Apples vs. Apples

There’s a lot of apples vs. oranges going on these days. If you want to be pro-apple, then knock yourself out (it’s still a free country, after all, and we don’t have to agree), but know that you need to be aware of the whole orchard, not just the variety you happen to like best. An apple is an apple is an apple.

If you post vitriol about abortion yet aren’t even more riled about about a preteen (or any age) rape victim being forced to continue a traumatic pregnancy, then I purport that “sanctity of life” is really just a catchphrase, because she (and many, many, many others in similar situations) will live with that trauma for the Rest. Of. Their. Days.

If you post vitriol about abortion but think it’s no big deal for a convicted rapist to get off with probation because jail time might hurt his athletic career or because he has the resume of an upstanding young [white] man, then perhaps it really isn’t the baby you’re worried about.

While we’re on the topic and I’m on a roll with alienating more people who are going to question my faith in private messages, let me pose another scenario:

If you post vitriol about abortion yet have ever used an IUD (an intra-uterine device, the T-shaped thingy that floats around your uterus to prevent pregnancy), then I hate to break it to you, but chances are, you’ve had an abortion, because even my abstinence-only Health Ed class taught that fertilization happens in the Fallopian tubes and then the Gift journeys to the uterus to plant itself. If life begins at conception, then your IUD got rid of it. (Same concept with a D&C, by the way – if you strip the uterus of its padding, then the Gift has nowhere to go but out.)

Please know that I’m NOT JUDGING ANYONE who has/had an IUD, or has even had an abortion, quite frankly. You have your reasons, and I’m not God – The End. I’m tired of the hateful rhetoric, as if the only women seeking abortions are floozies with no moral compass, or that the only way to abort a pregnancy is in some back-alley clinic in the bad part of town. I’m tired of Christians giving faith a bad name because they care more about issues than individuals and propriety than people.

In the interest of transparency, I need to be candid about both sides of the coin, because my current stance on this issue is absolutely not how I grew up. The older I get, the more I realize how much I need to ramp up my level of compassion for others on a whole slew of topics that I used to see from a much narrower perspective.

First confession: I had an IUD for a while, many years ago. I’m completely unaware if I terminated any pregnancies from wearing it, but I realize the odds are quite high. So, guess what? It’s highly likely that I am one of those women who had an abortion who you love to hate. “But, Ang — you didn’t mean to; that’s not the same thing.” Yes, it is. I meant to not get pregnant by wearing an IUD, and it worked. End of story. An apple is an apple.

Second confession: I strongly regret participating in a pro-life march when I was a young adult. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing by supporting babies (who doesn’t love babies?!?). Later, though, I started learning more about how cruel and lifelong-hurtful that protest probably was to the women we encountered. I wish I could go back, put down my sign, and offer each of them a hug and my deepest apology for having had such a myopic view of the world.

 

Silent No Longer

I have sincerely appreciated the outpouring of support for my book, awards received at work, and other professional accomplishments in recent years. It truly means a lot to me, because I endured quite a lot to get to where I am today.

What keeps nagging at me, though, is how people can be so proud of me for these things, how I’m respected as a knowledgeable authority on topics like ethics in fiscal administration, and I think (hope) I have a reputation as a pretty smart person with integrity and a heart for others, yet when it comes to spiritual matters, I’m not permitted (in most church circles) to speak with authority or lead co-ed groups of adults. Why the disconnect?

For the love of my sanity, don’t say, “Because the Bible says so.” We can play the Bible Drill game, if you really want to, but I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt, and I will smoke you. I don’t want verses recited to me; I want to know WHY. For years, I put this issue in a box neatly labeled: Agree to Disagree, but the longer I’m silent about it, the more I’m complicit, and I cannot keep quiet anymore.

After all, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I’m expected to provide spiritual guidance & instruction to my children. When does that authority expire? Does my 18-year-old son suddenly supersede my spiritual authority because he’s technically an adult? Do the decades of my faith-walk have an effectiveness expiration date?

The faith community has made plenty of tweaks to its interpretation of Scripture over the centuries. Case in point, how many people do you know who cheated on a spouse but are still alive (Lev. 20:10)? It used to be culturally acceptable to have multiple wives & concubines (here’s looking at you, Abraham, David, Solomon, and others). On that note, some people still interpret 1 Tim. 3:2 to mean that elders & deacons cannot be divorcees, as opposed to currently married to one person. For crying out loud, people used to use the Bible to justify slavery (& some still warp Scripture to justify present-day racism)! Also, if Matt. 5: 27-30 were taken at face value, there would not a man alive who’d still have eyeballs or hands.

So, if we can make concessions based on certain cultural understandings as a rational society, then why are we still in the dark ages when it comes to women in leadership roles in the church? Gen. 1:27 says that male & female were created in God’s image. The same Spirit resides in me in equal measure as my male counterparts (John 3:8; John 14:16; Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 3:16; Acts 5:32 and others). Our giftedness was not somehow distributed in lesser portion than that of men (1 Peter 4:10-11; Rom. 12:6-8), neither were our gifts meant to be squelched (Joel 2:28-29). Why, then, aren’t women allowed to exercise their gifts for the benefit of the whole church … which is kind of the whole point of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11)?

Riddle me this: If men are supposed to be the leader-supreme of the household/society/whatever, then why did Adam sit quietly by instead of taking a stand while the serpent conned Eve (Gen. 3:6)? After all, Adam was the one to whom God gave the command about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil – not Eve (Gen. 2:15-16). He was right there, yet he did nothing.

Rather than hide behind a verse here or there to try to justify keeping women in their subservient place, I urge you to take a contemplative look at WHY you really believe women shouldn’t preach, teach, and lead. Do you earnestly, truly believe that women aren’t capable, knowledgeable, or called? Or, is it something more deeply rooted, like tradition or fear of change?

Change is hard; I get it. Accepting a change of this magnitude might mean taking a stand and having a difficult conversation with a church leader. It might mean leaving your church or denomination. It might mean disappointing your family. It might mean being excluded from certain privileges and positions in the community. It might mean being called names.

Yet, let me ask you this: Since when was walking in faith supposed to be easy?

I’m not trying to be inflammatory. I’m not a power-monger, nor am I hankering to be a preacher. I’m writing this because I want other women & girls to know that they can do more than teach Sunday School or lead a ladies’ Bible study. Those are fine roles, if that’s what they want to do, but I also want them to know that they can lead in the mission field, write a commentary study guide, or shepherd a church. I know plenty of people will oppose what I’m saying; I’d be shocked if they didn’t, because systemic change often takes generations to come about. But, I’d ask those people to agree to disagree in silence – after all, that’s what I’ve felt like I had to do for years.

Our Legacies (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 13, 2016)

The time has come for me to move on to other areas of ministry. I hope this final devotional entry will encourage you to seek after God’s plans for your own life and strengthen your faith for the journey. Thank you for walking this path with me for 5+ years! It has been a joy! Please feel free to visit the archives to read past entries.

Early in my walk with the Lord, I felt drawn toward ministry, especially foreign missions. My pastor at the time once quipped that I would become the next Lottie Moon (a famous missionary to China in the late 1800s). I tucked away his comments in my heart as I mulled over God’s plan for my life. A few years later, that same pastor disgraced his family and left the church amid a scandalous affair. I struggled for a long while about his teachings and encouragement that had meant so much to me as a new believer in Christ, but suddenly felt tainted. I learned the hard way to put my trust in the Lord, rather than in people.

 

That isn’t to say that godly leaders have no impact on us – of course they do! Look at the story of Elijah and Elisha, beginning in 1 Kings 19. Elijah had accomplished amazing things for the Lord, but this part of the story picks up with him hiding in a cave to avoid capture. Elijah felt like all of God’s people had turned on him, and he was the only faithful one left. The Lord spoke to him, encouraging him that not only were there still thousands of loyal Israelites, but God had also identified Elisha as his successor to carry on the work that he had started.

 

Elijah may have thought his ministry was a goner (through no fault of his own), but as it turns out, his legacy was so incredible that he even had an encore performance in the New Testament (see Matthew 17)! There may be times – no, there will be times – when serving the Lord feels like a one-man band, and you question your purpose or calling. There will be times when other Christians let you down, disappoint you, even betray your trust. In those times, we need to remember that we are serving the Lord, first and foremost. When we walk with the Lord, great things happen – not for our own glory, but for his.

 

When we began these devotionals a little over five years ago, I could not have imagined how the Lord would use them. After all, I’m no Elijah; I’m just a gal with lots of ideas in her head and words on her heart. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts, struggles, and prayers as you came alongside and walked with me through grief, despair, joy, heartache, growth, and change. This season of ministry is coming to an end for me, but I hope that somehow I have spurred each of you on to find ways in which you can serve the Lord through your own gifts, talents, and passions. Don’t be afraid to strike your cloak on the water, as it were, and step out in faith (see 2 Kings 2 for Elijah & Elisha’s river story). Who knows, you might just become the next Lottie Moon … but even if you don’t, God still has mind-blowing things planned for you. Just trust him.

Prayer prompts for the week of March 7, 2016

(Monday) In John 6:61 (NLT), Jesus replied to critics, saying, “Does this offend you?” Don’t take it personally when your witness is rejected.

 

(Tuesday) 1 Corinthians 1:18 reminds us that although it is the avenue of salvation, the message of the cross is foolishness to unbelievers.

 

(Wednesday) When we rely solely on human wisdom, spiritual truths are impossible to comprehend. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14)

 

(Thursday) Isaiah 64:4 & 1 Corinthians 2:9 remind us that our human senses cannot fathom God’s plans for our lives. His love is unimaginably great!

 

(Friday) Those who despise wisdom & discipline are fools, says Proverbs 1:7. Instead, choose to pursue the knowledge of the Lord.

 

(Saturday) Which is better: wisdom or wealth? (Proverbs 8:10)

Bread of Life (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 6, 2016)

I had a friend in high school who was extraordinarily smart; she earned top grades and went on to receive a full scholarship at a great university. I tried sharing my faith with her once, and I still remember the argument that she used to shoot down my attempt at witnessing. She said that Christians are no better than cannibals, because through communion, we symbolically eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood.

 

I didn’t know how to respond to her rebuttal, and that conversation flop has been on my heart for all these years. I knew deep down that Jesus wasn’t condoning cannibalism, but I didn’t have the words to explain it to her. Well, I recently heard a fresh perspective about communion that helped me better understand how to interpret this important symbolism.

 

It’s important to note that my friend’s question was not unique; some of the people listening to Jesus’ teaching had the same confusion! John 6:47-58 tells the story about Jesus describing himself as the bread of life, and that those who eat of that bread will live forever. In verse 52, John records the arguments that arose among the Jews in attendance about eating a man’s flesh. What kind of weirdo rabbi was this Jesus person, talking about eating his body and drinking his blood?!?

 

Let’s start with this question: What is the purpose of eating food? Food is fuel for our bodies, and when we eat, our digestive system consumes the nutrients we need. Consider this: when we “consume” Jesus through faith – his teachings, his miracles, his prophetic fulfillment – we ingest that truth, and it becomes part of us. Our faith then fuels us, spiritually.

 

Jesus used the illustration of Old Testament sacrifice to explain the new covenant that he was establishing through his own sacrifice on the cross. Of course he wasn’t advocating cannibalism; he was using himself as a symbol of faith for us to recognize our need. We need the nutrition from food, just as we need spiritual nutrition. We need our sins to be cleansed, like the Old Testament story of the Passover lamb.

 

Bible scholars much more knowledgeable than me will surely have more to say on the matter, but what it boils down to for me is this: Eat the bread of life! Consume God’s word, and in turn, let the Holy Spirit nourish your spiritual life as you grow in faith.

Prayer prompts for the week of Feb. 28

(Sunday) The Refiner’s fire (Malachi 3) is not particularly fun. Change, especially spiritual growth, can be difficult. Stick it out. It’s worth it.

 

(Monday) Need motivation to stay the course? Imagine that moment when God looks directly at you and says, “Well done!” Your service isn’t overlooked.

 

(Tuesday) We are saved by grace alone (Eph. 2:8), but how we live our lives is a reflection of our faith. Let’s not be “wicked & lazy” (Mat. 25:26).

 

(Wednesday) Unlike the Old Testament with its burnt sacrifices, our new covenant through Jesus compels us to live holy, sacrificial lives (Rom. 12:1).

 

(Thursday) Throughout Exodus and elsewhere, the Lord demonstrated his power through fire. Spend a few moments expressing your awe through praise.

 

(Friday) Psalm 44:5, Jeremiah 10:6, Acts 4:10 – the very name of Jesus is powerful! Call on him in your time of need and trust him in faith.

 

(Saturday) Why is change so difficult? The enemy isn’t going to let you go without a fight. Allow God to help release you from sin’s stranglehold.