'Let It Be To Me': The Upside Down Kingdom of God

'Let It Be To Me': The Upside Down Kingdom of God

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, I spoke in chapel at Ouachita Baptist University for its Christian Focus Week. The theme of the week was “Here am I.” I look at Luke 1:26-38 at what it means to say “Here am I” to God and what it looks like in the kingdom of God. If you really want to do great things for God, then what will that mean?

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Why I Wrote a Book for Women Discerning a Call to Ministry (Part II)

Why I Wrote a Book for Women Discerning a Call to Ministry (Part II)

During this seven-year period of largely waiting and silence, there was one area in which I continued to hear God speak to me. I didn't hear anything from God when I prayed about a ministry position. When I prayed for more opportunities to speak, teach, and write about his Word, I continued to hear, "Wait," and "Not yet." But when I prayed with open hands and open heart, "Lord, show me what you want me to do. Why have you called me?," God continued to speak to my heart a call to help women (especially young women) called to gospel ministry. During this time, the one area that grew in intensity was a God-given desire to help and serve women whom God had called to ministry. I was beginning to see that perhaps a large part of my calling was to help train and raise up women for gospel ministry. At the same time, I continued to wrestle with the question, How can I help other women when I am not serving full-time in a church ministry position?

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A Response to Jen Hatmaker

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." -- Mark Twain I hesitate to criticize the words of someone who is very popular and has a huge following in evangelical circles. First, I don't want to criticize; it's not fun. Second, critiquing someone's work takes away time from my own work. Third, when critiquing you run the risk of offending many people who are faithful followers of that person as well as hurting the feelings of the person you are critiquing.

But with that said, there was so much wrong with the following post that I will venture a few words. I will offer a response to Jen Hatmaker's blog post yesterday, World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through, and I hope that it will be heard in love and truth.

I don't know Hatmaker personally nor can I claim to be a faithful follower of her ministry. I do, however, appreciate Hatmaker and her ministry. I enjoy her sense of humor and her passion for Christ and His Church. In this post in particular, I commend her for her heart and desire for unity and peace. I agree that as Christians we must learn to rope in our tongues and speak in love to one another.

However, in Hatmaker's pursuit for unity and peace she walks the thin line of compromising truth. Hopefully this was not her intent, but I believe what she wrote yesterday basically undermined the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture. And if not careful, her words can lead people down a dangerous path of interpreting Scripture how he or she chooses with no regards to hermeneutics or orthodoxy.

Here's what she said and the issues I have with it:

First, she basically says that if there is a plurality of interpretations we are hopeless. We might as well throw our hands up in the air and allow for an "anything goes" attitude. Hatmaker says, "Godly, respectable leaders have exegeted the Bible and there is absolutely not unanimity on its interpretation. There never has been." To expect to have complete unanimity on any issue of Scripture is an unrealistic goal. It is usually the case that on secondary issues no one tries to reach for complete unanimity. This is the first of several bad arguments on her part, which I think she is saying that homosexuality is an issue of one's own interpretation. In other words, Scripture is not clear on the subject; therefore, we should allow all interpretations or at least accept them. Because we disagree on what Scripture says therefore means that Scripture isn't clear or doesn't speak absolutely on a subject.

Second, Hatmaker in her rant fails to distinguish between primary (Trinity, deity of Jesus, salvation) and secondary (baptism, spiritual gifts, role of women) issues of faith. She flattens them out. Here's an example: "There has never been "one way" to interpret scripture. There has never been "one way" to be a biblical church. Even the early church leaders had severe and lasting disagreements about the nature of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, Salvation, Faith, Works, etc." Hold up. First of all, it is not true that the Church has been divided on the issue of homosexuality throughout history. Actually, this is only a recent, Western issue. Secondly, the issues she mentions that the early church dealt with were primary issues not secondary issues. One of the ones who disagreed with the early church was Arius; he argued that Jesus was not fully God. A second person was Marcion. He argued that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the One of the New Testament, and he wanted to cut out half of the New Testament. The early church called these men gnostics and heretics! The church responded with creeds that outlined the basic orthodox beliefs one must hold to in order to be Christian. So should we accept the interpretations of Arius and Marcion simply because they had a different opinion? Should we include them in the tent of legitimate Christianity? Absolutely not. But if you follow Hatmaker's argument to its logical conclusion, then people like Arius and Marcion would have to be taken as part of the orthodox church. To the extent that Marcion denied the deity of Christ, we find the correlation today with Jehovah's Witnesses. So would Hatmaker consider Jehovah's Witnesses as part of orthodox Christianity?

Third, Hatmaker, in her attempt to make the homosexual debate a non-issue, puts Scripture and Christian theology on the stand. To someone who is a weak believer or non believer they might have walked away from their computer or smart phone with a schizophrenic view of Scripture. How can Scripture be trusted when there's "no one way" to interpret it, and when Christians have always been divided on its interpretation from the beginning? She says, "Historically, Christian theology has always been contextually bound and often inconsistent with itself; an inconvenient truth we prefer to selectively explain." Later, "Rather, it is simply a reasonable assessment of the trajectory of the kingdom as God has interacted with each new generation of the church." And, "Reason and humility occupies too small a place in the analysis of the historical church and the progressive interpretation of Scripture." I fault her for making provocative, pithy statements with half-truths and then not explaining them.

Incidentally, respected author William Webb in his book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, takes a progressive trajectory hermeneutic. Webb says that the trajectory of Scripture never gets you to the place of acceptance of practicing homosexuality. So here's a work done in the spirit of what Hatmaker is saying about progression but concludes differently than her with the issue of homosexuality.

For Hatmaker to throw out words like "trajectory," "progressive," "inconsistent," in a blog post like the one she wrote yesterday without really explaining the argument is very unhelpful and unwise in my opinion. Instead of walking away feeling like I should be more accepting or respectful or loving of others, I walked away from the post asking myself, What is Scripture? Can it be trusted? What does all this mean in regards to other issues? Where does the progression stop?

Here are some wrap-up thoughts:

1. A big pet peeve of mine is when I read blog posts from well-intentioned, very popular people (especially women) who get in over their heads when it comes to what they know. As the saying goes, "A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing." Unfortunately, many of these authors have no theological education, no background in biblical studies, and yet they want to engage in theological/biblical issues without the knowledge to do so. By God's grace, I have been able to attain a masters degree in seminary. But if it's taught me anything, it's taught me how little I know. In fact I hesitate to write on issues unless I do so after thorough research because I don't want to mislead people. I say this because the arguments used in Hatmaker's post, especially in regards to the early church and issues of biblical hermeneutics, tell me that Hatmaker is speaking on issues that she really does not know much about. It doesn't impress me that she says Scripture "was written across several cultures, 40+ writers, 1500 years, 8 genres, and an entire worldview shift once Jesus hit the scene." That is very basic. The fact that she flattens primary and secondary issues and doesn't differentiate between the two OR that she doesn't argue from a particular hermeneutic but rather from a logic that says because we all disagree it means there's no absolute truth on the subject tells me she is lacking the knowledge needed to talk about the issue in the way that she does. I'm not trying to be hurtful or prideful in this point. God can, does and will use her despite of (probably) no theological training. However, I would urge her to either stick with what she knows or go to seminary and spend time learning more about church history, biblical theology, etc.

2. If you, after reading Jen's post, are left confused about Scripture -- can it be trusted, is there absolute truth, is the Bible inconsistent -- then please e-mail me. I will be glad to help in any way possible. Or, I will point you to resources that will help you.

3 Things Girls Called to Vocational Ministry Want to Hear From Their Churches & Pastors

651_513465574533_1666_n When I felt the call to full-time ministry at the age of 15, I remember asking myself the question, "What now?" I had felt that tug on my heart years before; I had a sincere passion for God's Word and discipleship. I couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do but to serve Him. But I hesitated from surrendering to the call for several years prior to the age of 15. Why? Because I thought the only two full-time ministry options for a female were being a pastor's wife or a missionary.

When I finally did surrender it wasn't because I had heard there were more options for me than these two vocations, but because I couldn't deny the call any longer; to continue to do so was disobedience to God on my part. So I committed to ministry believing that God had a plan for my life but not knowing what it was. All I knew was I did NOT feel called to be a pastor's wife or missionary.

If it weren't for my parents' guidance, I don't know if I would have followed through in obeying this calling. Published materials about vocational calling for women were nonexistent (and still are to a big degree!) to help me, nor were there any female full-time ministers to mentor me. The church, though not unsupportive, did not play a major role in getting me prepared for vocational ministry. In fact the same 6 year old girl who had literally cried "I wish I had been born a boy so I can be a preacher," was still crying out, this time on the inside, "Why hadn't I been born a boy so I had many options of full-time ministry?"

Since then I have had countless conversations with other young women who share similar stories with mine. My husband and I just returned from a trip to my alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University, where I spoke to a group of girls who feel called to the ministry. Listening to them describe the process of discerning their calling and how to follow that call brought to mind someone walking in a pitch black room with her arm out trying to find the light switch.

Even if a church holds to complementarian beliefs (that is, women must be subject to men and not teach or hold authority over man), I still believe it needs women who are theologically trained to serve on staff. And larger than the local church, the Christian community, the global Church and the World (i.e. secular/unbelieving) need women who are theologically trained, who know how to interpret and explain the Bible in a faithful, orthodox way.

It is my opinion that churches have an important role to play in encouraging and supporting its girls who feel called to vocational ministry. The goal is that by the time they are in college or beyond they don't feel alone, confused or abandoned.

So to all you pastors, church staffs, and church members, here are 3 things I suggest you tell your girls who feel called to full-time ministry.

1. "We affirm God's work in you." Every person longs for affirmation. So it is no different that both male and females who feel called to vocational ministry long to be affirmed by their church body. So often churches don't or won't recognize young girls who feel called to the ministry in front of the church. Or, churches will recognize a young girl's call on a Sunday morning during the invitation but then she will never hear anything else from her youth pastor, pastor or any other church leader. As the body of Christ we are called to recognize and acknowledge what God has already done and is doing in these individuals as well as affirm the work of the Holy Spirit. I think some churches are afraid that if they affirm a young woman's ministerial call they are affirming an egalitarian view of women in ministry or they are giving her permission to become a pastor. Here's some news: Most young girls have no desire of becoming a pastor of a church. Especially if your church is complementarian, then most likely she will think the same way you do. So putting those fears aside, what a girl who feels called wants to hear from her church is: We affirm the work that God is doing in your life; we affirm the calling He has placed on you; and we SUPPORT you as you follow this calling on your life. Pastors, youth ministers, deacons, and lay leaders, consider writing personal notes, e-mails, making visits or phone calls to communicate your affirmation. REJOICE over this young girl who is willing to commit her entire life to ministry and to sacrifice worldly things and desires in order to do His will. Perhaps throw a celebration once a year for all the young people (both male and female) who have surrendered to full-time ministry. Acknowledge these girls in front of others, as much as your young males, and continue to check-in on them every so often. Make sure they have people purposely walking with them down this new journey, mentoring and encouraging them along the way! Sometimes we think that following God's call won't start until college, so we let them be during middle and high school. This is an incorrect assumption. These are formative years that will provide a foundation so that when they go to college and are perhaps tempted to abandon God's call and substitute it with something that will make them more money or that is more appealing to mom and dad they will hopefully not waver. Be intentional in AFFIRMING your young girls who feel called to ministry; it will make a world of difference.

2. "We want to give you more opportunities to serve and to use your spiritual gifts." One of the best things a church can do for its young people who feel called to ministry is to give them more opportunities to serve in the church. Since these people will be church leaders one day, the best thing you can do for them (and the best way you can affirm them!) is to plug them into more leadership-type roles. This includes your females! Find out what are their passions and spiritual gifts and use them accordingly. Do you have a girl who is gifted musically and has a heart for music-worship? Allow her to be part of the worship leadership team that makes decisions on what songs will be sung or the order of service. Give her more opportunities to be part of the worship team on Sunday mornings. Have a girl who feels gifted in teaching? Ask her to teach a Sunday School class of those younger than her. Or, encourage older women's Sunday School classes to allow her to substitute teach when its teacher is absent. (I remember having this opportunity when I was young teaching a senior adults lady class. They were very encouraging to me.) Assuming she's in the youth group, involve her on the youth leadership team that makes decisions about discipleship, events, etc. Do you have a girl who has a heart for missions and feels called to be a full-time missionary? Encourage her to be involved with local as well as foreign missions. Suggest that she help plan and lead a mission trip, especially by the time she is a senior in high school. Encourage her to find a summer internship working under the supervision of missionaries. You get my point? Even if your church cannot pay for internships, give these young people, and especially your young girls, non-paid ministerial internships as a way of preparing them for future work. And by the way, here's one thing NOT to tell your girls: Do NOT assume what the girls in your church are called to do. We have a tendency to immediately want to place our females in children's or women's ministry. We assume that is where God would have them. We are NOT the Holy Spirit nor do we want to misdirect them based solely on their gender. I remember when my call was made public to the church, people came and asked me if I wanted to do children's or women's ministry. I said, "Neither. All I know is I have a desire and gift to teach and speak." Then they would respond, "So you want to be the next Beth Moore!" Instead of helping me, their limited understanding of what vocational ministry opportunities there are for women left me feeling frustrated and unsure. My desire was not to become "the new Beth Moore" as if she were my idol, but rather to give my life to a gospel-centered ministry even if I didn't know how that would look.

3. "We want and support you to receive theological education." When fellow male peers make known their call to ministry, people immediately talk to them about seminary. Churches and associations give scholarships to their young male members to receive theological education; it is expected of them. But, when it comes to females, the expectation is not the same. Why is that? (Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post about this very question!) In my mind, it doesn't matter if women are leading children's ministries, youth ministries or women's ministries, writing Bible studies or Sunday School material, speaking, blogging, serving as missionaries, or teaching Bible classes at a private Christian school, she NEEDS theological education. The spiritual maturity of our church members, our bodies of Christ, will depend much in part by the kind of teaching they are receiving as children, women, families, young people, etc. What they hear taught and read about Scripture will give them the framework from which they do their own exegesis. You want strong children's ministries and children who have a firm grasp on the gospel? Train up your women. You want women who are strong pillars in your church and who are not spreading false gospel? Send your future women's ministers to the best seminaries. Want solid, theologically sound Bible studies for women, youth and children? Then encourage your girls to take Greek and Hebrew and biblical theology at a sound seminary. Just because you might believe that women cannot be pastors of a church does not mean that they cannot receive a theological education. Your churches will be better and stronger if both your boys and girls are trained theologically. And your girls want to hear from you, pastors and church leaders, that you support them and encourage them, just like your boys, to get a theological education.

So affirm and train up your young girls for full-time ministry. Recognize that God is at work in females too and that they have a place in this vocational ministerial world. Join in what God is doing. I do not believe a girl is better or worse than a boy because of her gender. I believe that because God's image is both male and female, females are important to God in displaying His image. I also believe that the Bible shows that God has used women in salvation history to bring about His purposes. He has raised up women to be leaders among His people from the Old Testament to the New. Why, then, not continue to affirm that God uses women today for His Kingdom work?

Girls and women who have had surrendered to a vocational call: What else would you add? Would you disagree with anything I've said? Do you agree that young girls in churches who feel a call to full-time ministry want to hear these 3 things from their churches and church leaders? I'd love to hear what you think!

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Challenge in the waiting

Whether or not you know the name John Newton, you probably have heard or sung his song, "Amazing Grace." Ahhh...can you hear the tune playing softly in your head? "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me..." Newton left a legacy, and his works are still witnessing to the work of Christ and ministering to people 200 years after his death!

But what is remarkable to me is that this same man who left such a legacy also had a lot of disappointments, failures and rejection in his pursuit of ministry. The first time Newton ever preached a sermon was at the invitation of John Edwards, and as Newton later described it, it was a disaster!

"My ideas forsook me; darkness and confusion filled up their place. I stood on a precipice and could not advance a step forward. I stared at the people and they at me. Not a word more could I speak but was forced to come down and leave the people, some smiling, some weeping. My pride and self-sufficiency were sorely mortified."

Also, the first time he sought ordination in the Church of England he was refused because he was too evangelical and too connected to the Methodists. I can only imagine how frustrated, sad and disappointed Newton might have felt. And, just maybe, at the time did not see how his call to ministry would flesh out.

Newton is just one example of many people who had setbacks, rejections and frustrations in their pursuit of God's call on their life. One of my college mentors who has a PhD and teaches at my alma mater was a stay-at-home mom until her youngest of three boys was a teenager -- then she went back to school. Another mentor in seminary worked at a department store for many years before his ministry of preaching and teaching really took off.

Some days, like today, I feel so lost in a world that seems overcrowded with laundry, cleaning, cooking, bills, being a mom and being a wife. I long for a ministry of teaching and speaking so that I can use my calling and my gifts to encourage Christ's church -- His Body, but I encounter rejection by publishers and by churches. I want to be out doing missions but because of certain circumstances I don't have the opportunity to serve like I would like to serve internationally and nationally at present. Do you have similar struggles?

If so, I am glad to know we are not alone as I know we definitely are not. But what does God's Word say to us to help us with these struggles?

1. He is Faithful; Be Faithful

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 138:8, "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands." And 1 Thess. 5:24, "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." I don't need to worry about God's call on my life because He is faithful to see it through. Instead of measuring my worth and my call quantitatively or by someone else's standard, my call must be measured in faithfulness. In a parable Jesus said to his disciples he said, "One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much" (Lk. 16:10). Instead of focusing on the have-nots, I believe Scripture teaches us to focus on being faithful in the present. Do well at being faithful to God and to Scripture in all areas of life and then you will see Him giving you the desires of your heart and fulfilling His purpose for you.

2. Be grateful and thankful

Isn't it our human nature to just want to be negative? I know it is for me! Instead of negativity, the Psalmist says, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving," and "Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving." 1 Thess. 5:16-18 says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." It is so tempting to want to compare our lives with those around us (and social media makes it all that much easier!). I've personally experienced when I constantly compare my life to others I diminish my value and worth and become ungrateful and jealous. Instead, replace the act of comparing with the act of thanksgiving and see how your outlook on life changes! It puts focus from self to God.

3. Don't count time.

I have noticed a certain mentality among my generation and younger that you must have it all by age 30: be married, have children, own a four-bedroom home and two new cars, and be independently wealthy. (Well I can say I did 1 1/2 of those things by the time I reached 30 but they are on the front end of the list! Ha!) Given that I am doing life in this culture means that often times I feel rushed to have the ministry I feel called to now or it won't happen at all. And, if I don't, I am a failure to God, unable to do what He has called me to do. Well that's absolutely ridiculous, but it's a lie that Satan likes to use constantly with me. But the truth is is that Time Is In God's Hands. This truth goes back to the truth that God is faithful. It is good to wait upon the Lord, David writes in the Psalms. Isaiah 40:31 says, "but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." Whether it is waiting for the return of the Lord, for vindication, for healing, for provisions, for an answer or even for a calling to come to fruition, it is good to wait. God holds time in His hands; therefore, do not worry about the time you have. He has it under control.

Newton had to wait many years before he was finally ordained and given a pastorate. While he waited he wrote this letter to one of his spiritual mentors.

"I agree with you that my call has not been clear because I think no one's call is complete till the Lord has confirmed their desire by his providence and placed them in the work. But I believe I have in some degree that inward call -- that desire and preference to the service and a little measure of that experience and those whole gifts that would justify my embracing a proper invitation or opening whenever it should happen. Till then I shall wait."

And like Newton, I shall wait. I shall try to wait with grace, a grateful heart, faithfulness in the small, mundane things of life, and with trust in God that He is faithful to see through those plans He has for me. And you? What about you?

(My information about John Newton and quotes came from a book written by Jonathan Aitken called John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.)