced gender discussions to one of two options: complementarian or egalitarian, when the contexts in which people find themselves globally are significantly more complex than our egalitarian western society. Even here we face complexities and circumstances that make it impossible for a complementarian or an egalitarian to be consistent with their own views. How is a single woman, a widow, the wife of a non-Christian or a passive husband supposed to live out her complementarian convictions? How does an egalitarian function when her church or husband or culture prohibit that view?

I’m not saying the western gender discussion is unimportant. Just that we need to bear in mind that not everyone has the luxury of choosing which camp to embrace. In wartime, women do all sorts of things that go beyond a complementarian view of submission or of a woman’s role. When the gospel crawls under a burka, pushing egalitarian notions can get a woman killed.

There are deeper questions we must ask.

All through the Bible there are stunning moments when we witness powerful alliances between men and women and courageous, bold leadership of women that break the pattern, advance God’s purposes, and reflects the kingdom Jesus is bringing. I tell some of those stories in Malestrom. The probability of these kinds of alliances and actions emerging in the ancient patriarchal culture is close to zero. But again and again it happens.

Jesus’ gospel restores the vision God had for us in the beginning. We strive to understand and live out that vision within the context of a fallen world that impacts our cultures and our own hearts. God’s vision is global. No human being is excluded. It’s a far greater vision than our gender debates envision. It frees us to do what needs to be done and calls us to put the interests of others ahead of ourselves. It is the “Love your neighbor as yourself” kingdom ethos of Jesus. This means as women we are called to champion each other and also our brothers. Jesus’ gospel can be lived out anywhere, under any circumstance. God’s image bearers can reflect his character and love for the world, no matter where their culture lands on that continuum. The task God entrusts to us dwarfs our human resources. We need all hands on deck.

That’s why I prefer to talk about the Blessed Alliance between men and women. That language matches God’s blessing on his male/female image bearers in Genesis one where the first team he deploys is male/female. The Blessed Alliance is descriptive of the Body of Christ—where we join forces, recognize we need one another, and call every believer to give their all for the kingdom of Jesus. The male/female Blessed Alliance is a kingdom strategy that the Enemy has dismantled. Even egalitarians will say that simply affirming women’s ordination or adding space for women leaders doesn’t take us far enough. The whole creation narrative makes the point—not that men need to include women or that we need to get along better and share power—but that men and women need each other to do the job God has entrusted to us. How that works out in terms of who leads and who follows within any particular context or culture will no doubt be different.

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for fall studies! Order here.

Who's right about women leading & the Bible?

That is a question for the ages, isn't it?  Fortunately, my friend Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman, from the Redbud Writers' Guild, has written an in-depth but practical guide to biblical interpretation. For those of us who don't have a doctorate, but long to know how to interpret what the Bible says on any given subject, Natalie has graciously brought key principles for exegesis—the art and science of getting to what the Bible says—to a lower shelf. And she's done it for "women who want to know for themselves." Genius.

Using the case study of women and leadership in the Church, Natalie gives us a manual for how to discern biblical truth for ourselves. Although we had a few technical difficulties, I managed to pull this video on what a "starting point" is when we approach theology and the Bible. Listen in:

Truth be told, I believe we are responsible for how we wrestle with God's word and whether we are obedient to what we discover. This is best done in our church communities, as we come together to discern, each person's study informing and shaping the discussion.

51Fg8uGDnYL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Although Women, Leadership, and the Bible holds a higher price tag than most books at $31.50 (but only $9.99 on Kindle), it's a go-to guide you'll use for the long haul alongside your Bible. Inside its pages, you'll hear the stories of a variety of women who hold differing viewpoints on what the Bible says about the presenting issue of women and leadership, and you'll easily identify the nuts-and-bolts steps to your own study:

  1. Prepare.
  2. Identify.
  3. Study.
  4. Filter.
  5. Choose.

And the appendix in the back will point you to quick checklists that will keep you on track while doing exegesis on a Bible passage and other resources that will enrich your study of women leading in the church. Believe it or not, the author even pulls all of this off with touches of humor and inspiration along the way. At the end of the book, she quotes the movie "Brother, Where Art Thou?" when she writes:

"Congratulations! Now, you are bona fide! You have prospects!"

To which I reply: it's high-time for women to believe and become confident that they can interpret the Bible for themselves, and to be given the tools to do so. Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman does a beautiful job of equipping us and sending us on our way.

Enter to win a giveaway copy here on Julie Holly's blog through July 14.

Your turn: Are you settled in your mind on what the Bible says  on women leading in the Church? If not, what issues or passages are you still struggling with?

Leaning In to our Grief on Christianity Today's Her•meneutics

Regular blog reader? Consider sharing this post I wrote for Christianity Today on your social networks. And let's encourage everyone to enterbook their grief, airing their feelings that they might further reveal their faith.

In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg wrote her first book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, selling over a million copies and launching a movement for working women. This week she shared on Facebook a public statement of grief following the unexpected death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, one month ago. Both have been remarkable conversation-starters.

Sandberg’s recent reflection illuminates the way tragedies cause us to stop life as usual to feel deep loss. After her husband died in a gym accident last month, Sandberg entered the 30-day mourning period prescribed by Jewish tradition. The Facebook COO shares heartbreaking details from the first hours, days, and weeks: the anger when motorists didn’t yield for her husband’s ambulance; the way her mother holds her at night while she cries herself to sleep; her child’s school event where she could not manage to make eye contact with anyone.

Read the rest at Her•meneutics

Reclaiming Eve: Idelette McVicker's story

designI'm tickled to welcome Idelette McVicker, the editor in chief of SheLovesMagazine.com to share her Reclaiming Eve moment today. idelette profileHi, I'm Idelette and I wish I could go to every spot, village and city on the earth to meet our world’s women. I was born and raised in South Africa, which created a deep hunger for justice and equality in my heart. I have three children (11, 9 and 7) and SheLovesmagazine.com is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I also feel a little bit Chinese, because my heart still resides there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. I live in Surrey, Canada because I pledged my heart to Scott, a cheeky Canadian, 15 years ago. Give me some sweet chai, vanilla rooibos or pearl milk tea and I’m in heaven. And if you don’t know this about me quite yet: Jesus is my hero.

***

What a difference a pronoun makes.

One of my girls had a memory verse to learn for church. We lay side by side on her tiny French provincial single bed that her dad had painted a matte black. I loved those little beds: slightly rickety, painted in the garage over many days, with several coats and deep love. The girls moved into those beds when I became pregnant with their brother. 

And there we lay on that ordinary night, an exhausted Mama and her young daughter, taking just a moment to do the right thing and practice a memory verse, printed in black and white on a square card.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. -2 Corinthians 5:17

We practiced Bible verse and address. We stood before centuries’ worth of wisdom and truth. We honored the holy words and did our part to pass it on to another generation.

But I’d been learning about how much God loves women, even wrote 40 days’ worth of prayers and statistics and stories, so more women could know it.

I gently asked: "Do you know we can put ourselves in these verses? We can put our own name inside the verse and know that God intends these very words for us.”

She nodded.

I repeated the text in my head. We practiced the words together.

Then I said it out loud, one more time, but this time I made it personal for us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation.

She.

She is a new creation.

We, from Eve right through to the two of us that night on that little black bed with the pink duvet. We get to become new creations.

And suddenly it felt like an earthquake was rumbling through my very being.

If anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation.

If anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation.

If anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation.

I’d placed my name inside of a verse, but I’d never before replaced the pronoun. Substituting a “he” for a “she,” for the first time ever in my life, I felt like I was meant to be included in those words, not stand outside of it. Always reverent, hopefully obedient, but always excluded.

Quiet tears were streaming down my face. My body shivered with the recognition.

I had said those words so many times in my life: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”

But until that moment, it had always felt like I was standing on the outside of those words. I honored them as good, holy, lifegiving, even Spirit-breathed words.

Following Jesus on the cross, these words were for me, but I also felt outside of them. I guess I imagined this was simply part of my cross to bear. The way things had always been. These were the things we didn’t question.

Until that moment of simple yet radical inclusion, it had always felt like I was Eve, still banished from the garden.

Us, women, we’d been shown the gates and it felt like my bible translations made it very clear—we didn’t deserve to be on the inside.

Those words were for all the he’s in the world.

But us “she’s,” it wasn’t for us. It wasn’t intended for us to be newly shaped, newly created, beautifully invited in.

We’d messed up. The she’s still had to pay the price.

But what about that Grace, paid for so dearly on a cross?

Including my feminine self into the core language felt subversive. It even seemed dangerous.

A good kind of dangerous.

A right kind of dangerous.

It felt like a single word—one pronoun—in that instant had ripped through eons of established thought. That single word managed to tear down a veil.

I felt beloved. Included. Invited not only into the ways of Jesus, but welcomed into the vast promises and a revolutionary way forward.

I am no longer content to stand on the outside, looking in, because on that holy ordinary night on that little black bed, I was invited into the center of the story. I was no longer relegated to the margins. Neither are we, the daughters and sisters of Eve.

Ancient gates creaked loudly and swung wide open: Welcome, Daughters.

Your turn: Have you read Scripture with feminine pronouns? How does including women in the reading of Scripture in this way affect you?

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”

— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for fall studies! Order here.

Audio sermon: Naomi's story (Ruth 1-4) by Suzanne Burden

sessionsA few weeks ago, on the first Sunday of the year, I had the privilege of preaching a sermon on the book of Ruth at Fairhaven Mennonite Church. In the sermon's first moments, I began by lifting a scarf over my head, and delivering a dramatic monologue from the perspective of Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law. (Which made one guy think I believed I should only speak in church with my head covered. True story.) The sermon contains:

  • Naomi, whom scholars call the female "Job"
  • clinical depression
  • homelessness, hunger, great loss and marginalization
  • a faithful woman who felt God was her enemy!

Most of all, though, it's a story of reversal: God's hesed (Hebrew word for loyal love) follows his people, no matter what comes. Grab your Bible, turn to the book of Ruth, and enjoy!

[audio mp3="http://suzanneburden.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Naomisstory.mp3"][/audio] See the amazing painting "Whither Though Goest" here. Be sure to check out The Gospel of Ruth—Kindle edition only $3.99— a fantastic resource by Carolyn Custis James that I consulted in my study. You won't regret this surprising look at how God raises up his daughters alongside their brothers to build His Kingdom.

Your turn: Can you relate to Naomi's story of bitter disappointment or surprising reversal? How are you tracing God's hesed—or lovingkindness—toward you these days?

Looking for a speaker at your church, conference or retreat? Contact me here to inquire.

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for fall studies! Order here.

Reclaiming Eve: Cara Strickland's story

 cara

cara

Personal Note: The book Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God and the Small Group DVD continue to stimulate discussion and impact both individual lives and the Church as a whole. Read the whole series of #ReclaimingEve stories here. And many thanks to Cara, who shines light today on those aha moments that lead us to go about reclaiming Adam even as we are reclaiming Eve. Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter. She likes making new friends.

What would it take for me to believe that men are the beloved of God?

When I started reading Reclaiming Eve, I didn’t expect to be confronted with complicated feelings about the Eden story. I’ve always felt a certain compassion for Eve, and I clad myself in these feelings as I flipped through the pages. There was only one problem. I might not have a problem with Eve, but I do have a problem with Adam. 

I’ve been through a long journey, through many kinds of churches and theologies. I was uncomfortable with female leadership in church until late in my college career before slowly picking up pieces of the beautiful heart God has for women, and finding freedom in how I saw myself and other daughters. But though I had started attending a church whose senior pastor is a woman, and begun to find healing from many hurtful ways of thinking I’d gleaned in my youth, I still hadn’t forgiven Adam.

In those churches from my formative years, I was taught that men were there to protect and defend women. I learned that women were weaker and smaller and slightly less important. But in Eden, I saw no sign of that sort of man in Adam. He didn’t even seem to be the main character in the story of the fall, and he certainly wasn’t looking out for Eve.

I read about the ezers on an airplanethe Hebrew word used for Eve indicating she is a strong power—and as I did so, I wept. Step one, for me, has been learning that women are beloved by God. Step two seems to be learning that men are, too.

My father is not a terrible man, but he learned to parent from imperfect people. As a result, I learned from a very early age that I am too much or not enough. For a time, my father was also my pastor, further confusing my young mind about how God felt about me.

Over the years, I have dated people who were a lot like my impression of Adam: not quite the main character of the story. I have looked and hoped for a wonderful man to partner with in marriage, and have been disappointed many times. As I read about the way adams and ezers are meant to ally, I realized that I haven’t believed that this was possible. I have given God credit for making the daughters of Eve full of potential and Image, but not for doing the same with the sons of Adam.

I’ve spent many dark nights crying out to God, wondering why I’m single still, after all this time hoping. I’m beginning to think that the hurt I felt as I read this story again might be why.

I have spent time frustrated by my feelings of being on the outside as a single, childless woman. Those panes of glass often exist, of course, but the wives and mothers are not always putting them up by themselves. After all, they have chosen to love and partner with people that I have difficulty trusting. That makes it hard to trust those women, as well.

This all leads back to God, as everything does, sooner or later. I don’t know what to think of a God to whom I attribute the creation of the sort of Adam I imagine. I cry out for a lovely man to partner with, but I haven’t believed that one exists. This is the tragedy of the fall. Not only did sin alter the way the sons of Adam thought about and treated the daughters of Eve, but it changed the daughter’s of Eve’s perception of the sons of Adam, standing in the way of the partnership God intended, trickling all the way down to me, so many years later.

Since I read them, these words have been continuing to resonate in my mind: “For him [Jesus] if something were to be perfect, it would fulfill the purpose for which it was created.” (87) I let out a deep breath at that, reaching all the way to the bottom of my perfectionist soul. For so long, I’ve been trying to do the right thing, to check all of the boxes. It is easy to think that it is the failure to do these things which stands in the way of the life or relationships I want. It is not so great a leap to think that those imperfections are keeping me from my vocation, from my purpose. If only I always said lovely and affirming things, then I might be considered worthy to be a wife. If only I were more traditional, or nurturing, or soft-spoken.

But I have a few ideas about the purpose for which I am created, and it looks a lot like the easy yoke Jesus describes in Matthew. I sighed because though I’ve read similar things over the years, they haven’t ever struck me like this. The freedom to be exactly who I am, turns out to be exactly what I need to remind me that God dreams of that freedom for everyone, woman and man.

On #

ReclaimingEve

: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”

— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author,

Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here.

 Includes print Bible study piece; great for fall studies!

Order here

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