My unexpected sabbatical: A look back at Cambridge

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There is a clock in the center of Cambridge, England. Actually there are as many clocks in Cambridge as there are churches in Birmingham, Alabama (where I am from). But the clock I am referring to is a special and unusual clock.

The Corpus Clock draws the attention of visitors and residents alike. For one, there are no hands on this clock. In fact, at first glance, one might not know that it is a clock at all! What draws people to it is its unusual appearance. Amongst a sea of brown and grey bricks and stones sits an encased 3-dimensional circle, almost 5 feet across in diameter, plated in 24-carat gold, and worth at least 1 million pounds if not more.

What is even more unusual about this clock is that the time is accurate only once every five minutes. Sometimes the clock slows down and at other times it races forward. Not to mention that what sits on top of the clock is a strange creature that looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a locust. This creature, also known as the Chronophage or “Time Eater,” opens its mouth as if he is eating time and occasionally blinks to show his satisfaction.

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Although the clock isn’t always accurate it truthfully represents our perception of time. For often time feels as if it has slowed down: when school or a work day feels like it will never end; when waiting for an appointment; or when waiting for test results. At other times in life time feels as if it is moving too fast, especially as a parent when you watch your children grow. Yet, no matter whether time has “slowed down” or “sped up,” it nonetheless passes and what is in the past will never be present again. This is why the Time Eater makes such an impression. For it illustrates this reality in a haunting way: time is eaten until it is eventually all gone, evidenced by the Latin inscription that marks the top of the clock: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius (“the world passes away and the lust thereof”) from 1 John 2:17.

One year ago my family packed up what we could fit in six suitcases and moved to Cambridge, England, for six months for my husband’s sabbatical. I’m crying now as I write this. Those were some of the best months of my life!

My husband teaches New Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and was up for his first sabbatical since being at Beeson Divinity. He was under contract for a new book, The Acts of the Apostles: Essays in Interpretation, History and Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming), which meant he wanted to spend his sabbatical at a good, theological library. Cambridge is home to the world’s largest (and best!) evangelical library, Tyndale House, not to mention that by being at Tyndale House he also had access to the Cambridge University libraries.

When our family of three moved to Cambridge, we did so for my husband’s sabbatical. Sabbatical comes from the Latin sabbaticus, which means to cease or take leave from work. You might also recognize the connection with the word Sabbath.

While Osvaldo was taking a paid leave of absence from his work as a theological educator, he wasn’t ceasing from work entirely. Yet, his reprieve from teaching allowed him to do something else that he loved – research and writing.

Then there was me. At that time I was a stay-at-home mom. Moving to England didn’t mean that I was ceasing from my work. I just carried it with me. His name is Philip, and at the time he was three. This won’t be a sabbatical for me, I thought.

What I soon discovered, about a month after being in Cambridge, was that indeed God was gifting me with a sabbatical of my own. But not in the way that you or I would think.

What moving to Cambridge did for me was that it took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a reprieve from expectations, commitments, temptations, cultural priorities, and even idols that came with where I was living. In this way, I was gifted a sabbatical.

The power of contrast allowed me to see those areas in my life and heart that had been controlled by culture or worldly things rather than by God.

Our way of living drastically changed. We were now living in a place without a car, TV, or 4G Internet access away from Wifi hot spots. Our home had no air conditioner, which surprisingly was a problem during the summer months, and no electronic clothes dryer. Part of my daily routine was to hang all of our clothes, towels and sheets! To get anywhere in town we would mostly walk or cycle and occasionally take the bus. This meant spending more time getting around town, which, consequently, meant more time in communication with my son, reflection, and prayer.

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This contrast brought clarity. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see those things in my life back home that were superfluous, that created unrest in my life (the opposite of Sabbath), and that were unpleasing to Him. Like looking at my reflection in the glass window of the Corpus Clock, by living in Cambridge the Holy Spirit allowed me to see myself more clearly. In many ways I had been living like that person for whom the Corpus clock is true – as if time was a limited commodity that I had to utilize before the Time Eater ate it up.

I’ve heard it said, “That’s the thing with idols: when you think you have a control on them that is when they really have control of you.” For me, one of those idols was time.

The ironic twist in my sabbatical was that as life became more difficult (no car, TV, clothes dryer, etc) and thereby in many ways more time consuming, as I spent more time in communion with Him, and as time became less of an idol for me, the more time I had. My days felt longer. I had time for tea. For relationships. For conversations. For adventures. As a result, I experienced more freedom.

Within a month, I noticed a change in my spirit. Burdens that were once there, often placed by me, were gone. Life was simpler. Less time was spent caring what others thought, what others were doing and saying on social media, and trying to keep up with Pinterest, while more time was spent visiting parks. (We visited a total of eight while in Cambridge.)

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We took adventures. My first month in Cambridge, I was invited to a tearoom with other moms and children, whose husbands and fathers were studying at Tyndale. Going would mean cycling with Philip almost four miles one way without having a GPS. I screenshot some maps, packed a backpack and our basket on the front of the cycle, and we were off. With the help of several, kind English people, who gave me directions along the way, that little adventure took us down ivy-grown paths, along a river, past open, green fields, into an apple orchard where I eventually sat down for tea and scones with other women while the children played under apple trees.

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Whereas time before Cambridge was rushed and there never seemed to be enough of it, in Cambridge I was finding more time with the cessation of expectations (i.e., making a wreath for my front door or planning parties), material things, and the need to work and be productive all the time. Whereas my time in prayer and Scripture were rushed and not always made a priority before Cambridge, in Cambridge there seemed to be ample time for me to hear from God through His Word, prayer and Christian friendships.

As I reflect on our six months in Cambridge now that I sit back in our home in Alabama, where we have two cars, a TV, 4G Internet, air conditioner (hallelujah!) and an electronic clothes dryer, I am not the same person. Despite my longing to be back in Cambridge to have that way of life once more, God’s unexpected gift to me (and really to my entire family) of a sabbatical has stayed with me. Although I find myself back in a busier culture with different values and temptations than that of England (which has its own temptations and negative values), God reoriented my mind and heart so that I could discern better and easier between what was important and unimportant, what was good and what was stealing my rest and joy, and what was necessary for life and salvation and what was cultural.

As I think back to the Corpus Clock, it strikes me that the inventor of the clock only put the first part of 1 John 2:17. Either he didn’t know the rest of the verse or didn’t believe it. “The world is passing away along with its desires” would leave anyone depressed. Life is frivolous. Life is just a breath. You’ve heard it said, “Drink, eat and be merry for we may only have the night.” I feel that as Americans we often live in this kind of reality. Live this life to the fullest because we all have just “one life to live.” Perform, do, work. Hurry up! Time is passing, and you only have a short amount of time to accomplish so much before you die. In this way, even for the Christian living in the States, life can be hard, restless and pressed from every side.

Yet this is not how the story ends. In Jesus we have a “salvific but” in this verse. The “but” tells us there is an alternative to the prior reality. For some, there is a period after “the world passes away and the lusts thereof,” but in Christ there is a comma. “But whoever does the will of God abides forever.” What is the will of God? Jesus answers this question for us in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The world may pass away, but those who do his will – believe – will live forever and will never die.

You see, by Jesus Christ destroying sin on the cross and overcoming death in the resurrection, he destroyed the Time Eater. Those who die with Christ – by faith – will be raised to everlasting life. We won’t need a clock that tells us that time is passing by because time will never end. Instead of a Time Eater, we will have a Time Giver: Jesus Christ.

Before I went to Cambridge, I lived by a clock. Now that I am working outside the home full-time, in some ways, I live by the clock even more! But by the grace and mercy of God, the gift of my sabbatical continues. The reality that Jesus gives us is not one that has to wait until we pass from this life to the next; rather, it is one that begins here and now if we allow Him to be first in our life. You don’t need to go to Cambridge, England, to have this kind of sabbatical. As Jesus continues to reorient our hearts so that it is no longer bent inward toward self, time, and the things of this world, but arched outward to Him, He gifts us with rest, freedom and, ironically, more time.

I join with Bonhoeffer in his confession, “I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ.” This belief changes everything, including the way I live.

 

 

 

 

Media and the sexualization of children: Thoughts from a concerned parent

spot_thumbA scene from Tylenol’s new commercial, #HowWeDoFamily

The Today Show’s article about a transgender child came up on my Facebook newsfeed once again.

This is the third time I have seen an article from The Today Show featuring children whom, they say, have realized they were born the wrong sex.

These children are 10 years and under. They have yet to hit puberty. Their minds, personalities and bodies are still maturing, and, therefore, we would not consider them adults.

Yet, these children have become the poster children for a sexually hungry and motivated media. They are Exhibit A for a liberal, sexual agenda.

The unnaturalness of same-sex marriage or transgender practices has become naturalized, and if they can prove that people are just born that way, starting with young children, then they believe they have their argument made.

What has resulted, I think, is an overt sexualization of children.

In an important but disturbing article, Katie Yoder makes the case that the media is transfixed on transgender children and its movement.

But the media is not just using children who express a desire to be the opposite sex or love the same sex for its agenda. (This is the first problem.) Those few elite personalities behind the media are trying to influence and change the way our children believe, think about and view sexuality as evidenced in the kinds of shows targeted to our children.

Just take a look at the shows playing on ABC Family, whose tagline is “A new kind of family.” Becoming Us is about an “ordinary” (note the use of this word) Midwestern boy named Ben whose father, after his parents’ divorce, is now transitioning into a woman. Or, how about Baby Daddy, which is about another main character named Ben, whose ex-girlfriend left their baby on his doorstep and who is now raising this child with two other single male adults. Then there’s The Fosters, which is about two lesbian women raising six children. They are described as a “close-knit, loving family.” I could list other popular shows aimed at our children, like Glee, that are hyper-sexualized and seem to blush at nothing.

In addition, the media is obsessed with Bruce-turned-Caitlyn Jenner since this popular, all-American athlete makes the perfect model and spokesperson for the transgender movement. (He also was recently awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN).

I fully expect to see cartoons, video games, children books and movies reflecting these changing views of family and marriages. Already last week I saw a new Tylenol commercial that is trying to redefine conventional family by including scenes of both lesbian and gay couples with children using the hashtag, #HowWeDoFamily.

So where does this leave me as a parent, who believes traditional marriage is best for society and children and who doesn’t share the same views and sympathies as those shared in media?

I don’t have five suggested steps or three answers that will solve our problems. I’m simply sounding the alarm. For some, an alarmist is a bad thing. But for me, alarms have always saved my life – whether it was when my apartment burned down or when a tornado passed by our home. I am grateful for alarms.

I want to provide information and pose questions. As a former journalist, the best starting place is becoming knowledgeable. Knowledge truly is power.

I want to become vigilant and aware of how a minority is trying to change the views of the majority. I want to speak up where necessary and say “No” where needed, even if it isn’t a popular thing to do. Instead of watching Disney and Pixar movies on ABC Family (which has a ridiculous amount of commercials anyway), I can rent those movies. We lived for six months in England without a TV; it is possible (and wonderful!).

Most importantly I do not want to give the media any voice where it concerns my family, particularly my son.

I remember watching the show Friends in college, while my roommate’s favorite show was Will and Grace. We laughed and made excuses for the promiscuous hetero- and homo-sexual lifestyles. They won us over with comedy. It was just so funny. However, these shows, over time, can act like guitar strings on fingers, making us calloused.

But I see more clearly now that while these shows did not change my view of sexuality, over time it has played a part in changing our society’s views. Like a stream that over many years changes the appearance of mountains, the media over time has helped to change and bend hearts and minds to its will.

I don’t want to be ignorant. I want to be vigilant and prayerful. I pray that as my husband and I teach God’s view of sexuality, according to Scripture, to our son, that the Word of God and our feeble attempt will be a louder voice than that of the media.

Like King Solomon, I, too, will say to my son, “Do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.” (Prov. 3:1-2)

Concerning the media and those who wish to pervert sexuality, I will tell him, “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.” (Prov. 5:3-6)

SCOTUS decision, marriage & Christian response

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Photo credit: Meredith Teasley. Check out her beautiful work.

Shortly after posting a critique of Jennifer Hatmaker’s response to the World Vision event as it related to gay marriage last year, I was asked by a reader to explain my view on homosexuality and how I find support for that in Scripture.

I haven’t done so before now because I thought others were articulating it better than I and because I wanted to give it careful thought.

Now in light of the SCOTUS decision, Christians again are asking questions about marriage. Some are asking, “Am I on the wrong side of history?” Like some pop-Christian authors and preachers, some Christians are buying into a redefinition of love that finds its meaning, not in God or Scripture, but in self-fulfillment. Other Christians chide fellow Christians for speaking up in any way negatively about the issue because they, too, have bought into a different understanding of love — that is, to put it negatively, love doesn’t offend nor does it hurt feelings, or, to put it positively, love is accepting and non-judgmental.

As it relates to the meaning of love, Christians who want to be faithful to Scripture, must ask how Scripture defines and lives out its definition of love. We must ask ourselves if our definition of love squares with Scripture. Was God’s message to Nineveh through the prophet Jonah, loving? Were any of the prophets’ messages to the nations and even to Israel considered loving? Why were God and his prophets so concerned with other nations? (Imagine doing evangelism like the prophets! And read the prophets if you haven’t already.) Was Jesus loving when he told Peter, “Get behind me Satan”? Was Jesus loving when he rebuked his disciples for not letting the children come to him? Was Jesus loving when he overturned the tables in the temple? Was Paul loving when he rebuked the Roman, Corinthian, and Galatian Christians or Peter? I could go on.

Make a test. Use the world’s definition of love (or even perhaps your own) and see whether God (in the Old Testament) and Jesus and his disciples in the New fail or pass your love test.

If the basis of love is truly self-fulfillment, then same-sex marriage is right before the eyes of God. However, this is not how the Bible defines love or marriage. Scripture speaks unanimously that practicing homosexual behavior is a sin. There are never any exceptions to this in the narrative.

But just because we oppose same-sex marriage doesn’t mean we oppose people. Love both corrects and welcomes. We welcome people (whoever they might be!) into our homes; we share with them the gospel of Jesus; we get to know them and have dinner with them. We can do all these things while at the same time teaching that Scripture teaches that practicing homosexuality is a sin just like any other sin.

We also do not teach that marriage is the end-all nor do we teach that one finds ultimate fulfillment in marriage. We do not separate the married from the singles as the haves and the have-nots. Instead of offering an institution as the savior we offer Jesus as the savior.

So how should we understand marriage, our culture, the SCOTUS decision and what our response should be?

Again I refer to others who speak on this better than I can. Over at First Things magazine, a number of “male and female, gay and straight, Christian and Jewish, Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox” contributors give their answers. I highly encourage you to read each response. The following quotes are some that really stood out to me, and I hope they are helpful to you as you process a Christian response and a biblical view of marriage.

For marriage policy to serve the common good it must reflect the truth that marriage unites a man and a woman as husband and wife so that children will have both a mother and a father. Marriage is based on the anthropological truth that men and woman are distinct and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children deserve a mother and a father.

The government is not in the marriage business because it’s a sucker for adult romance. No, marriage isn’t just a private affair; marriage is a matter of public policy because marriage is society’s best way to ensure the well-being of children. State recognition of marriage acts as a powerful social norm that encourages men and women to commit to each other so they will take responsibility for any children that follow.

Redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution fundamentally changes marriage: It makes the relationship more about the desires of adults than about the needs—or rights—of children. It teaches the lie that mothers and fathers are interchangeable. — Ryan T. Anderson

When a culture treats the family primarily as an arena for self-fulfillment and self-expression rather than first and foremost as the sphere dedicated to the education of future generations, that culture manifests a weakening of its faith in the abiding value and imperative power of its core beliefs. That this spirit of “negation and despair” has corroded liberal Western culture, to its detriment, is an old story. Justice Alito’s dissent notes the rate of illegitimate birth, and nobody is shocked at the routine acceptance of marital infidelity and instability. All this is ominous for the sustainability of Western civilization. To outsiders, however, it appears inconsistent and selective to judge practicing homosexuals, for whom same-sex impulses are usually deep-seated, more strictly than wanton adulterers. If the bonds of faithfulness have frayed, a 5-4 vote in the other direction would not have reversed the ravages of the sexual revolution, the fruit of chronic secular despair under the progressive commodification of late capitalism. — Shalom Carmy

However, there is one thing that, tempted as we may be to expect it, will not happen, either in our lifetime or beyond: Marriage will not go away. The Gospel-imaging union between a man and a woman as a sacred testimony to Christ’s pursuit of His church will never be scrubbed from our culture, as if it were a coat of paint on our social consciousness. No, marriage is not merely a cultural accessory, it is a cosmic, spiritual, and deeply human reality is embedded into the creation itself. No amount of same-sex marriage in the twenty-first century will change this, just as no amount of blue-collar, Bible-belt divorce culture in the late twentieth century changed it then.

The Sexual Revolution always promises fulfillment but betrays its followers bitterly in the end. Even as we brace for a generation’s worth of confusion and enforced conformity, we must also stand fast in holding out hope to the refugees from the Sexual Revolution who will come to us, being wrecked by the fantasy of autonomy and self-creation. We must keep the light lit to the old paths. We must point out why marriage is rooted not just in nature and tradition but in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:32).

Marriage is resilient because it is God-created, not another government program. That’s why hand wringing and siege mentality has no place among those who want to champion traditional marriage. Marriage does not exist thanks to humanity, and so it cannot be unmade thanks to it either. Even in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling, we know this to be true. Let’s be compassionate, confident, and, like the institution we care about so deeply, let’s be resilient. — Russell Moore

Bruce Jenner has become a celebrity because his decision “to define and express” his identity as a woman epitomizes our reigning view of freedom. It’s our national religion now, the religion of Me. Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, “Every country gets the government is deserves.” We’ve gotten the Supreme Court decision we deserve. …

We’re part of the culture that now embraces the religion of Me and it’s perverse view of freedom. Our first task today is do differentiate ourselves from this false religion—and to do so with clarity. This means speaking forthrightly about matters of moral substance.

We need to speak about sexual morality. We need to demand marriage equality. Why do the rich today get married, but the poor don’t? Why is our supposedly progressive culture fixed on the luxury good of gay marriage while ignoring the collapsing family culture elsewhere in our society? We need to talk about the complementarity of men and women, something political correctness tries to prevent us from doing. We need to sin against the religion of Me by speaking of God—and God’s laws.

In traditional Islamic societies, non-Muslim’s are dhimmis. They are allowed to exist, but they live under severe restrictions. Islam alone is permitted to define the public square. Over time, dhimmisinternalize their subjugated status, accepting their subordinate roles.

The greatest challenges we face will not be legal. They will be cultural. We will be tempted to submit, tempted to remain silent. We will be tempted to reorient our efforts, trying to find a way to survive in an American regime governed by the religion of Me.

We must fight against this temptation. We must resist dhimmitude and its false path of self-imposed submission. Now is the time for truth-telling. We need to find our footing in today’s cultural landscape so that we can speak boldly about the goods of marriage, the sanctity of life, and the true nature of human freedom. — R.R. Reno

There are many ways that we can respond in these coming days: prayer, conversations, posting articles that reflect truth, writing letters to congressmen, teaching our children truth, etc.

Here are my two concluding thoughts:

1. We should not shame each other for believing and standing up for traditional marriage. Nor should we shame each other for speaking up that nationalized same-sex marriage will have negative repercussions for our children. We believe traditional marriage is the best for our society, and working toward a betterment for our society isn’t wrong or shameful.

2. Should we shout and defame people? Should we cry and stamp our feet? Should we be rude to others? No. Whatever side you are on that kind of behavior is wrong. Rather we share the truth (notice that part) in love. A love that is patient, kind, not arrogant or rude.  A love that rejects and warns against false teaching, which leads to death, and upholds truth, which leads to life. And even when people reject the truth, when a nation redefines the institution of marriage based on a new definition of love, we do not despair, because “our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

“Jesus Makes A Cross For You.”

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Running from our sin. It’s a natural tendency to want to flee and hide when we are confronted with the reality of our own sinfulness and the ugliness of the sin.

We want it etched from our memories. We want a fresh start. We long for forgiveness.

My son recently turned 4 and he is at an age where he is becoming more cognizant of his fleshly reality. It’s a difficult age, for many reasons, but it is also an exciting age in that he is very moldable and teachable.

I began a series on #GraceForTheSinner a few months back because, after a personal experience of coming to grips with pride in my heart, I felt compelled that there might be others who needed to be reminded of the grace that comes from Christ Jesus. Not a cheap grace that requires no repentance on our part nor grace that doesn’t result in obedience. Rather, the grace that is taught in Scripture came at a very costly price (the life of God’s Son), yet is given to any and all who believe and is more powerful than any of sin’s grip on our lives.

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Looking back, I had some unrealistic expectations for Mother’s Day given the age of my child. Yet, somehow I had conjured up images of a day where Philip would be easy and obedient, a day where I got to do what I wanted to do, and a day full of thanksgiving for all that I give to my family. Ahhh. What a nice thought. Isn’t that what Mother’s Day is all about anyway?

 

Both Osvaldo and I prepped Philip for the day. “Sunday is Mother’s Day, that means we get to celebrate Mommy for all that she does for us.” “You’re going to be a good boy on Mother’s Day for Mommy, right?” spoken in an almost pleading voice.

 

I’m shaking my head as I even put down on paper the tactic we were using to produce an obedient child for one day. Parents make mistakes too!

 

It would have been one thing if Philip had been his normal self on Mother’s Day – fun and delightful with a few issues here or there. But no. He began the day and finished the day as a completely different child. He was the exact opposite of the child I had imagined for the day. Screaming, throwing himself down in tantrum style, spitting, kicking, talking back, saying “No,” are just a few of the things we dealt with on Mother’s Day.

 

Every parent knows exactly what I’m talking about. It was as if the more we tried to produce a good child, the more he rebelled and became exactly the opposite child we were wanting him not to be.

 

By the end of the day, after I came to terms with my real Mother’s Day (not the one of my expectations), Osvaldo and I were exasperated. We stood in the kitchen and looked at each other with defeat both thinking the same thing, “We are failing as parents!”

 

We decided it would be best to talk to Philip in his bedroom. Osvaldo began the conversation with, “Philip, no matter what you do, we love you. Our love for you will never change. We will never stop loving you.” Then he followed with, “We are always ready to forgive you when you come to us and say, ‘I’m sorry.’” From there he told Philip what it was that he had done that we did not like.

 

I followed by saying, “Philip, God gave us to you as your parents to give you a place to live, to give you clothes, to give you food, to take care of you when you are sick, to give you love, hugs and kisses, to play with you, and to even do fun things with you. The only thing God and we ask in return – the one thing you are to do for us – is to obey. When you do what you did today you are not showing love to God and you are not showing love to us.”

 

Then we left. We closed the door until there was just a crack and left him in his room to think about these things. A few minutes later, I went to peek through the crack to see what he was doing. What I found was that Philip was going around in a circle and every time he stepped on his Superman cape, which was lying on the floor, he grunted.

 

When we brought him out of the room shortly afterwards, we asked Philip what he was doing in his room. This is what he said: “I was trying to get away from all the bad things I did.” And in his 4 year old speech that needs my translation he explained that he was stepping on his Superman cape to give him the power he needed to get away from those bad things.

 

We gave him a hug and Osvaldo said, “Philip, you can never get away from the bad things on your own. None of us can. Papi can’t. Mommy can’t. But there is one who can, one who is greater than Superman and who has the power to take away the bad things. His name is Jesus. When he died on a cross, he took away all those bad things. If you turn to Jesus and ask him to forgive you and to take away those bad things, he will do it, Philip.”

 

Philip said, “Ohhhh.”

 

We weren’t sure if the truth stuck, but the next evening before dinner, Philip prayed, “Jesus make for me the cross to take away the bad things I did.”

 

A week later he told me, “Mommy come see.” When I came into his toy room where his Grandpa was sitting on the floor, he showed me that he had made a cross out of two sticks in his room. He said turning to Grandpa, “Grandpa, Jesus makes a cross for you to take away those bad things you did.”

 

And just last week after telling Philip three times to get into the car without him doing so, I said very sternly, “Get in the car now.” Philip got into his chair and said to me, “Mommy, why did you talk like that?” I said, “Like what?” “Like mean to me.” “I didn’t talk mean to you, but said to get into the car firmly after you kept disobeying.” Philip looked into my eyes and said, “It’s OK, Mommy. Jesus makes the cross for you.”

 

“Jesus makes the cross for you” is Philip’s way of saying that Jesus forgives you. Jesus, because of what he did on the cross, can take away those bad things from you – to make them as far as the east is from the west.

 

John Newton, famously known for penning the words to that great hymn, “Amazing Grace,” was an unlikely person to come to faith in Jesus. Prior to his redemption, Newton was a cursing, blaspheming sailor who lived in the 18th century. He lived a life of complete immorality, who immersed himself in the evils of the slave trade and made women and alcohol his hobbies.

 

While on one of his many journeys at sea, Newton woke one night to someone crying, “The ship is sinking.” It was during this terrifying experience that he later wrote, “What mercy can there be for me?” Biographer Jonathan Aitken wrote about this experience saying that Newton came to the conclusion “that anyone who had ridiculed God and his gospel with so much profanity could not possibly receive divine salvation in the hour of need.”

 

“Conversely, however, Newton kept on remembering the promises of God, which he had learned from Scripture in his youth. He recalled the extraordinary twists and turns in his adult life, describing them as ‘the calls, warnings, and deliverances I had met with,’ as he wondered whether they could be interpreted as any sort of sign of God’s favor.”

 

This was the beginning of Newton coming to terms with the great grace Jesus offers to him because of what he did on the cross.

 

Newton would eventually go on to become a great preacher, pastor and hymn writer. Yet Newton “never forgot that he owed his redemption from a life of sin to a life in Christ entirely to divine mercy.” As he said on his death bed, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.”

 

He made this further clearer by writing the words that would later be the inscription on his tomb:

John Newton
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa
Was
By the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ
Preserved, Restored, Pardoned
And Appointed to preach the faith
He had long laboured to destroy.

 

Jesus made the cross for John Newton.

 

Jesus makes the cross for Philip.

 

Jesus makes the cross for Grandpa.

 

Jesus makes the cross for me.

 

Jesus makes the cross for you.

 

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Col. 2:13-14

 

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.” Col. 1:20

 

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15

 

*My quotes from John Newton and about John Newton come from Jonathan Aitken’s “John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.”

 

Homesick for Home

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Four months and some days ago we returned back to the States from having lived in Cambridge, England for almost six months.

I began missing Cambridge the moment the taxi driver drove us out of the city toward London.

It is funny what a place can do to someone. I am homesick for Cambridge, even if it was my home for a brief moment in time. Her streets, churches, colleges, bicycle paths, foliage, river, parks, and people have all left an impression on my heart and mind, and if I close my eyes I am immediately transported back onto her streets on my bicycle soaking in the sights, smells and sounds.

As I continue to reflect on our sabbatical and specifically our time in Cambridge, I am humbled by the many spiritual lessons I have learned. But this particular lesson is one that the Teacher continues to teach and one that I hope He doesn’t stop teaching. And it is this: Cambridge points to something better – a better home.

I have been homesick before. I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to pursue a masters degree having no immediate family less than seven hours away. In fact, I had no family east of the Mississippi River. I was alone and missing home.

When we were living in Cambridge, I, also, had moments of homesickness, especially around Thanksgiving. Not only did we not have family to celebrate with us, but since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, it was for all practical purposes nonexistent in the world in which we now lived.

Even though I have had these homesick moments before, this time living back in the States missing Cambridge has been different. For one, I have a deep longing to be there. But what makes this homesickness especially different is that every time I think of Cambridge, God redirects my thoughts to the new heavens and the new earth. It is not as if missing and longing for Cambridge is a bad thing (it’s not!), but longing for Cambridge has been the impetus for longing for something better than Cambridge. The Holy Spirit has used Cambridge to point to something better than itself.

For those of us living in places free of persecution, it is easy to romanticize and memorialize this world as if a particular place will bring about inevitable happiness or as if there is truly heaven on earth. When I have had these types of moments with Cambridge when I only remember the good and not the bad, I will talk to some of my American friends living there. By the end of our conversation I am reminded quickly the things that I hated about living in England: no clothes dryer, a hot and cold faucet, high costs of living expenses, not prescribing antibiotics unless you are “dying,” its often impractability, and leaving dishes to dry without rinsing off the soap. To put it succinctly, Cambridge is not perfect.

If I move back to Cambridge tomorrow, I would not necessarily have a better life. To be sure, I would find many things to complain about and I am sure I would be restless at times. I will not have reached heaven on earth. Cambridge, ultimately, would not be my final home, nor would I want it to be.

Yet, coming back from Cambridge reminds me of what it means to long for something better, for something that I love, for a place I want to go. Jesus has redirected my longing for Cambridge to longing for that promised, blessed new earth when all will things will be made right and when all will be at peace and rest because God will be our God and we will be His people. Knowing Jesus has given me a foretaste of what is still to come. His presence has put into my heart a longing for that eternal home.

Cambridge is not my final destination. The new earth, where God and man will dwell together again in perfect peace and love, that is where I am headed. That is where I long. And, until then, I will be homesick for something better than Cambridge. I will be homesick for Home.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:16

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” Revelation 21:1-5a

Is There Enough Room For Women In Vocational Ministry?

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When I graduated from divinity school in 2008, I was filled with the excitement that consumes many graduates, namely of finding a job in the field for which I had spent so much time preparing. I began looking for a ministerial vocational place where I could exercise my gifts and learning. However, after several months of not finding a job in ministry, I settled for an internship position at a Baptist newspaper doing work that typically a 20- or 21-year-old college student would be doing.

It was humbling. And a little embarrassing.

I thought my degree – a M.Div. – from a reputable divinity school would place me on a fast track into ministry. I was wrong. Although I am extremely thankful to the managing editor of the newspaper for giving me work when no one else would, not to mention the internship eventually turned into valuable full-time work, this experience laid the foundation for questioning my call to ministry that I was so certain of at age 15.

Did I really hear the voice of the Lord call me into ministry? Or, was this a call born out of a desire to give my whole self to the Lord no matter what vocational form it took? Had I just wasted time and money training for something where there is no work for someone like me?

And I am not alone. I have listened to many women describe similar experiences. In fact, one example of this can be found over at The Gospel Coalition, where several months back Liz Lockwood gave her story in an article titled, “My Wonderfully Confusing Call to Ministry.”

Liz, like myself, felt called as a teenager and went on to seminary to train for this calling. During her years at seminary, though, she encountered some obstacles that put into question her calling.

She writes: “While making lattes or selling running shoes may be great for building relationships or earning money while in seminary, those jobs didn’t seem to fit the criteria for full-time Christian service that I had seemingly been drafted into. Right?”

Liz reconciled the tension between her original call and reality saying, “I began to recognize that, while there are certainly specific callings within the realm of Christian life and polity, all Christians are called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life. … Rather than keeping ‘ministry’ in a specific silo or quadrant within the walls of my life, the Lord was giving me wisdom to understand that living, moving, breathing, eating, and all other activities find their end in him. These truths freed me, as I began to grasp that my surrender to the Lord in high school was less of a vocational declaration and more of a defining mark of spiritual growth.”

To be sure all Christians are “called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life” and I have often wondered if what I interpreted as a vocational ministry call was actually just this – the call of every believer. And for Liz this is her conclusion, a reinterpretation of her calling, and this is a conclusion that many women are arriving at.

Perhaps it is a simple case of a misunderstanding of calling. But as I have been reflecting on the issue for the last several years I am coming to a different conclusion. While to be sure there are both men and women who mishear or misunderstand a call to vocational ministry, I believe that many women are questioning and redefining their call as a result of a lack of a vocational space for women in ministry.

Historically, Christian ministry has been mostly a man’s world. This doesn’t mean that it is a man’s-only-club where women aren’t allowed. It does mean that there are fewer jobs for women and fewer women in certain spheres of ministry. Sadly, too often the conversation has been on what women cannot do. As a result, the conversation we are not having sufficiently is how can we create a larger space for women in vocational ministry.

Having a conversation

I think the first step toward creating a larger and more welcoming space for women in vocational ministry is by simply having the conversation. Pastors, denominational leaders, seminary presidents and deans, publishers, and presidents of Christian entities, my hope is that you will be leading the way in discussing what women can do and how valuable they can be to reaching the world with the gospel and strengthening and discipling God’s church. I am not talking about a revolution in the church for women to be accepted as senior pastors. Scripturally, I am not convinced that this should be done. Rather, I believe by building on the following statements, the Christian community can begin to have intentional conversations about how we can create a larger vocational space for women called to ministry.

  • The Imago Dei is complete in both men and women. This means that both men and women are needed to display the image of God. The Imago Dei isn’t confined to marriage but extends to all areas of life, most importantly the church, where men and women are complementing each other in displaying the image of God.
  • Women are important to the work of God.
  • Women, who are teaching Scripture and representing God and the gospel to his people as a vocational ministry, need to be theologically trained.
  • Even when men are taken out of the equation and who is left are women and children, they, just as much as men, need to be taught sound doctrine by sound, theologically-trained ministers.

Further, I want to see intentional, balanced, Gospel-centered conversations about women in ministry turn into intentional acts of using women in ministry.

Creating a larger vocational space

The following are some suggested conversation starters and practical ways to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry.

How can we broaden the vocational space for women in churches? Most churches have either no woman on its ministerial staff or one or two at best. Many times the churches that do employ women on staff will be at a larger church where the ratio might be 10:1, men to women. Let’s look closer. Vocational ministerial jobs (not secretarial or administrative) for women are often part-time, underpaid and do not require any theological training. In order to make vocational room for women, one suggestion is when there’s a ministerial position open for which a church has no biblical objection to hiring a woman and when it already has a male-only staff, it could choose a woman for the job instead of a man.
Other suggested changes are to hire women who have theological training, create full-time positions, pay women ministers at the same or similar salary to the men in comparable positions, and intentionally use female ministers’ gifts even if it takes her outside her job description. Perhaps place her alongside the male ministers for the response part of the Sunday service. Ask her to read Scripture or pray during the service. Ask, What are we communicating to the world and Christian community about the importance of women in ministry by whom we hire and the positions for which we hire?

How can we make vocational space for women in Christian publishing? Often time women are published based on their marketability rather than their credentials or quality of material. Also, the field for publishing Christian women seems to be much more competitive than its male counterpart thereby making it more difficult as a woman to get published than a man. One suggestion is for publishers to work with seminaries to find its best women graduates who feel called to teach and who are solid theologically to write for them. I can count at least 5 women who I know and who have graduated from Beeson who just want to write Bible studies but cannot find an open door into publishing to do so. Perhaps publishers can do a better job at engaging in intentional relationships with the female population of seminaries and divinity schools so that they are cultivating the next generation of women writers who will give them the best material possible and so that they are communicating to women who follow through with training that it is of value. Through these partnerships publishers could invite seminary female students to its conferences and events giving them opportunities to teach. Ask, What are we communicating to the world by who and what we publish? What are we communicating to young females about the importance of theological training for publishing?

How can we broaden the vocational space for women within seminaries and divinity schools? Consider evangelical Christian studies departments at colleges and universities or consider seminaries and you will find a small number of women on faculty. Perhaps you will find no women. Consider the female population at seminaries and you will find it is very small. Also, consider what degrees are being offered to women. Two spheres within Christian higher education are highlighted here: female faculty members and female students. A simple solution to both is for Christian institutions to intentionally hire more female faculty members and recruit more female students. Ask, What conclusions can be drawn by the outside world when it looks at the faculty and student population of seminaries? Would it be that it is a man’s world? Is there any value to female students taking courses like biblical theology, biblical languages and preaching courses in preparing them to teach Scripture even if only to other females, youth and children? What are seminaries and divinity schools communicating about the importance of women in vocational ministry by whom it hires, recruits and the degrees/programs offered to women? Are we only training ministers to teach sound doctrine to male Christians or are we training both male and female ministers to teach sound doctrine to both genders and to all ages?

Are we, the evangelical community, guilty of creating and abetting a system that makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for God to use women in vocational ministry?

Are we limiting what God can and wants to do through women by simply not having a big enough space for them to serve?

What blessings as a Christian community are we missing out on simply because we are not having a conversation or taking positive steps to engage more women in gospel-ministry work?

Grant it there are Christian entities, seminaries/divinity schools, and churches that are doing a good job or at least intentionally trying to create a larger vocational space for women in ministry. Places like LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham are a few that come to mind in my area. (And to be sure there are more!)

What if?

I believe it is important that we have this conversation about how we can create a larger vocational space for women because:

I believe our churches are only as strong as our weakest members.

I believe that together as men and women we make up the Imago Dei, and therefore, we can do better.

I believe that as we watch the salvation story unfold from Genesis to Revelation and see how God intentionally uses women far and above the cultural boundaries of the day, we can do better.

I believe that it doesn’t follow that just because a woman should not teach men means women and children should be taught watered-down theology or Scripture.

I believe that because many women are being taught watered-down theology and pop-psychology tinted Scripture we have created an environment where false teaching is growing easily and quickly among women.

I believe we should expect the same training of women as of our men. However, unless we have places for our trained, called women to go and serve, receiving theological training does not make sense. Getting into debt for seminary without the possibility of paying it off while using the degree is unwise.

And like Liz, women like us who once felt a call to vocational ministry might just conclude that we misheard the calling. To be certain, I do not judge or fault Liz for reaching this conclusion. We must assume that as God has revealed more over time to her that she did not necessarily hear a call to vocational ministry.

But what if?

What if there was more room at the vocational ministry table for women to sit? What would happen if theologically-trained women had more places to go exercise their calling, gifts and training? What if? Would there be less questioning, less redefining of ministerial calls among women if the ministerial vocational space were only bigger? What is the Church and the World missing out on by the Christian community failing, to some degree, to engage, encourage and train up more women for a ministry of the gospel?

(I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please reply with any positive suggestions or thoughts that can help and encourage the larger Christian community to think through this issue.)

 

 

 

 

Winter is gone. Spring has come.

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As I drive down Lakeshore Drive in Birmingham this week it is as if every living thing is in bloom. What appeared dead and dull and bare last week is now shooting forth leaves and blooms this week. The changing of winter to spring has always been my favorite time of the year because there’s a rebirth in nature. The plants that once lay dormant for many months are now standing upright; trees, which showed no sign of activity, now wave their branches clothed with life. It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new season.

 

What I have seen unfold in nature in Birmingham this past week correlates well to what I see happen in the Lent and Easter season. In Lent it is intended that we reflect on the gravity of our sins and the separation from God that our sins bring. For it is these two aspects that Jesus carries with him to the cross and bears with him on the cross. We prepare our hearts as we journey with Jesus in remembrance to Good Friday. It is winter. Death hangs over us.

 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” — Romans 3:23

“For the wages of sin is death…” — Romans 6:23

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” — Romans 5:8

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” — Isaiah 53:6

 

But on Palm Sunday the tone begins to change. Seeds of hope sprout forth as Jesus, fulfilling his role as the promised Davidic King and Messiah, comes riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.

 

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” — Zech. 9:9

 

The people spread out palm branches, and, although they didn’t understand the significance of what they were saying, they rightly praised him as King of kings. This triumphal entry and branches serve as signs of his coming victory that “spring” was coming, although on Friday it would seem like the world would forever be in a perpetual winter.

 

And to be sure the deepest, darkest day of winter would come on Friday, when the King of kings, the Son of heaven, would die on a cross. The Son of God, who left all the riches of heaven and the blessed, eternal company of the Father and Spirit, came down, taking on the form and nature of those whom he created, whom had rebelled against him. Those who said they didn’t love him. Yet he still came down, not to show us how to do this life only or how to succeed and become the greatest. He came down to die, to suffer the just punishment of God, so that we, who believe, wouldn’t have to.

 

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21

 

What great, great love that God has for us that kept Jesus from calling down angels, from taking himself off the cross and executing judgment on those overseeing his crucifixion, and enabled him to suffer all that he did with grace and submission. It was this incomprehensible love for us that took Jesus to the grave.

 

And there his body lay for three days.

 

But on the morning of the third day, the women were too sad, too heartbroken to have noticed that there was a change in seasons. Yet, God in his loving-kindness sent an angel to meet them at an open grave. Jesus, who was once dead, had now come back to life.

 

This Easter is a reminder for those in Christ and an invitation for those who are from Christ: that in Jesus we have passed by eternal death and have entered into eternal life.

 

Winter is gone. Spring has come.

 

“It is right to praise you, Almighty God, for the acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed as King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Let these branches be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; who lives and reigns in glory with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.” (The Book of Common Prayer, Palm Sunday, Collect)