A word to the doubting

I recently finished reading Jared C. Wilson’s excellent book The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles. Tucked into this encouraging and thought provoking look at Jesus’ miracles is a word to the doubting, specifically five ways to battle the unbelief of doubt.

I’ve had periods of my life when I’ve doubted and I imagine you have as well. Like the father of Mark 9:24 I’ve cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” Wilson exhorts me and you to battle our unbelief in the following ways…

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary here.

Vulnerability and self-worth

I am (finally) reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. I say “finally” because astute readers of the blog will know that it has appeared on my “to read” list many times over the past year or two and I am only now getting around to it. It’s not my typical reading material but it has been suggested to me by readers and thinkers I respect so here I am. Finally.

I’m only a third of the way in and, frankly, I’m not sure what I think about it. Maybe because it’s not my typical reading fare but I have a hard time figuring out what the author means. Or maybe I’m just dense. It occurs to me maybe that’s why it’s not my typical reading fare: I’m not astute enough to figure out what the heck the author is talking about.

Anyway, while this post is not a review nor an endorsement (nor a critique), I’d like to share a point or two from the book about vulnerability that keep echoing in my mind. Actually, it’s more like an extended quote using creativity as an example but I think the application can obviously be extended…

You’ve designed a product or written an article or created a piece of art that you want to share with a group of friends. Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of [engaged] living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly. But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached to your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.

One of two things happens at this point in the process:

1. Once you realize that your self-worth is hitched to what you’ve produced or created, it’s unlikely that you’ll share it, or if you do, you’ll strip away a layer or two of the juiciest creativity and innovation to make the revealing less risky. There’s too much on the line to just put your wildest creations out there.

2. If you do share it in its most creative form and the reception doesn’t meet your expectations, you’re crushed. Your offering is no good and you’re no good. The chances of soliciting feedback, reengaging, and going back to the drawing board are slim. You shut down. Shame tells you that you shouldn’t have even tried. Shame tells you that you’re not good enough and you should have known better.

…Everything shame needs to hijack and control your life is in place. You’ve handed over your self-worth to what people think…You’re officially a prisoner of “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.”

I understand this process. It’s happened to me a million times. Blogging is an obvious example but there are countless others. From teaching to the most mundane of conversations, I well know the thread that ties my self-worth to my sense of vulnerability and shame.

Brown will also make the rather astute observation that we consider vulnerability courageous in others but an embarrassing weakness in ourselves.

Interesting stuff. You might think there would be some of the self-help rah rah of “if you believe it you can do it”–and there may yet be–as I said, I’m only a third of the way in. But instead of asserting that failure will not be option, Brown does nearly the opposite. Failure comes, shame will descend; what then? Are you shame resilient? She will, I think, give her conclusions about combating shame as well as make the case for embracing the vulnerability to dare greatly. She asks early in the book: what is worth the risk of doing even in failure?

Have any of you read it? What are your thoughts?

Let’s be real

The blog posts and the Twitter feed and the Facebook timeline, while I strive to be as authentic as possible, they are not the sum of who I am. Neither are yours. The virtual life is the virtual life, important, perhaps, edifying, to be sure, fun, of course.

But it is not real life.

My real life has real people in it…

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary.

Women need women teachers

One of the reasons (among many) I am passionate about teaching the Bible is my desire to see women push beyond the caricatures and the pigeonholes into the deep things of the Lord. By that I mean I want for us as women to embrace the study of doctrine and theology and be fully persuaded that the study of the Word of God carries deep implications for our real lives, no matter what that life may look like. Rocking babies, sitting at a soccer game, driving to work, mopping floors (crazy but I know some of you do)–these are spiritual activities and our theology profoundly affects how we carry them out.

But beyond that and even more pressing is my desire for women to know the Word so that they will know the God of the Word and that they will love Him and serve Him with the whole of their lives. This is why I teach. I long to see women called and gifted to do the same: to take up the mantel of serious Bible study, to teach, to encourage other women to press in and press on.

Thank goodness I’m not alone. In her book Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds Jen Wilkin devotes a section to why women need women teachers. This is also the subject of a post Jen wrote at TGC which you can read here.

Jen’s book and post give three reasons women need women rightly teaching the Word of God. First, we need the example of women teachers.

When a woman sees someone who looks like her and sounds like her teaching the Bible with passion and intelligence, she begins to recognize that she, too, can love God with her mind–perhaps beyond what she had thought necessary or possible.

Secondly, Jen writes, we need the perspective of women teachers who will “naturally gravitate toward application and examples that are accessible and recognizable to other women.” That is not to say she will feminize the text or draw unnecessary and extraneous touchy-feely type emotional applications. Rather she is uniquely able to speak truth into the feminine experience with a feminine voice.

Finally, speaking of speaking truth, we need the authority of women teachers.

A woman can address other women on vanity, pride, submission, and contentment in a way a man can’t. Women teachers hold empathetic authority over their female students; we have the ability to say, “I understand the besetting sins and fears of womanhood, and I commend to you the sufficient counsel of Scripture.”

Thus Jen concludes, “The church needs women teaching women.” And, as I’ve already said, I completely agree, and not just because I am a woman Bible teacher!

I wonder, though, how many churches implement the women-teaching-women construct well. It seems to me it is difficult to do in the course of normal church life, especially for complementarian churches, particularly so if you are a small complementarian church. In these settings the main teaching is done by the men and the women are needed to fulfill the many other crucial and critical roles of church ministry, from teaching children’s Sunday school to keeping the nursery. Thus most women’s ministry no matter its format generally happens outside normal church life.

In many churches women’s ministry is usually associated with fun and fellowship, both of which are important, don’t get me wrong. It is so in my own church and I love it. I value our times of fellowship together! However such an emphasis can inadvertently lend itself to the connotation that women’s ministry is an extra, a bonus, something to do if you don’t have anything else on the calendar that night. Fun, entertaining, but certainly not of the necessary nature highlighted above. Which is probably okay until we begin to change the way we think of women’s ministry to encompass women engaging women in the study of the Word.

We’re all busy, I understand that. Listen, I’ve taught Bible study long enough to no longer question the why’s and wherefore’s of attendance. Those who come, come. Those who don’t, miss out. :) I also know that coming to Bible study isn’t on the lines of Sunday morning church attendance in importance in the life of the believer. I understand having busy schedules and pressing obligations and various conflicts, particularly so when the Bible study is outside the normal meeting times of the church.

But as I read Jen’s book I wondered how to best encourage women to capture the vision of God’s Word as relevant and crucial to their real lives. I know what it sounds like but, no, I’m not speaking necessarily of more women coming to my specific study. What I am saying is that I agree with Jen about the example and perspective and authority that women Bible teachers can offer other women yet I wonder how this passion is best communicated and caught.

In other words, it seems to me that though women teaching women is important and, I think critical, it is also difficult to effectively carry out both for the church and for women whose lives naturally and necessarily are prioritized elsewhere.

Are you in a church that has a vibrant ministry of women teaching women? What would you consider to be foundational to the effectiveness of this ministry?

Maybe some of you should

Yesterday I taught James 3 which includes every Bible teacher’s favorite verse, that sober warning that “not many of you should become teachers…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)

Yeah. That verse. Not exactly every Bible teacher’s favorite.

I’m not going to lie, it was with a good deal of humility and no small amount of trepidation that I stood before my class yesterday and read that verse aloud, which is, I suppose, James’ point after all.

The NIV reads that not many should “presume” to be teachers. Obviously there were those seeking the position who were either unprepared for or ignorant of the responsibility. No doubt there were some seeking the prestige and authority of the teaching role for more selfish and frivolous motivations.

As I prepared my lesson, however, and even now as I reflect back on the passage, I wonder about today: do many seek to become teachers? Presumption aside, is there an influx of “many” who desire the teaching gift?

Admittedly my sphere of observation is rather small but I don’t see it. Men or women but particularly women. Surely the Lord is gifting and equipping women to teach; where are they? And maybe I am speaking less about the evangelical / Internet / Twitter subculture and more about the real world in which I live.

I posed the question yesterday to my group and someone suggested maybe James scared them all away! Hey, I can see that. He scares me too! I don’t think that’s his intention though. I think he would say to us to if you’ve been given the desire and gift to teach then teach in the power and gifting and grace of Spirit…but do so in fear and trembling.

Teaching has been for me, and will (I hope) continue to be, an exercise in humility. Sometimes I dread it almost as much as I love it. Only motherhood has served to expose my hypocrisy and my weakness and my insufficiency more than teaching.

But there is also no other area of my spiritual walk in which I have seen the Lord’s grace and sufficiency and provision more clearly than through teaching. Vulnerable though it is, teaching has been His gift to me, His grace to me, His immeasurable goodness to me. I cannot believe this is my privilege and my responsibility.

Some Tuesdays when I walk up to the podium and I look across the room at my friends and fellow Bible students sitting there with their Bibles open in their laps, their faces eager, their spirits expectant, I am so overwhelmed. The Lord is good. His gifts are good. I am so unworthy.

If you think maybe you might could perhaps teach but you just don’t know, I want to encourage you. James is right; it is a fearsome thing. But it is also a joy. Teaching–even I would say, women teaching women–is a needed ministry for the edification of the church and the equipping of the saints.

Yes, it’s true, not many should become teachers but then again maybe some of you should…

Status Report, March

Sitting…at my kitchen table.

Drinking…coffee, black. It’s become nearly an all-the-livelong-day habit this past month.

Settling…in to our new home. I told someone it still feels a little like I’m living in someone else’s house. I guess after living in our previous house for fifteen years, it takes time as well as some accumulation of dust, dirt, and clutter to finally feel at home.

Lamenting…the lack of high speed Wi-Fi here at the new house. We do now have internet access, yes and amen, but no streaming or any such luxuries. It’s hard not to be a baby about it! We have the smallest glimmer of hope for future Wi-Fi so all is not yet lost. Yet.

Fighting…the February blues. To be such a short month, it sure felt long! With all due respect for my friends who really do suffer long winters, I feel like this winter will never end. The gray dreariness is getting to me…and I like winter! And snow? Good grief! My struggle has been compounded by some kind of cold and sinus junk that has hung on for over a week now. I’m pitiful.

Reading…A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy and finding it delightful (and, no, the irony is not lost on me). I recently finished The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank. Despite a couple of very slight criticisms, it being poorly titled for one, I really enjoyed it.

Thinking…a lot about discipleship and accountability and how best to engage in both. I’m being intentionally vague because I’m still thinking it through. I will ask you this: any readers out there in a group you would describe as such? Let me know the particulars!

Hoping…to score some dark chocolate Cadbury mini eggs again this year. Y’all know it’s the best thing about the season, right? I mean, besides the Resurrection which is the best thing about all things. I bought a bag of the milk chocolate eggs but, really, nothing compares to the dark. Target came through for me last year but my fingers are crossed for Publix to meet the challenge!

Teaching…James 2:14-26–“Faith without works is dead”–in a little over an hour so I best be stepping away from the computer.

Wishing…you all a happy March, a quick end to the gray of winter, and a speedy arrival of the bright warmth of spring, yes and amen!

When you meet trials of various kinds

How does this work? Some difficulty arises, big or small, and I am faced with the testing of my faith: “Is God there? Does He hear me? Is He good?” As I wrestle with these questions, how will steadfastness have its full effect in me?

There is not time or space here for a full theology of suffering but here are three truths that feed my endurance when faced with trials, big or small..

Check out the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary here.

Status Report, January

Sitting…at the table in the breakfast area. The dining room is a certified disaster area.

Drinking…coffee, black.

Enjoying…having the house to myself for a whole day for the first time since sometime in mid December. I have looked forward to this day probably more than is healthy.

Wishing…you a happy New Year! It’s not too late for such sentiments, is it, even on the 12th of January? Seeing as how the blog has been dark and our “conversation” silent for several weeks, it seems appropriate to me. So, happy New Year!

Missing…my college students who went back this past weekend. It was a long, good break and it was good having them home. My husband and I remarked yesterday how spacious and quieter things seem with them gone. However, my dishwasher and washing machine will be glad for the break! Four versus six is a big difference in terms of laundry and dirty dishes; something I had conveniently forgotten.

Climbing…back into real life, whatever that is. But I’m ready.

Packing…packing, and more packing. We’re moving the end of this month so, yeah, real life, whatever that is, has been pretty crazy around here.

Cramming…for the start of Bible study tomorrow. I’ll be teaching James and I’m eager and nervous and excited and overwhelmed and more than a little insecure. In other words, about par for the course. If you’re local, I hope you’ll join us!

Reading…whenever I can get a few minutes’ downtime. I recently finished The Invention of Wings. I enjoyed it and thought it very well written. I didn’t love it but epic stories spanning decades aren’t my favorite so there you go. I also just finished You Can Pray: Finding Grace to Pray Every Day and I highly recommend it!

Happy January, friends!

I need Christmas

It’s something of a strange Christmas for us this year. In fact, it doesn’t feel much like Christmas at all. I haven’t decorated nor do I plan to this year. Nope, not even a tree nor a wreath. I put out some red and white snowflake placemats, hung a “Merry Christmas Y’all” towel in the guest bath, and called it a day. Don’t worry, I’m not *exactly* a Scrooge, no more than usual that is, but we are in the process of packing to move to a new home in January so unloading and reloading boxes of Christmas decor is a little more than I care to take on at the moment.

I suppose the most Christmas-y part of the month has been the boxes arriving on my doorstep. Online shopping is my friend, yes and amen.

So, yeah, Christmas doesn’t exactly feel like Christmas to me.

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary.

The grace of thanksgiving

My friend’s father died suddenly last week. We stood in line for two hours Monday night in order to pay our respects to the family, to hug our friend, to tell her how much we love her and her family, to grieve with those we love who grieve.

Death and loss and grief, these sober us, give us pause, make us think. I’ve been strangely–or not so strangely–nostalgic all week as I not only contemplate mortality but also as I contemplate life and grace and providence. As I ponder, I am thankful and this gratitude serves to teach me important, difficult truths about the grace of thanksgiving…

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary.