Preach the (Entire) Bible

A recent sermon from a famous pastor has gained attention for saying:

[First Century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures. Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.

and

Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures.

While I give grace upon grace upon grace to pastors – especially those that preach multiple times in one week – for momentary slip-ups and misspeaks (I once attributed 1 Peter to Paul, after all), I’m concerned with the fact that this type of language is increasingly becoming a trend in Evangelical circles. The desire to “unhitch” or explain away 77% of the Holy Scriptures because they contain difficult passages is an easy desire to fall into – especially in an era in which people are increasingly critical of Christian faith and tradition – but, point blank, it’s dangerous.

At best, failing to incorporate the Old Testament into our modern faith is intellectual dishonesty. At worst, it’s spiritual malpractice.

The Old Testament is a story of the people of God who are trying (and failing) to live as set-apart people. The Old Testament, at is core, tells us of a God who desires relationship and a people who are in desperate need of salvation. I often tell people that the Psalms tell me that it’s okay to be human – but perhaps this is true of the entire Old Testament. When I read the Old Testament, I see solidarity with my humanity and the consistent character of God is my missteps and mistakes.

But, this is easy enough to say of the easy parts of the Old Testament: Creation, the Garden, the Exodus, Jonah, David (and Bathsheeba, if you’re at a youth conference), the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Jeremiah (but just the prophecies of Christ). What to do with the difficult passages – the ones where God seems angry or vengeful, where children are struck down for calling a prophet “baldy,” the pages of rules in Leviticus, and the endless genealogies of Chronicles?

When it comes to these passages, I think that we often miss the point because we read them from our context, not theirs. And so, we read a vengeful God when the passage is meant to demonstrate Him as a God who desires His people to be set apart. We read boring chronologies when we’re meant to pick up on the imperfect people who are a part of God’s plan. We read stories of chaos and destruction when we’re meant to see faithfulness and deliverance. And we read boring, hard, outdated passages when we’re meant to see a beautiful story of our own solidarity with generations and God’s faithfulness to us all.

If you’re looking for practical ways to incorporate the Old Testament into your preaching, here are a few practices that I’ve found to be helpful:

  • Whenever I preach, I try to touch on the story of God’s people in the Old and New Testament as a way of showing spiritual solidarity across ages. If you watch some of my sermons, you’ll see that it is sometimes very explicit; I’ll say phrases such as “and this issue we face is not an old one. Since the beginning of time, God’s people have…” and then will note various stories from Genesis and beyond.
  • When I preach on Jesus’ words or New Testament letters, I’ll look for the story behind the story: what is the Jewish Torah understanding that has led to this idea? This is often most obvious with Jesus’ parables or the Sermon on the Mount (i.e., “You have heard it said… (Torah), but I say… (Jesus’ deeper take), but takes more work in other passages. The New Testament writers had a deep understanding of the Old Testament theology and practice as they wrote – we should, too.
  • I don’t shy away from hard conversations about the Old Testament. Throughout this past year, I’ve had numerous conversations about God’s hard words in Old Testament prophecy (have you ever read Amos with teenagers?) and the genre of the creation story in light of scientific advancement. We can’t not address the Old Testament and expect questions, unfamiliarity, and uncomfortability to fade away.

Whether you’re a pastor, a lay leader, or just someone seeking to grow in your understanding of scripture, here are some resources that have been incredibly useful for me:

  • How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. This is a great book for literary context, and its accessible language makes it an easy read for armchair theologians and ivory tower academics alike.
  • God Has a Name by John Mark Comer. There are about three books that I find myself consistently recommending to people – this is one of them. It’s a great exposition on God’s self-revelation in Exodus.
  • Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey. This book was recommended to me my first year of seminary by a fellow student, and it’s now a consistent commentary that I use when I read or preach on the Gospels. Bailey incorporates Jesus’ context – including Old Testament understanding and His Jewish heritage – in a way that’s readable and transformative.
  • What is the Bible? by Rob Bell. Before I catch flack for putting a Rob Bell book on this list, this book has come highly recommended to me by people who wouldn’t otherwise pick up a book about biblical context. It’s a great primer if you’ve already lost your love of the Old Testament. Rob wrote this book because he was confronted after preaching one day about missed Jewish context, and this provides a reminder of the basic context of the Old Testament writings.
  • Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (shorter companion: Cross Vision). If nothing else, this book is one way to reconcile the depictions of God in the Old and New Testaments. I attended Boyd’s Cross Vision conference this past fall, and since then I’ve been even more committed to a full teaching of the Old and New Testament.
  • A good commentary set. To be honest, I don’t have a singular recommendation here – if you visit my office, you’ll see a hodge podge of various commentaries (which is also because I just buy my commentaries cheap from Thrift Books and retiring professors #poorgradstudent). Find a commentary by someone you trust (John Oswalt, Gordon Fee, David Howard, and others are my go-to) and read it for the deep insight of experts into difficult passages.

Ultimately, if you’ve struggled with your personal faith, your pastoral care, or preaching because of the Old Testament, I hope that these resources and my thoughts can help you to rehitch yourself to the messy work of being people of God and the entire scripture. Have further thoughts or questions? Drop me a line via my contact form or via Twitter – my handle is @StenersonMN!

Five Things Friday

Welcome to the first installment of “Five Things Friday,” where I share the five things that I am currently loving this week. On this list: a scarf, non-traditional bubble tea, books on science and women in ministry, and a general shout-out to my community.

In no particular order:

  • Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf
    Okay, let’s be real… I am not a scarf person. About every six months, I’ll find an adorable scarf at a store, buy it, and promptly hang it in my closet where it will never see the light of day. Not too long ago, I was in the Lululemon outlet (specifying outlet, because I’m a poor grad student), and I stumbled across this Vinyasa scarf.

    I don’t do yoga (TBH, I don’t work out). I don’t usually buy Lulu (see previous sentences). And, like I said before, I don’t really do scarves. But I bought this. And I am obsessed. It’s versatile, cute, and comfortable. I keep it in my care and use it all the time. I’ve used it as a blanket when I travel, a vest (shawl?), and a huge, fashionable, lovely scarf. Get yourself one.

  • Caribou Bubble Tea
    As a high schooler, I spent all of my time at Sencha tea. Partially because I loved it, but also because bubble tea was becoming so dang popular (hello, 2010). So, when I saw that Caribou was coming out with bubble tea, I was a little skeptical… Square bubbles that taste like caramel and coconut? Be still my tapioca ball heart.

    Since I am a frequent (understatement) customer of the joint Brueggers-Caribou that’s walking distance from my office, I decided to try it before youth group one Wednesday night. Dang. It’s good. I’d recommend the Raspberry Green Tea with bubbles (squares?). Get your inner 2010, bubble-tea-drinking, punk-rock-listening, Hollister-wearing self to Caribou.

  • Adam and the Genome by Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight
    Our youth group has been in a series called “Press In,” where we’ve been pressing in to the major issues of our time – including holding power with Christ-centered integrity (thanks to the current leaders of our time for that prompting… Woof), addressing poverty in helpful ways, and loving people in our community who disagree with us well. This past week, we pressed in to science.

    Coming from a girl who barely passed eight grade science, Adam and the Genome was a great help in understanding genomic science and its relationship with Scripture (especially the creation story and the writings of Paul). It’s readable, it’s interesting, and it reminds me why we need to take science seriously as Christians. I’m grateful for Venema and McKnight’s voice and expertise, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work as I continue to wrestle with this issue. You can buy it here.

  • Emboldened by Tara Beth Leach
    Live look at me when I got this book at this past fall’s She Leads summit satellite at Bethel:

    giphy.gif
    And then I had to go back to the seminary grind and didn’t have a chance to read it until this month. A part of me is glad that I waited, because this was the right season for it, but another part of me wants to go back in time and force first-year seminary me to read it IMMEDIATELY (which would take some gymnastics, because it wasn’t released until this past fall). Reading it was like sitting down with a friend who loves and cares about me and my call.

    If you’re a guy who is trying to figure out who to empower the ladies in your life to chase down what God is calling them to, or a girl who needs some encouragement, truth, and reminders of your inherent image bearing (yes, even in your leadership), buy it here. Meanwhile, I’m going to order copies upon copies and give them to every woman in my life.

  • My People
    I’m a semi-strong F on the Myers Briggs, so I love emotions and feeling sappy… and I have a lot to be sappy about when it comes to my community right now. Ministry can feel so lonely and draining if you let it. From the people I work with, who make me excited to go to the office (for real, can we just all hang out all the time?), to my family, to the friends, mentors, and co-ministers who encourage me and push me to better things, I couldn’t ask for better people to be by my side through it all. #blessed.

What are you loving right now? Drop a comment or send me and tweet and give me your five things!

Listening with Care in a Noisy World

My mom has a hearing loss in her left ear.

As an extrovert, this meant that, growing up, I would walk on her right side so that I could continue talking… Or on her left side if I wanted to pull the “but I told you that my friends and I were getting together on Friday!” card.

It also meant that our family had to do a lot of correcting and explaining after family events, conversations, sermons, commercials, and TV shows.

At one point during the 90s, Old Navy had started running commercials to advertise their drawstring cargo pants. Check out the commercial to see the start of dog memes and the least catchy jingle imaginable:

After overhearing this commercial one day, my mom turned to our family, and exclaimed “How terrible!”

Now… There’s a reason that drawstring cargo pants never made it out of the 90s. They are a terrible fashion choice. 

But that’s not what she meant. “How terrible! How terrible that they would name it that!”

Old Navy Drawstring Cargo Pants?

No, that’s not what she had heard… She had heard “Old Lady Drawstring Cargo Pants.”

If we’re honest, we don’t need to be experiencing hearing loss in order to not listen well. In fact, recent research shows that, although listening makes up 60% of our conversation, we only retain 25% of what we hear. In Julian Treasure and Celeste Headlee‘s Ted Talks on listening and conversation, they offer three main hypothesis for this new era in verbal retention:

  • With the ability to rewind and replay our media (shout out to Netflix and Youtube), our brains are not used to having to listen with perfect accuracy.
  • Cell phones have reduced a majority of our conversation to text messages instead of phone calls and emails instead of face-to-face meetings.
  • The world is incredibly noisy.

In a world in which soundbites reign and it is harder to hear and be heard above the noise, the ability to listen with care is a blessing that the people of God have to offer the world.

In Acts 8, we’re privy to a conversation that happens between a man named Philip and an unnamed Ethiopian Eunuch. This conversation is unique for a few reasons. For one, these two men couldn’t have been more different – Philip is an early Jewish convert to Christianity who was tasked with caring for the widows, while the Ethiopian Eunuch is likely only nominally Jewish (evidenced by his lack of understanding of scripture) and tasked with caring for the royal family or nobles because of his inherent trustworthiness (you can Google what a Eunuch is later. With SafeSearch on.)

Scripture says:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:26-39 ESV)

Through this passage, we have a lot to learn about what it looks like to listen with care to those around us.

The first thing that we learn is that God goes before us to prepare the way for us to be a blessing. In this passage, we see that Philip’s very first steps are a result of the Holy Spirit’s leading. It says that the angel of the LORD directed him to a specific location, and the Holy Spirit placed him in a position to be available to the Eunuch (see vv. 26-30).

Is it possible that our “right time, right moment” moments are actually evidence of a divine itinerary?

If we’re sensitive to the working of the Spirit – leading with prayer and listening to areas in which God may be guiding us forward – we will walk in the aftermath of the path he has prepared for us and find ourselves in more and more moments when the situation in front of us calls for grace-filled, gospel-inspired conversations that bless those around us.

This passage also teaches us that when we listen with care, we listen for our invitation instead of planning our response. So much of our conversations involve us not really listening because our minds are hard at work planning our next response. In this passage, Philip doesn’t run up and immediately begin sharing the Gospel or controlling the conversation. Instead, he merely listens and asks a well-timed question based off of what the Eunuch is doing.

In our own conversations, this may involve us listening – truly listening – to the people around us, and listening for what the Holy Spirit may be inviting us to do and say next.

So, what does it look like for us to listen with care in a noisy world?

  1. Listening with care involves asking the right questions at the right moments.
    We feel most cared about when other people show a genuine interest in the things that interest us, so ask open-ended questions about work, family, life, and faith. Just as Philip begins his conversation with a question, we’re invited to ask the right questions at the right moments.

    In this sense, listening with care may involve asking your coworker who is stressed what keeps them grounded in times of high stress, or asking your friend who is dealing with a long-term illness where they continue to draw hope and joy despite their diagnosis. When we listen with care, we ask questions that clarify, lead to deeper conversation, and show that we care.

  2. Listening with care enables us to inject conversations with the hope of Jesus.
    There is a difference between injecting and interjecting – interjecting makes it awkward… Injecting simply allows our conversations to be reflections of our natural Christ-centeredness. Philip doesn’t simply answer the Eunuch’s question, but continues to explain the hope of Jesus throughout scripture.

    Conversations about loneliness enable us to talk about ht community we’ve found in the body of Christ. Conversations about pain enable us to share our own stories of healing – or the reason why we continue to hope and believe when healing hasn’t come. Conversations about hopelessness enable us to share of our own source of hope.

  3. Listening with care will often result in action items.
    When we look at the ending of the story of Philip and the Eunuch, we see that this conversation didn’t end at the end of the explanation. Instead, Philip and the Eunuch travel together for some time until the Eunuch asks to be baptized (see vv. 36-40).

    When we listen with care, our conversations with often result in action items – future conversations, invitations, or demonstrations of love that occur later. Did you know that the loneliest time after a loss is six weeks after the funeral? Listening with care involves being intentional about following up with the people we love and care about.

Listening with care was a crucial part of Jesus’ ministry. As the Body of Christ, we’re invited to walk in those same footsteps and offer the gift and blessing of listening with care to a noisy world. Imagine the stories you would hear and be a part of if you were known for being an unusually good listener – one who listens well and asks good questions, injects conversations with the hope of Jesus, and followed up with tangible help to those around you.

For more on this topic, watch “Listen with Care” on my Sermon page.

LINK: Bethel Seminary Recognizes Three Omark Preaching Competition Finalists

“They’re passionate preachers. They’re both students and teachers. And for the first time in its 51-year history, Bethel Seminary’s Omark Preaching Competition finalists are all women.

Announced on April 11, the three finalists were selected for preparing and delivering outstanding sermons that addressed the question “Why Jesus?” The competition is open to all Bethel Seminary students currently enrolled in a master’s-level program, but this year’s finalists—Stephanie Fedor, Caitlyn Stenerson, and Ali Tonnesen—are all pursuing a Master of Divinity.” READ MORE

The Monday Gospel

It’s Monday. If you’re anything like the 70% of Americans who hate or feel disengaged from their job (seriously, that’s a real statistic!) the word Monday alone might be enough to make you cringe. Or start checking the job posting section of LinkedIn for a job that might make your Mondays feel less… well, like Monday.

For some of us, Mondays may feel like such a far cry from the celebratory, Jesus-praising, “life is good!”-ness of Sunday morning worship. And we might be tempted to cry out in frustration “if Adam and Eve wouldn’t have eaten that apple, we wouldn’t have to work! We’d just get to relax in the garden all day.”

But wait a second… If our theology of work starts as a curse, aren’t we forgetting something?

Aren’t we forgetting that work started at the creation of the universe? That we serve a God who starts His word with a description of a six-day work week? A God whose first command included the words “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28). Those are action words! Those are work words.

So why does our view of work feel so often like a “have to” and not a “get to?” Like our work is wholly disconnected from our worship?

And for those of us who love Jesus, and want to view our daily lives as worship, where do we go from here?

The Good News of our work is in the here-and-not-yet-ness. The here: Jesus’ sacrifice paved the way for the shalom of God – the peace, the Kingdom of our Savior – to start here and now. The not-yet: like The Leaf by Niggle, we only see a small glimpse of the future Kingdom in all its glory.

But that small glimpse is such a hopeful taste! It’s the taste of the future Kingdom that Jesus had as He built tables for eighteen years. It’s the taste of a work that transforms, makes a differences, and ushers in greater goodness now.

How can we see more Good News in our work Monday through Friday?

We can view our work in light of the bigger picture of God’s redemption of the world.
If we only view our work as 40+ hours a week of looking at spreadsheets, writing memos, sitting through meetings, stocking shelves, or changing diapers, we miss the big picture of our work in light of God’s redemption of the world. We have to change our mindset to see how even the smallest of our tasks contributes to God’s mission. Communicators, you have the power everyday to bring clarity to areas of darkness. Politicians and staff, you are creating a more equal world, giving people opportunities to grow and flourish. Mathematicians, economists, accountants, you are bringing order to peoples lives. Retail workers, carpenters, manual laborers, you are creating opportunities for others to succeed by providing valuable services. Stay-at-home-parents, you are shaping who your children will become and how they will treat others in the future.

Our work isn’t small, it’s hugely connected to what God is doing in the world through us.

We can do our work with integrity.
Our work in the world bears witness to who Christ is. In a world of cynics who see talk and action so divided by the church, we are invited to be people of integrity, trust, and honor. When we treat our fellow workers with respect, refuse to cut corners to serve bottom lines, and keep our word, we bear witness to a God who has transformed us so that we can look differently than the world. We communicate a gospel message of our newness in Christ – and we invite others to do likewise.

We can actively promote equality and civility in our workplace and through our workplace.
At the 2017 Global Leadership Summit, Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church presented the rules of civility that he expects all employees to follow: 
We will greet and acknowledge each other.
We will say please and thank you.
We will treat each other equally and with respect.
We will be direct, sensitive and honest.
We will address incivility.
(source)
Having an internal code of civility allows us to focus on our work and to do it well. After all, how many workplace relationships have been destroyed by gossip or demonization? Yet, there is more at stake than internal relationship. When we do our work well and with civility, and when we pay fair wages, our working hours are freed up so that we can be people who make a difference in the world. We feel more actively supported, and we in turn actively support the world through our work.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only hope for the future, but hope for the day-to-day. The promise is that the work is completed, and the kingdom is ushered in, and that the work will be completed, and the kingdom will be ushered in – and we’re invited to participate.

 

Jacob, Waiting, and Advent Calendars

I was a terribly impatient kid.

One Christmas, when I was about four years old, I bucked the tradition of Advent Calendars.

You see, I had decided that something seemed wrong with having to wait twenty-four hours to eat one piece of chocolate a day. Especially when the little windows open so easily, revealing the tiny pieces of sweet, delicious chocolate that were so accessible to my toddler hands.

So one night, only a few days into the brand new Advent Calendar, my parents found me huddled behind a couch, sticky fingers, chocolate-induced knot in my stomach, and – you guessed it – empty Calendar. While it may have only been December 3rd or 4th, you would have thought it would have been Christmas Day if my Advent Calendar was your only timepiece.

As an adult, I’m not much more patient.

There is a temptation in our culture to settle for something that is “good enough” for now – there’s half-love, starter homes, in-between jobs. There are names that we give the people and things that fill the space between right now and God’s best. And some of these things aren’t bad – after all, a job and shelter is a necessary thing – but we tend to be barraged by the constant cycle of waiting, then getting something good enough, and then waiting for something better, and then waiting, waiting, waiting for what God has for us. Our soul is tossed back and forth in an emotional cycle of hoping and praying that our waiting will end soon. Or believing it has and then realizing that what we possess isn’t God’s best. We can start to ask the question: “Where are you, God? Haven’t I waited enough? When will you deliver on Your promises?”

In my moments of extreme impatience, I’m reminded of the patience of Jacob.

In Genesis 29, Jacob is fleeing a dangerous situation of his own making when he stumbles upon Rachel. His heart is overwhelmed to tears – this is his girl, he has to have her. So Jacob makes a deal with Laban, Rachel’s father – if Jacob will work seven years for Laban, Laban will give Jacob Rachel’s hand in marriage.

*needle scratch* Seven years?! Now, if I were Jacob, I probably would have tried to make a better deal. But regardless, seven years is the number they agree to, and Jacob joyfully gets to work, imagining his future life with Rachel.

Jacob had his eyes so set on what was God’s best for him that Genesis 29:20 tells us that the seven years he worked to have her “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”

But those seven years are about to get a whole lot longer. When the seven years are up, Jacob crosses the last date off on his calendar and rushes off to find Laban. He reminds Laban they had a deal – “Give me my wife. My time is completed, I have waited long enough.”

But instead of sending Jacob Rachel, Laban sends Jacob Leah. The Bible tells us that Leah wasn’t the best looking. Compared to Rachel, Jacob was pretty disappointed. And understandably furious. Jacob cries out to Laban the following morning, when he realizes Laban’s trickery – “What are you doing?! I thought you had sent me the one. This wasn’t the one at all. This wasn’t the one I waited for and worked for. Why aren’t you holding up your end of the deal? I held up my end.”

Laban does his best mob-boss impression and says, “Alright, alright. I get that you’re upset, so I’ll make you a deal – you work seven more years and I give you Rachel.”

At this point, I would have probably decided that in-laws like this aren’t worth fourteen years of free labor and all the trickery that landed Leah in Jacob’s marital bed. But regardless, Jacob has his heart set on Rachel. He has his heart set on God’s best.

And so Jacob works seven more years. He works until he has God’s best. And eventually, Laban gives Jacob Rachel.

Wow. Fourteen years, Jacob waited for his spouse. He waded through detours, anger, lonely days of work, just to have God’s best. And when he could have easily settled for half-love and God’s half-best, Jacob eschewed that in favor of more years of waiting.

Jacob waited until he had what he knew God would be faithful to give. And in retrospect, those years of waiting seemed like a day in light of the joy of having Rachel – the joy of having God’s best.

How am I handling my season of waiting? Am I content in knowing that one day, I will look back at this season and marvel at its shortness when the days sometimes feel so long?

When detours come – when my waiting is interrupted with things that seem good-enough but aren’t God’s best – do I trust God enough to wait a little longer?

Is my heart so set on God’s best that I’m willing to wait longer to have what He would give me?

Will I eschew compromise or choosing “close enough” in order to have “just right?”

Will I recognize that my waiting is preparing in me patience and reliance on God’s plan instead of immediate gratification or self-sufficiency?

May we, in the midst of our waiting – for a new job, a new relationship, a new house, or a new beginning – be reminded that we serve a God that holds in His hand the desires of our heart. New blessings may not come when we want them to, they may take a little longer to get here – and we may be tempted in the in-between to settle – but may remember that, one day, this season of waiting will seem so short in light of the gift of what we were waiting for.

Psalm 62:5 ESV: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

Reclaiming Biblical Womanhood

College was the first time I heard the phrase “biblical womanhood.” Being advertised in the hallways on my way to classes were Bible studies for men and women on what it meant to be a biblical man or a biblical woman. At the time, I was just beginning to say yes to the journey of seminary and the pursuit of pastoral ministry, so learning how to be a better, more biblical woman sounded like a great deal to me. Soon, I realized that there was a real tension on the campus surrounding the terms “biblical womanhood” and “biblical manhood” – a tension I had yet to experience but would soon recognize.

As the terms popularized and became mainstream Christian language, the resurgence of biblical womanhood has been tied to complementation roles within and outside the church. You can speak, but not too loudly. Lead, but not in certain arenas. Teach, but not teach everybody. Provide, but mostly provide hospitality. When you’re not exactly the quietest person in the room – and you know that you were made more for leadership than for hospitality – biblical womanhood can be the pointy end of a spear that reminds you that there are still places in the church (denominations and congregations) where your gifts aren’t welcomed or recognized.

It’s time to reclaim biblical womanhood.

Biblical womanhood is just as much Mary at the feet of Jesus as it is Martha preparing the home. It’s just as much Deborah leading the nation as it is Mary, mother of Jesus, raising her children. It’s just as much Esther resurging the faith as it is the woman at the well providing for her family in the midst of her own brokenness. It’s Priscilla the evangelist and Phoebe the deacon. It’s every woman in the Bible who has chosen to say “yes” to God’s plan, wherever it should lead.

Biblical womanhood is embracing the “fearfully and wonderfully made”-ness of you. The voice, the boldness, the gifts, and the leadership qualities that God has instilled in you “for such a time as this.” It’s recognizing your unique giftedness and your weaknesses. Biblical womanhood is not one-size-fits-all for submission, hospitality, and quietness – not when so many women in the Bible from beginning to end broke this mold.

The next time that the phrase “biblical womanhood” makes you feel out of place, remember that the Bible has women in all walks of life, in all seasons, at all ages, with all gifts. You, friend – chasing God in the midst of your sometimes messy, always bold life – are a biblical woman.

Reflections on a First Year in Seminary

A little over a year ago, I had received a call about a scholarship at Bethel Seminary. At the time, I wasn’t so sure if seminary was meant for me at this stage – I was happy with where I was, and although I knew God had called me to ministry and to seminary, I thought that was an eventual path, not an immediate one. In fact, when I asked friends and family members to pray as I prepared my application and walked into interviews, I was very explicit with them that they should pray that God would do whatever God was going to do in this season (as if He wouldn’t anyways?!). God made it clear: this was the season to begin seminary. And now, with my first of four years in the books, God opened my eyes and reignited my heart for His ministry and, overall, Him. I’m grateful for the past year and the lessons it brought me:

The Preparation is What Will Make You a Great Pastor
Take this from a recovering academic perfectionist – it’s easy to get caught up in the results of assignments and find only frustration in the preparation. But the preparation of study guides, sermons, exegesis papers… All of that is what will make you a great pastor or ministry leader, not necessarily the outcome. So approach every assignment with the joy of knowing that your ability to learn how to strategically read and apply the Bible will better prepare you to preach, teach, and counsel others into deeper relationships with the Father.

Community Matters
Community matters because vulnerability is the best way for us to grow. Vulnerability is hard, because it makes us feel… well… vulnerable. This past year, I learned that vulnerability – true vulnerability with the people who care about who we are in our inmost being – makes us more full, not more empty. I’m thankful for people who allowed me to share where my heart was at and, in response, shared what God was placing on their heart for me. Allowing them to speak into my life made me a more healthy person.

Experiential Learning is Worth the Investment
Seminary brought a lot of “newness” into my life. One of these new things was a new church home, and along with it, an internship under some really fabulous pastors. Long-term internships aren’t necessarily a requirement at most seminaries, but they should be. Hear me out: A safe space to practice, question, and learn outside of the classroom is worth the time away from homework. My intern program has been a weekly relief from the rhythm of learning scripture to complete an assignment, and an introduction to the weekly rhythm of learning and loving community for the sake of learning and loving community. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and the relationships I’ve built.

Seminary Will Make You See God Anew – And That’s Not a Bad Thing
Seminary has helped me to better see God’s work in the history of the church, His promise-keeping in the Old Testament, His love for world missions, His heart for discipling community… The list goes on and on. The things that matter to God should matter to us, and seminary reminds us of that. Beyond that, there have admittedly been weeks where my mind is too tired to take in one more lecture. In that, God has been the Sustainer and the Father: guiding, loving, and securing me in His promises.

I’m thankful for a first year of seminary that has begun to develop me into a whole and holy leader. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

An Open Letter to Women Called to Ministry

Sweet friend,

I know you. You’re the woman who feels most alive when you get to tell people about Jesus. The one who is the first to lend a hand, or a shoulder, or an encouraging word. The one who sits fascinated in Sunday sermons or Bible studies, or fascinated by books and sermon recordings and podcasts.

The one who knows that God has called you to preach and teach other people about Him, and about the sacrifices He has made for them, and about His love for them.

I know you, because I am you.

In seventh grade, I heard a woman preach for the very first time. And those words stirred something in my soul. That example lit the fire for God’s call in my life, and it was in that moment – that tired, teen moment – that I first felt God’s call to ministry. I knew that I needed to do that.

I always tell people it’s not a career choice – it’s a calling – because I truly believe that’s what it is. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else other than telling people about Jesus every day of every week. And maybe you feel the same way. Because that’s what God’s called you to, too.

If you do, you’re in the right place. You’re among friends.

Friend, I know that this call will not be an easy one. But I want you to know that you are not alone.

There are strong women throughout the Bible, who God called to do amazing things. Who God called to be leaders, regardless of their gender.

In the Old Testament, there’s Deborah, a judge over all of Israel. Did you know that Deborah instructed Israelites on military battles, and came to her to settle disputes? Think about that for a second… Deborah had the power to direct the entire military and settle disputes – the strategic mind to complete the task among many, and the wisdom to implement peace among few.

Then there’s Priscilla in the New Testament. Priscilla explained to Apollos the way of God – she and her husband, Aquila, are referred to by Paul as his fellow workers in Christ Jesus (Romans 16:3).Did you know that Priscilla is listed before her husband five out of the seven references to them throughout Acts and other New Testament books? Scholars believe that this signifies the strength of Priscilla’s ministry gifting – after all, it certainly wasn’t typical in Roman culture to place the female before the male.

And this is not at all an exhaustive list. Jael, Ruth, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of Jesus – the Bible is full of women that God called to HUGE tasks that transformed the Kingdom of God and the entire course of human history. God has always called women who loved Him to be mighty messengers for Him and warriors for the Kingdom.

But this is about more than telling you about Biblical precedence. I want you to know that I recognize the call of God in your life – and that counts for more than a thousand verses supporting women in ministry.

I know that you will face opposition in your life and your ministry – people who will try to convince you that your gender makes you unfit for pastoral leadership.

But friend, it is not your job to sit down and go through a biblical exegesis of women in ministry with them (even though I know that somedays you will really, really want to). As a wise woman in ministry once told me, it is only your job to be faithful where God has called you.

The assurance of your call is enough. God’s guidance and grace is enough. His voice, His leading of your path, His hand in your ministry journey – that’s enough.

When you face more challenges than successes as you walk this wonderful pathway of being a woman called to ministry, I want you to have the self-assurance that God has called you to this. Know that He will bring you safely through your ministry. That He will continue to use you for His good.

And, dear friend, know that you are not alone.

With great praise for who God has called you to be,

Me