The Elephant In The Room

There’s an old story of three blind men who are led to different parts of an elephant. One feels the tail and thinks it’s a paint brush. One feels the leg and thinks it’s a tree. One feels the ear and thinks it is a large leaf. By the information that each person had they made their best judgement. But when they got together and compared information they realized that none of them had the full picture. Then they worked together to find the head which clearly revealed that there was an elephant in the room.

This Sunday we will be exploring 4 difficult texts that address women serving in the church (1 Corinthians 11 & 14, 1 Timothy 2 & 5). Much confusion and hurt has come from attempts to apply these texts in the history of the church. What is ok to do? What is not ok to do? And often we judge people who come to a different understanding that we do. Many times I’ve heard disagreements over Scripture summarized by someone saying, “They just don’t follow the plain reading of Scripture.” But do any of us really do that?

I think the bigger issue is not the texts themselves, but how we read those texts. All of us come to Scripture with existing biases. I read Scripture through the eyes of a white, middle class, married father of three, living in rural West Texas. That is my perspective. Someone who is middle eastern, impoverished, single, living in Europe will naturally see things differently than I do simply because of their background and surroundings. They view the world differently than I do, and that’s a good thing!

Proverbs reminds us that there is wisdom in having “many advisors” when seeking to make decisions. If I am looking at something alone, I only see things from my point of view. But if I talk about it with others who have differing views I can begin to see more of the picture.

Some have suggested that addressing controversial texts does no good. “It means what it says and says what it means, and that settles it!” But it doesn’t settle things, does it? The greatest clarity of Scripture I have ever found has come when discussing the text with people who have differing views. Though I may not agree with everything they see, I always walk away with a greater understanding of their view, my view, and most importantly the text. Just this week a new detail stood out to me in 1 Timothy 2 because I was talking with someone about the text. I’ve been reading 1 Timothy several times a week for nearly a year, and I noticed something I had never considered before because I was willing to sit down and discuss the text with someone.

I have no doubt that Sunday morning God is going to do powerful things for us, and through us as we study his word together. I also believe that all of us will see things that we haven’t seen in these texts before. My prayer is that we all listen to the voices of “many advisors,” reexamine our view in light of others, but most importantly we consider what the Scripture actually says, and grow in the grace and wisdom of the Lord. And when we do this cooperatively in community, maybe then we will better identify the elephant in the room.

See you Sunday!

Daily Psalms – Psalm 73

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 71-75

Our reading today concludes Book 2 of Psalms and enters Book 3, of which Psalm 73 is the beginning. Here we focus on the psalms “of Asaph.” Psalm 73 is a wonderful reminder for us today who struggle with the same fault that the psalmist admits: envy over the unrighteous.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For i envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Psalm 73:2-3 NIV

This is a big theme throughout the Proverbs especially, but also in Psalms. “Ill-gotten gain” is condemned repeatedly, and yet we still admire seeing wealth on display, no matter how it’s gotten, for some reason. We are drawn to the illusion of wealth and luxury, that it will somehow fix our problems. In reality, it amplifies our problems.

But back to the main point, we think about money so much, and yet we don’t think about money as much as we should. Dr. Jenn Hale Christy had a very thought provoking podcast on this topic recently where she asked us to consider what we’re actually doing with our money. We blindly throw our money into investment accounts, but do we actually know what we are investing in? Is our retirement savings coming to us through “ill-gotten gains?”

The psalmist talks about all the present-moment advantages that these wicked people seem to have: no struggles, healthy, easy life. But when we renew our focus on God we begin to see things clearly. The illusion of the wicked lifestyle begins to fall.

When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:16-17 NIV

This is one of the many reasons why worship is so important. When we worship God it recalibrates our hearts to follow him. In his excellent book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K. A. Smith reminds us that the entire world is a liturgy; everything we do is worship of something, and forms us into the image of that something. Gathering with believers in worship of our God refocuses and reshapes us into who he wants us to be. He is the one who loves. He is the one who guides. He is the one who saves.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:23-26 NIV

Priscilla – The Leader?

Luke continues telling the stories of women serving in the Kingdom throughout his second volume, which we call “Acts.” Today we’ll begin with Priscilla. Paul first meets Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tentmakers, in Corinth after they had been ordered to leave Rome by Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2-3). Later on these two were missionaries traveling with Paul to Syria, staying for a time in Ephesus, and later returning to Rome (Acts 18:18-19, 2 Tim. 4:19, Rom.16:3).

Of all the times that these two co-workers of Paul are mentioned (seven times total), two of these times Aquila is mentioned first: When Paul meets Aquila, and then Priscilla, and when Paul sends greetings to the church in Corinth on their behalf. The other five times this ministry team is mentioned it is the female, Priscilla, who is mentioned first.

What does this tell us about Priscilla? She played a very active role in these events, likely the lead role. When we tell stories we tend to include the key player in the discussion first. We say “Tom Brady and the Patriots,” not “Jarrett Stidham and the Patriots.” Stidham is one of the backup quarterbacks. Does he play a role in the organization? Of course. Is he the key player? Not usually. Luke does this in other places as well. At the beginning of his relationship with Barnabas, Luke refers to the two as “Barnabas and Saul/Paul” (Acts 11-13). But after chapter 13, Paul becomes the main player, except for occasionally like Acts 14:14, and 15:12. When Paul is the main player, he is mentioned first. When Barnabas is the main player, he is mentioned first.

Priscilla is mentioned as the main player five of the seven times she is mentioned with Aquila. This includes the teaching of Apollos (Acts 18:26), the missionary work in Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 2 Tim. 4:19), and on three other occasions. Saying Priscilla helped her husband is inadequate. They are both called co-workers with Paul (Rom. 16:3), and Priscilla is mentioned first 71% of the time.

There are some who teach women are not allowed to minister in this way, yet time and time again Scripture shows them doing so. And they are never rebuked or criticized for doing so! Luke mentions numerous other women prophesying on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14-15, 2:1, 4, 17-18), or Mary, who had a sizable church meeting in her home (Acts 12:12), Lydia, who also hosted a church (Acts 16:40), or Philip’s four daughters, who were prophets (Acts 21:8)?

Many have tried to take two verses from Paul’s writings out of context and use them to silence women in the Kingdom. The problem is the rest of Scripture, and even Paul’s own writings and ministry, show them doing the very things they are supposedly not allowed to do. So do we allow tradition to shape our understanding of what women may or may not do in the Kingdom, or will we allow the examples set forth in Scripture to set those guidelines?

Next week we’ll look at Paul’s conclusion to the Romans, and look at a few of the women he mentions there, as well as their roles in the Kingdom.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 1

I’ve started doing something on Facebook recently that I will now carry over to my blog: A daily Psalm meditation in conjunction with my daily psalm readings. I picked up a practice from N.T. Wright some time back of daily reading the psalms. I read 5 Psalms per day, and begin and end each day by reading and meditating on them. 5 psalms per day X 30 days per month = 150 psalms. Thus, each month (we flex a bit for February) we read through the entire Psalter. Why? I really appreciate Dr. Tim Mackie’s summary of the Psalms:

Psalms: The prayerbook of God’s people who are striving to be faithful to the Torah, and waiting for the Messianic Kingdom.

Dr. Tim Mackie – The Bible Project

“But wait, didn’t the Messianic Kingdom come at Pentecost? After all Jesus has already established his church!” The answer to that is Yes, and No. The kingdom is here, and not yet. While it has been established, we eagerly await his return to destroy evil once and for all, and establish the new Jerusalem where all of God’s people will spend eternity with him (read the end of Revelation if this is new material for you.)

So in a way we are just like those original readers of the Psalter who are awaiting the Messiah to set everything straight, though we have the advantage of knowing our Messiah Jesus and his teachings as we wait for his ultimate return. In addition, the Psalms are what Jesus would have meditated on in his lifetime. These were the worship songs of his day. As a Jewish boy he would have memorized the entire psalter. The words of the Psalms saturated the mind, heart, and life of Jesus. Shouldn’t we seek to have them do the same for us?

Each day I’ll choose one psalm from my daily reading and reflect/meditate on it a bit. My hope is that after 5 months I will have written at least a little reflection on the entire Psalter. Today we will look at Psalm 1. I memorized this psalm in middle school for a competition, and it has never left my memory. Probably my favorite psalm.

In Psalm 1 we have the anonymous psalmist reminding us that it is meditation on the word of Yahweh that leads to life. In contrast, the psalmist looks at the wicked and says they are “like chaff.” If you are unfamiliar with that term, chaff is the little shell that encases a grain of wheat. In the process of harvesting the wheat, the chaff is removed from the grain through a process called “winnowing” where the wheat is thrown into the air which separates the grain from the chaff. The wind blows away the light chaff, but the grain falls back down to the ground and is used.

In other words, the wicked are compared to useless the useless byproduct of wheat that isn’t fit for consumption. They will be “blown away” and destroyed. But those who dwell on the Torah of Yahweh are like a never ending source of nourishment and peace. It’s almost as if the arrangers of the psalter are saying, “Spend time in this book and you will be a blessing to everyone as you yourself are blessed by God in doing so.”

Spend time in Scripture. Spend time in the Psalms. Spend time in the Gospels. Spend time getting the story and the very words of Jesus in your head and your heart. And you will be blessed, and be a blessing, in doing so. Grace and Peace.

Click here for today’s reading of Psalms 1-5

The Song of Deborah

Last week we looked at Deborah: judge of Israel, prophet, wife,  and as we’ll discover today she was also a worship leader. Due to the Lord’s work through the leadership of Deborah, and the bravery of Jael, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years. Today we will look at Deborah’s celebratory song in Judges 5, and what it tells us about God and his people.

The beginning of verse 2 is problematic for translators, literally beginning with “In the breaking forth of the breakers in Israel.” NIV translates this as “When the princes in Israel take the lead.” I believe the ESV’s rendering to be clearer:

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”

Judges 5:2 ESV

This is the story of Deborah! When the leader God had ordained, regardless of gender, took the lead and offered herself willingly, it brings praise to the Lord. All people should offer themselves willingly and lead in the mission of God as their divinely given gifts allow (1 Cor. 12:7).

The song is clear that it is God’s power that won the victory for the nation (v.4-5, 31) but the song clearly exalts the acts of Deborah in motivating and leading the people (v.7-9) and Jael for defeating Sisera (v. 24-27). And once again, we have a clear statement that this is not a story of renegade women usurping authority because of weak males in the kingdom. That belief is making assertions that the text does not. In fact, it states quite the opposite: God is behind this. God chose the leaders of Israel (2:16, 5:8) to accomplish his will and bring the people back into line with God’s covenant.

7 Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8 God chose new leaders when war came to the city gates, but not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
9 My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!

Judges 5:7-9 NIV

The further you go into Judges, the further Israel drifts from the knowledge of God. Eventually, even the Judges know so little about God that they do detestable things thinking it pleases God. Most of the judges failed to follow God, and by the end of the book the people no longer knew God. Judges sadly ends by saying this:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 21:25 NIV

Deborah’s story at the beginning of the book shows us what good Godly leadership should do: bring people back into line with God’s will. God raised up Deborah and she followed God. She didn’t issue excuses as to why her situation wasn’t ideal. She simply offered herself and her God given abilities willingly. Our world is in desperate need of more women and men like Deborah!

Miriam: Prophet of God?

This week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play as one of the three deliverers of Israel from Egypt, as well as the namesake of the mother of Jesus! (Our English translations notoriously anglicize names in Scripture. “Mary’s” literal name is “Miriam,” which should draw us to compare the two.)

We first encounter Miriam in Exodus 2 as she looks after the ark in which her baby brother Moses is hidden. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Moses, it is Miriam who suggests finding a Hebrew woman (Jochebed, the mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam) to nurse the baby. The Exodus narrative shifts to focus on the power of God over Egypt through many signs and wonders, and we once again find Miriam after the crossing of the Red Sea.

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”

Exodus 15:19–21 NIV

If you are reading, thinking, “I didn’t know women could be prophets,” this is exactly why I’m writing this article. Let’s remove any cultural biases we may have and see Scripture the way the writers (and the Holy Spirit) intended. So Miriam is a prophet! That means she is a spokesperson for God responsible for teaching, preaching, and instructing the people of Israel in the word of God. One of the ways Miriam proclaims the word of God is by leading the women in singing and dancing in praise of God! Scripture also informs us that Miriam was considered a leader of Israel right alongside Moses and Aaron.

“I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.”

Micah 6:4 NIV

I feel it important to comment on efforts to dismiss Miriam’s role, or status as a prophet and leader of Israel because she is a female. Yet if we simply let Scripture speak for itself and accept it for what it says, we will have a more accurate view of who God is, and be blessed in doing so. The truth is God uses who he wants, regardless of what we think he should do. He chooses people who bring him glory and accomplish his purposes in this world. God created both male and female in his image (Gen. 1:27) to proclaim his message, and Miriam did just that! She was not perfect, and was punished by God for treating Moses with contempt, but Moses and Aaron pleaded for God to restore her (see Numbers 12). Nevertheless, she is one of many female prophets listed in the pages of Scripture and deserves to be appreciated as such.

Consider the parallels between Miriam in the Hebrew Scriptures and Mary/Miriam in the Gospels. Besides sharing the same name, both protect the savior of Israel in Egypt (Ex. 2:1-10/Mt. 2:13-18), both write and sing songs to tell of God’s salvation (Ex. 15:20-21/Lk. 1:46-56), and their placement is important – Miriam at the beginning of the story of Israel as well as Mary/Miriam at the beginning of the story of the renewed Israel through our savior, Jesus.

Next week we will take a look at another female prophet who is often minimized, contrary to what Scripture tells us about her.

Eve: Equality with Adam – Part 2

We continue our look at the women of the Bible by looking again at Eve’s story. Last week we noted that nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 indicates that Eve is somehow inferior to Adam. In fact, it proves quite the opposite. Both Adam and Eve are fully created in the image of God. We ended with a question last week: Who sinned first? Adam or Eve? Let’s look at a few verses to find the answer.

And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

1 Timothy 2:14 NIV

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…

Romans 5:12 NIV

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 NIV

Confused yet? Upon first glance it would appear Paul is too, but not quite. Let’s look at one more verse.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:15 NIV

The word for “take care of it” would be the Hebrew word shamar which means “to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life.” Adam was charged as the keeper and protector of the Garden. Yet in Genesis chapter 3 as he is with Eve (3:6), he fails to do this. (by the way, all of the serpent’s statements are made using the plural “you,” not singular).

Eve was the first to be deceived (per Paul), but Adam failed to shamar his wife and the Garden from the deception of the serpent. Notice also that both the humans and the serpent are punished; first the serpent, then Eve, then Adam. All three sinned.

So who sinned first? Could it have been Adam for not kicking the serpent out of the Garden? Perhaps. The serpent for deceiving Eve (3:14)? It would seem likely this was the first, although the serpent isn’t human (that’s a theological discussion for another time). Was it Eve who ate the fruit?

I think the way the story is told is intentional to show how intertwined we humans are. Adam was supposed to obey God through his shamar of the Garden and Eve. He failed at this at the same time Eve failed at obeying God’s command through the deception of the serpent. Genesis 3 is not an elevation of man over woman. It shows us that sin is a problem that affects all creation – humans, animals, and even the garden which is now devoid of its human caretakers. Sin affects everything. This is not a problem that we can blame on Eve or Adam. I think Paul understood this as well.

There is no difference…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:22-24 NIV

Question: So does God want Adam to now rule over Eve because they have sinned?