Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review and a giveaway: Is the Bible Good for Women?

Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture by Wendy Alsup, Multnomah, 2017, 212 pages.

When we think of the Bible and women, what verses come to mind? Titus 2, Proverbs 31, or the book of Ruth? How about the Apostle Paul's teachings on marriage in Ephesians and Colossians? While we may gravitate towards these passages, there are much harder ones to deal with. What do we make of the laws concerning uncleanness? How should we respond to the injustice towards women in the rapes of Dinah and Tamar and the atrocity in the closing chapters of Judges? These accounts are disturbing and difficult to understand, and yet they are in the Bible. This may lead some to ask, "Is the Bible Good for Women?" While most of us know the answer, a simplistic "Yes" is not enough. This is why I recommend Wendy Alsup's new book, Is the Bible Good for Women?.

Before delving into specific passages, Wendy lays some basic groundwork. First we need to know if the Bible is good in general before we can trust that it is good for women. But in order to know if it is good, we need to know what it is trying to tell us. Too often we may think of it as "separate file folders of stories" with nice moral lessons. But from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is one story of God's plan of redemption that was culminated in the coming of Jesus. This can be seen in the theme of the "scarlet thread" in the Old Testament. (pp. 17-30)

Then what does the Bible say about women? For that we are taken back to Genesis 1 and 2 where God created man and woman in His image. The word ezer or help is used for woman, but this is not in a derogatory or menial sense. God uses this word to describe Himself as a strong help to His people. Thus He is our example and the One we reflect in our lives and labor for the Kingdom. Yet we can't escape what happened in Genesis 3. We were alienated from God because of sin. The harmony that existed between man and woman was ruptured as well, and we feel the effects today. There are different interpretations of the meaning of Genesis 3:16, but I think we can agree that redemption in Christ is the key to restoring our relationship with God and between one another
We have something that bridges the gap between the godly longings of our hearts in Eden and our fallen reality. It is the gospel, the good news of this access we have to God through Christ... the bridge that makes a way for us to return to Eden, live in light of God's commission to man and woman, and once again be "imitators of God." (pg. 71)

Once this foundation is laid, Wendy tackles the law, some of the touchier instructions from Paul and Peter, and stories in the Old Testament that we may want to avoid. But what if we looked at them from a different vantage point where they are seen in the light of the gospel and the fact that Jesus has fulfilled the law on our behalf?
Can God's perfect love really cast out my fears when I examine Scriptural teachings (see 1 John 4:18)? Security in Him and confidence in His perfect love for me has empowered me to reengage instructions, laws, and commandments in Scripture that my fundamentalist upbringing misused against me. Clothed in Christ's righteousness, I don't feel threatened by reading Scripture's instructions at face value anymore. (pg. 131)

The book ends with the question, Is God good for women? There many places in the world where women are still marginalized. Some may even accuse Christianity of adding to the oppression. But it is in the pages of Scripture where we find that we are made in God's image. We learn that Jesus died to redeem us so we can become who we were created to be. So is the Bible good for women?
Our Father in Heaven values women. He revealed His goodness, care, and noble plans for women through His revelation of Himself to us in the Bible. The Bible is good for women, and it is good for men. It sets us out on an important, eternal journey and calls us to walk together in community. Like Him. (pg. 199)

I give a hearty recommendation to Is the Bible Good for Women? I believe it answers that question from the Bible in light of the gospel. As far as specific takeaways, there are several things that stand out. Throughout the book, Wendy emphasizes that Scripture is the best interpreter of itself as applied by the Holy Spirit. This is a hermeneutical principle that is vital for every student of the Word. I also appreciate her sensitivity in approaching some very difficult passages. We may not realize it, but there are women in the church who have suffered from trauma and abuse. Rather than taking a "just believe the Bible and get over it" attitude, this book can be an excellent tool in showing that the Scriptures reveal the One who takes away shame, restores, and renews. Lastly, Is the Bible Good for Women? was a pleasure to read. Wendy's writing is very clear and the logical progression of the book was easy to follow.

Wendy has graciously offered to give away a copy of her book! Please use the form below to enter your contact information. The giveaway ends on Sunday April 30.

(The giveaway has ended.)

I received a copy of this book from Multnomah. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Our Greatest Spiritual Influences

Our topic for today is the person who has been the greatest spiritual influence in our lives. If you want to give a shout out to the person who has helped you spiritually, please leave a comment.

Kim:

The person who has most influenced me spiritually is my husband. It makes sense; he is the Christian I've known the longest, and from the moment I met him, I could see that there was something different about him. Perhaps it is not the most original thing to say he has been my greatest influence, but I can't think of anyone who has been an influence at as many points in my life as he has.

My husband and I can be honest with each other about our spiritual lives. There have been times in the past where his comments, though hard to hear, have been exactly what I needed. Many years ago, as I struggled to adjust living in a new place, I lamented that it could not possibly be God's will that I struggle so much. My husband said quite simply, "Maybe it is." Later, when we were going through the hard years of parenting teens, it was my husband who reminded me not to let my pride interfere with my expectations. And when things with our teens became difficult, he was never bitter toward them or showed any sign that he did not love them despite our disapproval of their choices.

During the time when I struggled with heavy anxiety, I was often unable to even leave the house, and I found being alone a great struggle. During that time, my husband demonstrated compassion despite not always understanding what was going on in my head and heart. He patiently served me and cared for me. Some days, he would work at home so I would not have to be alone. When he couldn't be home, and he was concerned about me, he would solicit the help of our kids to be with me. And he did it without judgment. There were no exhortations of "Pray the anxiety away." He is a true servant; uncomplaining and never seeking accolades. He reminds me regularly that service to God is not self-seeking, that real love is not self-seeking. He would he has arrived spiritually himself. I am thankful for the example he's live in front of me.

Persis:

The person who has had the greatest spiritual influence on my life is my pastor, Ryan Davidson. We had joined the church shortly before he was called as pastor. These have been years of change and growth for me as a believer and mainly the result of a steady diet of sound preaching. Nothing fancy but the ordinary means of grace for which I am very thankful.

Specifically, there are two highlights that stand out to me. Several years ago, Pastor Ryan taught hermeneutics at a seminary in Uganda. When he returned, he taught the same course to the women in the church. We didn’t have homework or tests, but the content was basically the same. It was a great learning experience, and I still try to apply those tools today. But it also speaks volumes that our pastor wanted to make sure that the women in the church would be equipped to be good students of the Word. The second highlight was the sermon series on the Doctrine of God. This was truly one series that I didn't want to end and one I don’t think I will ever forget. I felt as though the curtain was pulled back, and I got a little glimpse of the majesty and character of the Triune God like I never had seen before. This led to great post-sermon discussions at home. These teachings were very practical as well because everything springs from knowing God. Providentially, Pastor Ryan preached these sermons prior to the Trinity Debate of 2016, so this topic was already fresh on my  mind.

There were also several difficult years during which my family went through a major crisis. Pastor Ryan and his wife, Christie, were such a help with their presence as well as wise counsel. My daughter and I would not have made it to the other side without them and the church body. I thank God for my pastor, and I am grateful for the influence he has had on my life.

Rebecca:

Until I left home, my father was my pastor. Most of the sermons I heard as a child were his. He had a talent for making deep things simple to understand, so even as a little girl I listened to the sermons and learned from them.

But I didn’t just learn from his sermons. My dad loved nothing more than answering questions about God and the things of God that his daughters asked. Many nights we lingered over the supper table while he answered our questions, often going deeper—and longer—than we’d intended when we asked. He was especially skilled at explaining how the truths he was teaching us fit together. Over time, truth by truth, he gave us a thoroughly Christian worldview. I credit my dad for my love of theology. He loved it, and his passion was contagious.

It was only as I left home and went to Bible college that I realized how unusual my upbringing was. Most of the young Christian adults I met there—particularly the young women—didn’t have anything close to the biblical and theological background I did. I was surprised at the basic truths they didn’t know, and this left them vulnerable to sub-christian influences and ideas. I was thankful then for the grounding my father’s teaching gave me.

But most of all, my dad was an example of a servant leader. He loved the people in his congregations, the students he taught, his wife, his daughters, their husbands, and his grandchildren. He was always willing to serve—and no job was beneath him. One of the most moving moments of my life was arriving at my husband’s hospital room to find my elderly father emptying his bed pan. Throughout his life, my father modeled Christ-like love and humility for me.

Deb:

Although I didn't grow up in a Christian home,  my dad was my greatest life influence overall. Someone recently asked a large group of Christian women what we liked about growing up as a girl in our respective generations. I had to answer that if it had not been for my relationship with my dad (who is still the best man I know, by the way), I'm not sure I would have had anything good to say about growing up as a girl. You see, my mom wanted Jane Bennett, but she got something closer to Lizzie when she adopted me.

In my relationship with my dad, it was okay that I liked to dig in the sand, run in the woods, and shoot bows and arrows with the boys in my neighborhood. Yet, when I came home, he still treated me like his little girl. He encouraged my intellectual curiosity and my natural interest in questioning assumptions. If it had not been for my dad, I would have grown up believing I was a failure as a girl. I never fit the stereotypical picture, played with dolls, or enjoyed the things my mom and most of the rest of society expected. My dad made it okay for me to enjoy playing baseball and learning about cars without wanting to be a boy like my brothers. Looking back, I'm immensely grateful for having my dad in my life. A few years ago, I bought a house down the street from him, so I can still see him as often as possible.

On the topic of spiritual influence and the Christian side of my walk, there have been so many women and men who have impacted my life over the years that it's difficult to chose just one. On this score, I need to give a big shout out to one of the most wise, Godly, and gracious women I know. Her teaching and distant friendship truly gave me the seedlings of passion for the Church, for being a Christian woman, and for being involved in women's ministry in my denomination. When Tara Barthel, author of Peacemaking Women and The Peacemaking Church, spoke at our women's presbytery conference about 12 years ago, I was at a crossroads in my spiritual walk. That day was a crucial turning point for me in terms of commitment to the church and my love for being a Biblical, Christian woman. I'm grateful to know Tara from a distance over these many years and will always be grateful for her ministry.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Women in Scripture: Ruth and Naomi (Titus 2 in Reverse)

Ruth 1:16 But Ruth said (to Naomi), “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."
Like most women, I've always had a particular affinity toward the portrait of redemption handed down in the story of Ruth. The sweeping tale of Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, restoring the line of Elimelech by taking Naomi's daughter-in-law, Ruth, as his beloved wife upstages Disney by a mile. That such a noble man as Boaz would be willing to risk his own inheritance so that the inheritance of a deceased family member would be left intact defies conventional wisdom and truly boggles the rational mind. This is a man who understands love and covenant. Learning that the son of this Gentile widow and her kinsman-redeemer would not only become the grandfather of King David, but eventually would even be named in the bloodline genealogy of the Messiah, ought to inspire us all, especially those of us who were not born into the covenant and raised in the church.

An equally inspiring relational dynamic in this redemption story tends to be overlooked.  Ruth's relationship with her mother-in-law, Naomi, models something of a role reversal between the younger and older women. Both women suffered devastating losses, as told in first chapter of the narrative. During a time of great famine in the land of Moab, both Ruth and Naomi lost their husbands. Naomi suffered greatly in a land far from her original, because she not only lost her husband, but also both of her sons as well. Several times in the first chapter of Ruth, Naomi stated that she believed the Lord's hand had gone out against her. She even told Ruth and the other women to no longer call her Naomi, changing her name to "Mara" instead, which meant bitter. Naomi had grown bitter in Moab and believed the Lord had dealt bitterly with her by bringing great calamity upon her family.

After Naomi's pleas for Ruth to stay with her own family and with her Moabite god, Ruth, the younger woman, responded in a surprising way. Ruth, in faith, chose to bind herself to her mother-in-law Naomi, to Naomi's people, and to Naomi's God - the only One, true God. Ruth's dedication and commitment was no small sacrifice. Ruth chose to forsake her family, her ethnic culture, her past, and her previous belief system to follow Naomi into a completely different community and way of life.

Meanwhile, Naomi seemed have forgotten her true identity as child of the God. She lost her Biblical and covenantal perspective. Naomi's example is far from the Titus 2 ideal of the older woman of the covenant community. Yet, because of Ruth's covenant commitment to Naomi and her people, God not only restores Naomi to the covenant community, but He also provides a kinsman redeemer who blessed them both -- and eventually redeemed the rest of us, too

This was no ordinary friendship. The younger woman, Ruth, demonstrated real covenant commitment through active faith, love, and encouragement to the older woman, Naomi, to Naomi's people, and most especially to the Lord. Because of Ruth, the Lord redeemed the devastation that Naomi and Ruth experienced in Moab, while Elimelech and Naomi were separated from their covenant community. Because of Ruth, we see the Lord's providential provision to transform Naomi's life from an untimely tale of loss and discouragement to a phenomenal epic of life-giving rescue.  In this regard, the text and the older women in Naomi's life speak for themselves

Ruth 4:14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
We could use a new generation of younger women like Ruth who make the active decision to commit to their local covenant community and to the older women in their midst, like Naomi. During seasons of trial and suffering, whether dealing with the loss of a loved one, ill health, or just lagging faith, most older women could really use the energy and enthusiasm that younger women often bring to their interactions. As a middle woman, I feel the tug to be both a more committed younger woman, as well as a more gracious older woman. 

May I be willing to open up my life and share it with those who are newer in the faith -- and to sit, listen, and learn from the older and wiser women around me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Time to Weep

Have you considered why Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:1-44)? Before he left for Bethany with his disciples, Jesus told them he was going there to awaken Lazarus, who, he said, "had fallen asleep." We know, then, that he planned to raise Lazarus. Jesus knew Lazarus's death would be temporary—at least this time around. As Jesus wept, he knew that in minutes, Lazarus, his sisters, and all those who loved them would see the glory of God, and they would all be rejoicing like never before. But still, when Jesus saw Mary, Lazarus's sister weeping, and others weeping with her, he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” and he wept, too.

Do you think he wept because he knew that however brief their sorrow this time round, and however joyful their coming reunion, Lazarus would die again? Was he deeply moved because he knew their sorrow would return, inescapably, over and over for the rest of their lives. Was he greatly troubled because he saw the terrible results of sin in the world, and knew that overcoming them would require his own death on the cross?

When I was young, every church I knew had a service on Good Friday afternoon. My present church  doesn't have a service on Good Friday, but we do have one on Thursday night—a Maundy Thursday service. We sing a few hymns, share the Lord's supper, and hear the story of Jesus's betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion read aloud from scripture. The readings—and the service—end with Jesus on the cross, "[breathing] his last." Only a hard-hearted person could listen to this solemn story and not be moved by it.

Not all churches have a special service before Easter to remember the death of Jesus. Some go straight from Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry (if they celebrate Palm Sunday, that is) to Easter Sunday and the resurrection. Whether your church has a service centered on the cross or not, I hope you'll pause sometime during this week between the commemoration of Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the celebration of his glorious resurrection to contemplate his humble death.

Before Jesus raised Lazarus, he wept over sin and suffering and death. Mourning came first, and then those words with power over death: "Lazarus come out!" Shouldn't we, then, weep for Jesus's suffering and death before we rejoice that he has risen? Shouldn't we pause to ponder the dreadful results of our sin and be deeply moved in our spirits? On Sunday morning, the beauty of the resurrection of Jesus will shine brighter if it's set against the darkness of his obedience "to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). Let the mourning come first, and then those words of true glory: "He is not here, for he has risen. The Lord has risen indeed!"

Beneath Thy Cross 
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep? 
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved; 
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I. 
Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

—Christina Georgina Rossetti

Monday, April 10, 2017

Our Favorite Authors

We decided it might be fun to do another round of group posts. Our topic for today is favorite authors - one dead, one living, and the reasons why. If you want to share your favorites too, please leave a comment.

Kim:

I find it really hard to choose favourite writers, because there are so many good ones. For an author to be a favourite for me, I must have read quite of few books, and I must feel like I've enjoyed most of them, if not all.

In thinking of a living author, my first thought was D.A. Carson. In addition to his theological acumen, I really appreciate his versatility. He writes more technical volumes such as his commentary on  John, but he also writes more accessible works, like Basics for Believers. His versatility means he can make complex principles understandable, such as in The God Who is There. Carson also writes eloquently, and that can be a stretch for some theologians. Woven in with the propositions are vivid passages which are anything but dry. His practical applications are warm and pastoral, and he is devoted to promoting the greatness of God. And at the end of the day, when he's done with theology, he writes beautiful memoirs like the book about his father, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor.

My favourite author among the dead is Lucy Maud Montgomery. I began reading the Anne books as a child, but it was not until I was grown with children of my own that I began to really appreciate the complex and fascinating woman she was. She had a deep love of nature, and her writing is full of rich pictures of the land she loved. Some people dislike her lengthy descriptive passages, but I love them. Even in her personal journals, she provides detailed pictures of the walks she loved to take. She was also funny and entertaining. She had a keen understanding of human nature, and was able to flesh out human foibles and ironies in a humorous way. Sadly, her life was nothing like her books, and for that, I love her even more. Despite her sad, lonely life, she was able to write engaging, beautiful stories. As well as the Anne stories, I love the Emily of New Moon books, and another of my favourites is The Blue Castle.


Persis:

At first I thought it wouldn't be too hard picking my favorite authors, but then I started looking at my bookshelves. I've also changed over the years. There were certain authors who helped me at a particular point in my life and those who write about my current concerns. I finally decided on the two people whose books have had a lasting influence on who I am as a Christian.

Without a doubt, my favorite dead author is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I had heard of Spurgeon when I was in college from a fellow InterVarsity member. When I asked who he was, my friend told me he was a famous Baptist preacher in the late 1800's known as "The Prince of Preachers." Well, I had never heard of him, and I wasn't that impressed. More fool me. Decades later, when I was going through a crisis and not attending a church at the time, God providentially brought his writings across my path. They were food and water to a spiritually starving woman. I began to read both of Spurgeon's devotionals every day. Faith's Checkbook is still my all time favorite. I also began to read his sermons, and I now have 3-ring binders bulging with print-outs. I even credit Spurgeon with leading me to my church. Since he was a Reformed Baptist, I typed those two words into Google, and the rest is history. His writings are available online at The Spurgeon Archive and Spurgeon Gems.

My choice for living author is Nancy Pearcey, the author of Total Truth. It's hard to convey the impact this book has had on my life. I was coming from a Christian background that was largely mystical. I was never taught to think carefully about my faith. But the life of the mind and heartfelt faith are not mutually exclusive, and Total Truth set that false dichotomy to rest. I was challenged to become a worldview detective and examine what I believe, why, and its history. Consequently, my reading material has changed as a result, and I've grown to appreciate subjects that I formerly thought were total bores, namely history and philosophy. Pearcey's book The Soul of Science is also excellent and counters the idea that science is at odds with religion.


Deb:

My top two authors came to mind quickly, but then I wanted to second guess my favorite dead author as potentially too obvious. Over a couple of thousand years of Christian thought and several centuries since the Reformation, certainly I had to have overlooked someone. Yet after much reflection, I've decided to stay true to my first inclination.

My favorite author who is no longer physically alive is John Calvin. Only after what has been many years now of studying the scriptures and the Church have I landed on this spiritual giant and father of the faith. His work, The Institutes of Christian Religion, is perhaps my favorite read outside of the Bible. I return to it regularly, on average as much as once per week. His emphasis on the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self has provided my epistemological foundation and formation. Calvin's ecclesiology, doctrine of atonement, covenant theology, doctrine of sin, and teaching on the Christian Life surpasses many others. Finally, I always consult Calvin's expository commentaries first when studying a Bible passage in depth.

Beyond doubt, my favorite living author is Sinclair Ferguson. I first encountered Dr. Ferguson's teaching about 12 years ago, when I stumbled up his treatise on The Holy Spirit from the Contours of Christian Theology series. Since that first read, I've been increasingly moved by the doctrinal depth and relevant application in titles from On the Christian Life to The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance, and most recently Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. With each new volume, Dr. Ferguson's work continues to supersede the last, an indication that he will remain my top author for some time.


Rebecca:

I'm fickle. My favorite author tends to be whomever I’m reading and enjoying right now.

Like Kim, I really like D. A. Carson. If he writes a book, I buy it as soon as its published. But since he’s already taken, I’ll go with J. I. Packer for my favorite living author. I don’t agree with him on everything, but he has a way of writing about theological things that makes me want to either laugh or sing — and that’s a good thing. It might simply be his British English, but he has a way of turning phrases that makes the concepts interesting rather than boring.

Here's an example of his ability to make me laugh, even in a somewhat technical theological discussion. In the introduction to In My Place Condemned He Stood (which is a collection of Packer’s essays on the atonement with one by Mark Dever thrown in for good measure), he takes on contemporary theologians who allege that if, on the cross, Christ substituted for sinners and bore the wrath of God in their place, it would be divine child abuse. He writes, “smartypants notions like ‘divine child abuse’ as a comment on the cross are supremely silly and as irreverent and wrong as they could possibly be.” So if you want your theological reading peppered with phrases like “smartypants notions” and “supremely silly,” Packer is your guy.

If you haven’t yet read Packer’s Knowing God, what are you waiting for?

Favorite dead author? Right now, I’m reading some Flannery O’Connor short stories (again) and marveling at her ability to capture speech and bring characters—in all their depravity—to life. If you’re thinking of checking her writing out, be forewarned: O’Connor's writings portray people from her place and time—the Southern U.S. in the 1940s and 1950s—and some of the depravity she captures is blatent racism. She uses the n-word, or at least her characters do. And many of her stories are intentionally disturbing.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Women in Scripture: Esther


When we examine the life of a biblical character like Esther, we run into the inevitable stumbling block of time. Quite simply, her life was vastly different from the one we live here in the western world in the 21st century. It can be tempting to evaluate her as if she lived right now, and impose moral judgments to her that are not necessary. It can also be tempting to speculate unnecessarily. When we read about Esther, we need to focus on what we know from the biblical text. What do we know about Esther?

We know that Esther was a Jew (2:7) and that she lived in the Persian capital of Susa, with her cousin, Mordecai. She was being raised by him, having been orphaned. They were part of the people who were taken captive to Babylon. The books of Nehemiah and Ezra recount the beginning of the return of some exiles to Jerusalem, and the book of Esther falls somewhere in between those two. We know, however, that Esther and Mordecai remained in Susa.

We are told that Esther was beautiful in face and form (2:7). When Ahasuerus decided to replace his previously banished wife, Vashti, Esther was among the beautiful women taken from Susa to be considered for this position. The author uses the passive term “taken” to indicate that this was not something the women sought themselves. We don't know what Esther thought about this, and it's important to remember that. We may feel indignation to her situation, but we must be careful not to subject our feelings on to Esther. Her feelings aren't part of the story; what is important is that Esther found herself in the palace of the king.

The author tells us that Esther pleased Hegai, the King's eunuch (2:8). Again, we don't know why, but she impressed Hegai in some way. We also know that she her her Jewish identity, something she did in obedience to Mordecai. The reason for secrecy is not important, but the secrecy itself is, because Haman will later make an edict against the Jews, unaware of who Esther is.

We also know that Esther took Hegai's advice when she went into the king. Each young woman was allowed to take something in to the king when it was her turn to be with him. I often hear this described as a beauty contest, but it was not so innocent. To be blunt, it was a sex contest. The women were to go into the king to be intimate with him, not demonstrate their beauty. We may wonder how Esther faced such a demeaning act. We may feel outrage at the situation. That's not the point, though. The point is that Esther became the queen, and as we discover later, God had a reason for this.

We know that once Mordecai comes to Esther with the news that Haman has hatched a plan to exterminate the Jews, she is initially hesitant to help. She is fully aware of what kind of man the king is. She knows the world she lives in. When Mordecai appeals by reminding her that she could very well be in the palace for a reason, Esther takes charge and chooses to stand up for her people with her famous words, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16).

Two crucial certainties stand out for our purpose of learning from the life of Esther. First, Esther was “taken” into Susa. She was in exile, in a foreign land, with foreign gods, under pagan rule. As a Jew, this was not where she was meant to live. Esther was faced daily with questions of compromise. How did she cope with the grievous reality that she had to marry a Gentile? Did she give into the temptation to let the culture influence her? Was there any “right” choice in her situation? Did she allow herself to blend into the culture in order to keep her identity hidden?

Second, when the moment of truth came, Esther identified with her people. Despite her fear, when the moment came, she chose to act. It was a risky venture, but one that was under God's providence. Every detail, every seeming co-incidence was orchestrated by God to preserve His people.

Is Esther's situation not ours today? Do we not live in the kingdom of the world, but also as part of the Kingdom of God? As the people of God, determined to live godly lives, do we not face situations like Esther where there seems to be no easy choice? Are we tempted to compromise? Do you find secrecy necessary?

In 4:16, Esther faced a defining moment. We all face defining moments like this regularly. How will we act in that moment? Karen Jobes, in her commentary of Esther, reminds us that we all face such moments when we first confront the gospel, but that this choice is a daily one:
... the new birth is only the beginning of decisions. It is followed by a continuous sequence of defining moments throughout life as we daily face decisions that demand we choose either to identify ourselves with Christ by obedience or to live as pagans in that moment. 
I do wonder how Esther felt to endure what she did. I wonder what it was like to be treated as a possession. I wonder how she withstood the daily tedium of harem life. We are simply not told. But I do know what she did, and she was bold at the crucial moment. May we be as bold in the daily moments of truth that we face.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Women in Scripture: Mary the mother of Jesus, Part 2


Mary the Mother of Jesus  
    
   Today as we continue to consider the biblical account of Mary, I would like to begin with Genesis 3:15. In this passage God is speaking to the serpent that has been the instrument of temptation for Adam and Eve.   It’s a comfort to consider that although the first act of sin for the human race happened at the hands of the first woman, even so the cure for sin would be brought into the world through the obedience of a humble woman.   God said to Satan in the garden “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you on the head (a fatal wound) and you will bruise him on the heel (non-fatal wound).    God used the seed of Mary,  the young virgin, to bring forth his promised Son, the Messiah, the sinless sin bearer.  If Jesus was not born of a virgin he would have been born with Adam’s imputed sin. Because no male was involved with his conception-no sin nature was passed to Jesus. This is mystery and it’s beyond our ability to fully comprehend—these facts have to be believed by faith alone. It is no wonder that through the ages the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus has been so attacked—without  the virgin birth we would have no sinless Savior. 
   I want to move to Mary’s marvelous song of praise where so much of her godly character is revealed to us (Luke 1:46-55).  As you study this you will find that her understanding of God’s goodness-mercy-power-justice and sovereignty are beyond her years or her station in life.   She knows the history of her people and the greatness of her God-the one true God. Her regard for the treasure of humility shines through everything she says.  Mary understood the value that humility and thankfulness have to the heart of God. In fact, God is so high on the virtue of a humble heart (Isaiah 66:2) that we should seek that in our lives as though we are seeking pure fresh water in the desert. Mary did. 
   When Jesus was eight days old his parents took him to the temple to be circumcised (Luke 2:25-38). Mary and Joseph met two very special old saints in the temple, Simeon and Anna. Simeon is described as righteous and devout.   The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, the “Consolation of Israel.”  When Simeon saw the baby Jesus in the temple that day he took him into his arms and blessed God  for the gift he held. Simeon prophesied over Jesus and then he addressed Mary with these words  “Behold this child is appointed for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-and a sword will pierce even your own soul-to the end that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed” Luke 2:34-35.  I want to focus on the phrase “and a sword will pierce even your own soul.” This is, of course, a reference to the pain and heartache that is in the future for Mary.   As a mother she is destined to suffer in that role in a manner that most of us could never imagine. Since the bible tells us on two occasions that Mary treasured and pondered everything about her role in the life of her unique firstborn son in her heart, I always wonder what she thought of these words from Simeon. Mary had no idea at all that Jesus would be crucified on a Roman cross. God is good to spare us the knowledge of things we will have to endure until they are upon us because his grace is sufficient during the pain of our suffering-not before. 

  If you read all the accounts of Jesus interacting with his mother (from the time he was 12 and stayed in Jerusalem until his parents missed him in the caravan and came to retrieve him with words of reproach) you will find that the Lord Jesus is distancing himself from the human mother-son relationship. Every time he interacts with her-this is so. It’s always fascinating for me to read these accounts. From the wedding at Cana to the foot of the cross-Jesus gently strives to make her realize her temporary- in time role.

   I want us to finally consider Mary at the cross as her firstborn, sinless son, is put to death in the most horrific manner one could think. I will focus on the account in John 19:25-27. In this passage we see Mary and her sister and Mary Magdalene along with John the beloved disciple watching Jesus die on the cross.   Nothing in scripture indicates that Mary could have prepared herself for such a cruel event. I wonder myself how she could have done this-but then how could she not have been there. The sword she was told would pierce her is now upon her. Words are so inadequate to describe this awful sight that no mother should have to endure.  Mary didn’t know at this point that the Son of God was being sacrificed on that cross for the sins of his people. She had no idea that there would be a resurrection. In the midst of this agony Jesus did a marvelous and wonderful thing. Even as he was suffering this death on that cross-he thought of his mother and what would happen to her. He said to her “Woman behold your son” and to John the disciple he said “behold your mother.” When he said behold your son-he meant John which is very clear from the context.  As he was dying on the cross he gave Mary into the care of his beloved disciple.   Remember that at that time Jesus own half brothers did not believe in him. It was at this point that the mother-son relationship between Mary and Jesus ended. It was over. The One who was born her son had now become her savior.   Her earthly relationship to him was temporary and ended when he died.

    The last time that we see Mary mentioned in the Bible is in Acts 1:14. In this passage she is included with   those in the upper room prayer meeting. She is not singled out anywhere in the NT as having any kind of leading role in the Church-in fact she is not mentioned again.  I love the story of her life and the lessons that we as Christian women can learn from her humble example. 
This post originally appeared on October 9, 2013