On Believing Women

Luke 24v11

The story appeared to them to be nonsense, and they would not believe them.

jacarandas

So… seems like women have to jump through some hoops to be believed in some situations. (I’m referring to some of the awful responses to women who have come forward with stories that expose, often high profile men, in the #metoo and other circumstances.)

As I went to sleep a bit worked up by this last night I was reminded that is not a pattern that the Bible sets out for us.

Two women sprang to my mind – One from the Old Testament and another from the New. Women who may have easily been dismissed with the unbelievable message they were given. Women who prove to me that God believes women, God entrusts himself to women and God expects men (and others!) to believe women.

Step up Rahab – what a woman!

She is mentioned in Hebrews 11 the chapter of the the faith greats. She is a gentile so pretty much expressly off limits for the Israelites in terms of marriage material. She is a prostitute… also not winning her any points. And yet! She is also named in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1) and she plays a key role in the battle of Jericho.

Spies are sent into the land to get a sense of what may be in store. They come back with their proverbial tails between their legs – ‘the land is great, but it’s too hard to conquer’ is essentially the feedback they give.

Two spies return with great news. This land is ours to take. They’ve spent the evening in the company of an intelligent, gentile woman who has protected them, reminded them of their past and their faith in God, prophetically declared what will happen, she has encouraged them, strategised with them and they have made her a promise, ‘Our lives for yours.’ (Which they follow through on).

Contextually, Rahab lived in Jericho, the most important Canaanite fortress city in the Jordan Valley, a stronghold in the path of the advancing Israelites. She practises prostitution in a key place of idol worship to Ashtaroth, goddess of the moon. Being one of the vilest and most degrading of the Canaanite religions (it could include child sacrifice and sex acts).

She owns a home in the city walls ‘entertaining’ travellers, being well versed in the history of Israel from the men she has met. Familiar to the king of Jericho, she is called on for information pertaining to the Israelite spies who have entered the city. She chooses to mislead them, hiding the spies. Rahab also provides advice, ensuring their continued safety after they have left her home. At the time her actions would have been viewed as treason with punishment including eye gouging, tongue and hand removal, public humiliation and stoning. Rahab’s overwhelming trust in the God of the Israelites, and her accompanying actions, leave no doubt of the justification of her title as one of the faith heroes.

The message Rahab gave the spies was an unbelievable one, but they believed her. They didn’t try to take advantage of her or dismiss her because of her questionable character. They spent an evening with a prostitute and no-one felt entitled to take anything from her physically. They saw a person who was intelligent, quick thinking, who had much to lose by speaking truth to them, and they believed her. Equally, God entrusted Rahab and Jesus has her named as one of his ancestors. The writer of Hebrews recognises her faith and courage. This is what it looks like to #believewomen and this is our example to follow.

This story could have played out so differently, and sadly I think in many spaces it still would – the foreigner, the woman, the reputation – none of these are unscalable walls to God. May they not be for me.

Woman two – Mary Magdalene.

Mary of all people is perhaps given the most impossible of messages. Standing as we do on this side of Easter it is easy for us to forget that the disciples had no framework for their Messiah to be crucified and no inkling that he would be resurrected. When they heard ‘it is finished‘ it had no wonderful ring to it. It was a funeral bell tolling for all they had believed.

In first century Judaism the testimony of a woman was not permissible in a court of law. So we have a grieving woman, bravely entering a garden as night turns to light only to be delivered the most exceptionally unexpected news and then commissioned to go and tell the others.

Mary is the first apostle. God doesn’t care if her testimony will hold up in a court of law. Jesus is not worried about the fact he is giving his message to a woman, that he is commissioning her before anyone else. Mary is the first choice! Jesus expects his followers to believe her. Mary has been right in the circle of Jesus friends, she is at the cross (most of the blokes had scarpered) and she is named in all the Gospel accounts as the first to encounter the risen one. This commission is given first to a woman, and subversively underscores something of the nature of salvation and mission. “John regarded the apostolic testimony of a woman as valid, effective and approved by Jesus.”[1]

Mary clearly went and told the news. She raised her voice, she declared truth that some were unwilling to receive. Perhaps they put it down to ’emotionalism’ or a ‘fragile mental state’ or something else. I’m glad that didn’t stop her. If this woman Mary could speak truth then I can do the same. If Jesus trusted her and she was bold and courageous maybe this might be true for me too.

The Bible clearly shows us, on more than these two occasions, that God believes women and sees them as valid agents of participating with and declaring what is and will be. Wouldn’t it be great if Christians were more like this too?

Here’s my morning reflections as I sat with these thoughts and the wonder of the women at the empty tomb:

It doesn’t look good for the credibility of the story when a woman, whose testimony does not count, is the bearer of the news

…. but God operates beyond our accepted systems.

It’s hard to deliver news that appears to be nonsense when you don’t have a framework for a crucified or resurrected Messiah

… but God is not limited to all we have understood thus far.

God is…

reframing our perceptions

reestablishing Eden

recalling the lowly to honour

repositioning the honoured to kneel

reordering relationships

exposing our prejudices

entrusting the message to the unexpected

expecting the faithful to respond with humility, faith and joy.

May we not forget that the most unexpected Good News may be delivered to us by the most unlikely of candidates.

Are we listening? or, will we miss out and remain wandering in the desert of our unbelief and prejudice, barred by our smallness and deaf ears from the welcoming voice of the promised land?

Be blessed and be courageous. May we champion all those who choose to speak the truth when their voice shakes and they have much to lose.

MJ x

 

[1] Schneiders, Sandra Marie. Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. Rev. and expanded ed. New York: Crossroad Pub, 2003.

 

 

 

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Being undone

It feels like it’s been forever, but that’s okay the journey is not measured in how often we spill our beans it’s measured in the daily living – sometimes a triumph and other times a disaster.

Today this quote undid me:
“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” ― Gregory J. Boyle
 
It’s so easy to be a judger, to find that unintentionally even, we see an issue and not an individual, we look through lenses of fear and make distance our safety net.
 
Gardeners have to get close enough to the dirt to plant seeds that will spring into life.
 
Maybe if we’d look to see individuals and draw closer rather than back away we might be over-awed by the courage, grace, tenacity and grit that is required every.single.day just to live in their shoes.
 
It’s easy to forget those sobering words
‘with the measure you judge, you will be judged’ – Matt 7v2
May we all tread lightly in judgement and extravagantly in loving kindness.
Be loved and be loving, wherever you are today xxx

At The Heart of It

We’ve all seen it at an event, churchy or otherwise, the ‘giving buckets’ roll around and the pennies tumble in.

Although the act is the same, the people putting in their contributions, there is all sorts of different at the heart.

There are the overflowing/ joyful givers, whose gift comes with a heart supremely grateful to have something to give.

The brave givers, who give in defiance to cultural values that say life is about trusting wealth as the be-all and end-all.

There are the resentful givers, who give because they feel like they are under duress to give.

The imagey givers, whose gift is about what other people might think. The ones who give because they judge and feel judged.

There are the DNA givers, who like giving, who look to give, who don’t give it a second thought because it’s just what they do.

The cause givers, who give because they want to use their money/resources to change political and cultural landscapes.

And there’s more and probably as many categories for those who didn’t give – the secret givers, the tight, the poor, the gave it all away yesterday, the empty purse but willing heart…..

From the outside the actions are the same. Who’s to say which giver is which and who has the right reason for giving.

hands

The point is we are limited by what we observe, but we judge by that standard. Wouldn’t it be so easy to watch the bucket go by and judge the non-giver and approve of the giver not knowing that the non-giver had withheld in order to give more to a cause the are passionate about and the giver gave purely for image and as little as possible.

If this is true for as small an act as pennies in a bucket then doesn’t it become more so for so many other situations?

We step onto a slippery slope when we start to take our perceptions as reality, and we live poorer and smaller when those perceptions derail our ability to live without judging others.

I’m trying to slow down when I see actions – good, bad or otherwise – and remind myself I am bringing my own perceptions to that situation. If we must judge (and really must we at all?) let us judge people by the best perception possible.

We will be richer for it.

We see but a slither, if an action is an iceberg it is only the tip and we cannot perceive what is driving that action forward without truly knowing the person. Sometimes we do not even understand our own actions properly.

In all this I am reminded of these enduring words,

A person looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. (1 Sam 16v7)

and, in light of this, I join with David in praying,

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139 v23-24

I am challenged and delighted by the words of Paul,

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behaviour and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.

Romans 14v22-23

(the whole chapter is brilliant for this issue of judgement and perception).

May we all keep humble when we see, reminding ourselves we do not fully know the whys. May we live right and true in our own actions neither to impress others, or out of fear. May we be pure in our motives and small in our judgements. We will be richer in all ways if we can.

and…. may we all have generous hearts, and full wallets when it comes to the causes that make our hearts beat fast xxx

Praying for the One I Wish I Was

Somewhere along the way from childhood to adult it comes, this realisation that every one of you doesn’t get to grow up and marry a prince, or win x-factor, get the olympic gold, or win next top model… or whatever childish dream was ‘the’ thing we all wanted to be.

… and so when it dropped like a pebble into a pond that we all couldn’t be ‘that thing’ we all wanted the ripples didn’t just lead me to grow up and put off childish dreams

because dreams, hopes, visions – those things are the stuff of humankind from ghetto to castle – we all dream, desire, hope

… the ripples whispered it across my subconscious and suddenly the others became ‘competition‘ and there was only one pie and we were all wanting a slice, the biggest slice. And there were only so many slices.

Suddenly a person succeeding at what I want desperately with my own heart isn’t a cheerful reminder that it can happen… that person becomes a sign that I’ve missed my slice, that they got there first

and that wicked whisper points out their shortcomings
and it points out my shortcomings

and it tells me that they aren’t my sister or brother, they are my competition

since when did a person become our competition?

and when the whispers of judgement are finished
and the whispers of condemnation are finished

I’m left with a stomach full of dissatisfaction and hopelessness

So I am changing the channel.
I’m hearing the words of Jesus that says, It is to my father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples

Because we serve a God who wants us all to be fruitful, to be bearers of his glory, to use our gifts at the extreme ends of our ability – extended by His anointing.

So this is how it works – everyone I look at who seems to be doing what I wish I was I’m praying for them. I’m not entertaining a searchlight of judgement on them. I’m praying all God’s best for them, for them to be more successful, for them to be more influential, for them to get more opportunities, commissions, invitations, for them to reach further, shoot higher, be blessed.

And when I start to worry that I’ve missed out on a serve of that pie I so desperately wanted I’m pulling up my seat at the table and I’m realising I was never competing with anyone. I look down and see the pie in front of me it’s all for me.

Because dear one, you have been served up your own pie.
This journey, there is room for you, there is room for me and we aren’t competing for a serving of the same pie.

Let’s all of us stop thinking of others as our competition and start championing the cause of everyone.

I’m singing loud these words over you today dear heart:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;

    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

May he send you help from the sanctuary

    and grant you support from Zion.

May he remember all your sacrifices

    and accept your burnt offerings.

May he give you the desire of your heart

    and make all your plans succeed.

 May we shout for joy over your victory  

and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.
Psalm 20v 1-5

Today I’m praying for champions, for the ones who appear not to need any help because they already have it all. I’m praying for every one of them like my dreams depend on it.

I’m praying success, peace, provision, influence, joy, opportunity, invitation.

I’m finding my peace in seeking God and trusting that other people doing well is absolutely as it should be.

Because even Moses needed people to hold up his arms and maybe your faithful blessing of another person might be an arm-supporting breakthrough in the battle for many.

Maybe letting go of covetousness is a commandment for our freedom. Maybe we are lessened by jealousy and comparison in a way that limits us.

God let me be one who truly champions the giants. Give me the heart of Jonathan to stand alongside David and pray his success even though that feels like my diminishing. Strengthen the heart that feels scared of missing out. Let me love with an expansive heart that sees no-one as competition. 

Justice for the Waiting

Sometimes your friend is the protagonist, the favoured one, the top of the pile.

And that’s okay because you love them… but it can be hard to feel like the sideline story. Then this one with all the gifting and all the gifts takes something of yours, brings you shame, serves out injustice against you, and then conspires to your death.

And that is Uriah’s story.

This faithful guy who served David, loved David, loyally supported his country, stayed in solidarity with his soldiers instead of taking his night off in pleasure with his wife. Uriah, whose name is just a whisper in David’s Story.

This Uriah, who did everything right, this guy who played second fiddle to the ‘main event’ and his life ended at the whim and will of David who wanted his wife. David who had many wives, the castle, the ‘world’ at his command.

Uriah needed justice.
We need justice.

Justice is the story of God.

We are spared from the sentence we all deserve by the sacrifice of Jesus but in time, at the right time, at the fulfilment of time God will put all to rights. There is justice for all, to come.

We are living in a world of supreme injustice where the protagonists, the rich, the educated, the ones born in the ‘right’ countries, live, shop, eat, socialise -often- at the expense of the ‘others’.

Uriah was murdered at the hand of David and maybe it looks like he didn’t get the justice he deserved.

Maybe it feels like you have been cheated of justice, 
and for millions they have, no question, 
been cheated of justice – here and now.

But Uriah’s story didn’t end at his death, Nathan came to David with a message from God, a story, that turned the heart of David and made him realise how great the cost of his behaviour. David lost a child.

God lost a Son to conquer injustice and the story is not finished yet.

Michael Lloyd puts it more eloquently when he says,
Judgement then, though a dreadful prospect, is part of the good news of God. It is good news because it means that pain and suffering and injustice and oppression will not go one forever… It will thereby be a gateway to a new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells (2 Peter 3:13) because God himself has taken up residence amongst us and death and mourning and crying and pain have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-14)*

Because the world is longing for justice. It is not okay to sell a story to a broken heart that says – it doesn’t really matter.

… and while we wait for the beautiful and awe-inspiring, and fearful justice of God to be lavished we can partner with justice now.

We can be part of the voice that says enough.
We can give when it hurts.
We can shop more painfully, thoughtfully, cautiously.
We can eat more radically.

We can wash the feet, serve the least, honour the invisible.

Uriah was not forgotten by God. Maybe it feels like you have missed out on justice, that you are a sideline in someone else’s star performance but today remember that even the sparrows are noticed.

The very hairs on your head.
The moment you rise in the morning.
The words you speak before they leave your mouth.

These things, all known, all noticed.

Because the world is full of stories of protagonists but in the story of God You are a character worth sending the Prince for. You are a character of enough value, that the Prince, and not some underling, was sent to rescue.

If your heart is broken by feeling forgotten remember today you are not forgotten.

If your heart is crumbling at the stories of injustice, have Hope – justice will one day roll on like a river, for all.

And let us all seek justice as we can. Let us all Act Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly.

God of justice comfort, confront and challenge injustice in us, towards us and that we do thoughtlessly or wilfully. God forgive us the injustice we have dealt.
Jesus, who lead by servanthood, call us to serve alongside you today.
Holy Spirit, give us divine inspiration to act creatively and passionately for justice wherever we are today.
Father wrap the broken pieces in your tender hands and speak peace to the wounded today.

Lloyd also includes this statement that challenges my heart,
Do we long for the appearing of Christ and the putting right of the world’s wrongs? Or have we made our peace with current compromised state of the world? Have we become so inured to the injustices of our world (because our lifestyles are so dependent on them?) that we harbour no hatred for them in our hearts?*

* if you are hungry for authentic, intelligent, life-challenging teaching on Christianity I can wholeheartedly recommend Cafe Theology by Michael Lloyd.

Letting People Change

Lately I’ve been thinking about people and places in my past. Perhaps it’s the do-you-knows on facebook, maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s just growing older…

Still, I’ve been challenged about the way I press pause on people and places. I look back at how someone behaved or didn’t behave, I think about the theology of churches I’ve been involved in and I realise I have set them in concrete instead of water.

When I think about who I am now, I hope they don’t have me set in stone as I was then.

But I do that to them, and it’s wrong.

People are always changing and growing. I am changing and growing. I have been immature, selfish, arrogant, unkind, impatient… I could go on…. and I’m not finished with those flaws but I hope I’m less-so than I was.

Lately I’ve been challenged to let go of my perceptions and judgements of my past.

Yes people hurt me, yes I have hurt people. Yes churches had different ways of seeing things than I do now, or maybe I understood them differently than I do now but, that doesn’t mean that they are still like that.

It seems very unfair to not give grace to allow others to change over time just because I haven’t journeyed with them.

Maybe if I only ever met Peter in the courtyard while Jesus was on trial I’d deduce that he was kind of weak and fearful. If I never met him again I might not discover that he actually became rather bold in time, that he later died for what he once denied.

If I met Saul when he was on a genocide mission for Christians I might have never believed the person he could become.

If I set a person, an organisation, a church, in stone I am essentially saying ‘that’s who they are, they will always be that way, they cannot change, God cannot change them‘ and if I say that, and believe it, then I am declaring it about myself too.

I don’t want that for me.

I want people to believe that I will have changed. I want them to remember the better aspects of my character and trust that God is making more of those and less of my imperfections.

I’m challenged to allow the world to go on changing and developing even if I’m not there to see it. I’m challenged to think people might be a little different, better even, than I remember them.

I’m allowing some old ways of thinking to be confronted because I want to be allowed to be a changing and different person – so maybe I need to extend the same to others.

God your reach is everlasting, your redemption never ending, your work never finished and I want to keep on changing. Give me the grace to never be cynical, the maturity to judge people by their best intentions and the humility to know that none of us are there yet and you have good plans for all of us. Give me faith to know you can change any of us, even me. Let me love with an expansive heart that always believes people will have journeyed forward in the best of ways.

Using the Largest Scoop

It might not seem the Bible is a place for maths lessons but here I am learning them.

I’m what you might describe as a cheerful but inaccurate measurer. As much as the ‘experts’ will talk about the science and chemistry of baking and insist that things must be precise I find myself throwing this and that in, making substitutions with little thought and I’ve yet to distribute food poisoning. My baking is not always pretty but it’s usually tasty and it’s served with love.

The Bible talks about measuring too. It says ‘with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’. Which is a beautiful verse if you’ve just emptied your wallet into a save the children bucket. In fact it also talks about things being pressed down, shaken together and running out all over – like a great big abundant 20-for-the-price-of-one deal.

The problem is that Luke and Matthew both use the line ‘with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’ one is talking about generosity, the other is talking about judgement.

Same principle – different subject

Suddenly it becomes a gut churning, take-it-back verse if you’ve spent the last 10 minutes thoughtlessly bagging your child’s teacher, your partner, a friend, or some angry guy at the petrol station, to some friend or other.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Timothy Keller’s messages lately – they are very good. A few times he has referred to the idea of a tape recorder around our neck that records the way we judge others. He concludes (and I am wildly paraphrasing, so do go to the actual source) that imagine if God didn’t judge us by his standards, he just judged us by the standards we set for others.

The things we complained about, judged, disapproved of about others.

It makes me kind of sick to think about that.

The times I’ve bandied around frustration guised under the auspices of giving ‘helpful advice’ on how things could be better. Not to the actual people who could improve them, no, to someone else who agrees with my general judgement.

It’s just that communication is really important to me
A little bit more organisation is what they need
It just seems like they are being lazy
A bit of actual commitment might make a difference
In my opinion they’re not interested in doing it another way
….
to my shame it goes on.

All of those could be said, more rightly, about me.

And even when my mouth isn’t going my heart still is – judging, judging, judging. Like my opinion is actually the correct one, like I have some insight that the rest of the world, or that person, missed out on.

If it were all played back to the people I have judged I would burn with shame. I would try to excuse and explain away. I would be confronted with the state of a heart that needs rescuing.

To think that I might be judged against the standards book of life that I have written with my heart and my mouth is a terrifying thing.

So I am throwing myself on the radical forgiveness that reminds me it’s a good thing I’m not trying to make it on my own. It reminds me that I can’t even live up to my own standards let alone those of The Holy One.

And while I’m there face down, ashamed to even lift my head, I’m asking for some help.

I’m asking
for a bucket sized scoop for measuring out grace,
for a bucket sized scoop for seeing the best intentions of others
for a bucket sized scoop for giving, serving, encouraging with generosity

and when it comes to even thinking I might have advice to give and a better perspective on a situation I’m asking for a teaspoon… so that I realise how little understanding and wisdom I actually have to offer

when it comes to judgement… I’m asking that that scoop be smashed to pieces like the piece of deceptive evil that it is.

As my time unfolds I want to be found recklessly throwing bucket loads of compassion, grace, joy, acceptance, kindness, harmony and love to everyone no matter how many wrongs I’m tempted to see in them or feel from them. I think maybe that might start to touch on the 70×7 standard that Jesus calls us to.

In the meantime I’ve got to go through some draws and make a bonfire of some scoops I’ve been using too much.

God I cannot even live by my own standards, how can I hope to please you? Let your blood Jesus be a daily cleansing tide, your acceptance Father be a daily hymn of thanks and your counsel Holy Spirit be a daily gatekeeper at the weakness still in me.
x

If this is a particular thing for you when it comes to leaders and being given your chance to shine I would also highly recommend the book A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards… it’s a very quick read but I found it so, so challenging and uplifting too.