It’s that time again, and we are celebrating our favorite little red head! Arden is 7 now and happily in second grade. So much to learn and discover. She and her little sister Avery (6 and first grade) are both reading, playing soccer, and becoming competent swimmers. Arden is also making steady progress in physical therapy. Thank you again for praying!
This official once-a-year national celebration is a daily event around here and includes celebrating Arden’s little beautiful brown hair sister too. We have a lot to celebrate and the reasons for celebrating continue to multiply.
The pandemic is a sober reminder that every life is a treasure, invested by our Creator with gifts, strengths, and potential waiting to surface and thrive and that the world desperately needs. The impact of global events on women and girls remind us how much the world is squandering when those gifts lie dormant.
When girls are banned from school or overtly discouraged from pursuing their education to the highest levels, when families sell them into child marriages, even when inside our own churches the message comes through loud and clear that the gifts, wisdom, and contributions of women and girls are only marginally needed, but not by the whole church—the consequences are severe and widespread.
Whether we’ll admit it or not, we all pay a price.
The joy of watching a little girl’s mind and gifts come alive and thrive is impossible to describe. I pray these two little ezer-warriors and countless others like them will flourish as God intends, will thrive in the goodness of his love, and will discover possibilities inside themselves just waiting to surprise.
Happy Love Your Red Hair Day Arden! And Happy Love Your Little Brown Hair Sister Avery too!
For a long time we been looking at the lives of women in the Bible through the wrong end of the telescope. Their lives are noticeably small next to the larger lives of men in their stories. This has influenced how we see ourselves. It is a major distortion, and it comes at an exorbitant cost.
Against the cultural backdrop of ancient patriarchy, whenever a woman steps out on the pages of scripture and uses her mind, heart, and voice for the purposes of God, we are often told her story is “an exception to the rules for women.” But that is to imagine God doesn’t mean for us to take the whole Bible seriously and not just a few choice verses. That woman may be breaking the rules of her culture, but she is embracing God’s creation call on his daughters as his image bearer and as an ezer-warrior.
Biblical narratives are intended for our instruction too and must be taken just as seriously as any other biblical text. I learned that lesson when I threw out the Cinderella version of the Old Testament book of Ruth and probed deeper into the a narrative of two women and God.
The opening sentences of the book of Ruth can easily lead readers to assume this story will be about men by introducing Elimelech (Naomi’s husband) and their two sons. But that assumption is short-lived. In a terrible sequence of tragic events—from famine, displacement, widowhood, two pagan daughters-in-law, a decade of double infertility, and more death—the narrator clears the stage of male characters. Remarkably, the story isn’t over. Instead, the biblical camera zooms in on two childless widows, Naomi, a famine refugee, and Ruth, an undocumented immigrant, and the real story begins.
If we line up Ruth with other women in the Bible, no one would imagine her amounting to anything significant. The tally of strikes against her is overwhelming. Without sons, her patriarchal scorecard ranks her a zero. Her other demographics drop her below zero. She’s an immigrant, widowed, certifiably barren, new convert, and forced to scavenge for left-over barley to keep her mother-in-law and herself alive. Ruth lands at the bottom of the female value scale—far below prominent women like Deborah, Huldah, Esther, or Priscilla who rose to significant leadership roles in the nation and the church.
The thought of Ruth playing any role, much less the world-changing kingdom role she ultimately plays in God’s purposes is laughable. All too often, that’s how Christian women see themselves. God works through men, right?
I never will forget the day someone turned the telescope around for me. It happened with the book of Ruth—a book I thought I knew as well as my own name. It went off like a bomb in my life. I never knew God expected so much of me. It changed everything and, as the email below attests, is doing the same things for others.
What I love about the book of Ruth is that the odds against Ruth amounting to anything in God’s purposes is so overwhelming, it leaves the rest of us without excuse. If God worked through the life, choices, initiatives, and sacrifices of Ruth to advance his purposes for the world, we should all be asking ourselves, “If Ruth, why not me?!”
God’s hand is on all of his daughters. Our lives matter. And he can and will multiply our most insignificant and unrecognized acts of kindness and sacrifice to bless the lives of others. We will never fully know the full effect of what he can and will do through us. But don’t imagine your actions of care and compassion don’t multiply.
So it always a huge encouragement when I receive an email like the one below that just arrived from Jennifer, I which I reprint here with her permission. May women and girls awaken to God’s call!
My name is Jennifer. I am from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I came across The Gospel of Ruth through a blog I follow out of Yuba City, California. I pulled it up on Amazon and the description was enough to make me buy it immediately. It transformed my life and strengthened my love for God’s Word. It was a breathe of fresh air to finally read something with meat and meaning.
I followed all those mommy blogs on how to behave like a good wife at 20 years old with littles at home. I soaked it all up. I read the books as well. A time came when I grew tired of “what must I do?” and the step by step guides. My marriage didn’t work like that. I also realized the guilt of this behavior was keeping me trapped in a sea of anxiety.
I tried to reread some of those books again, and they just fell flat. I started to wonder where the books for women were that spoke of the work of Christ in our lives and His working in us to do the things He has entrusted us to do for His glory. I was tired of the fluff, and 20 years later, at 40 years old I picked up your books. I have also listened to all the podcasts I could find that you interviewed in. It has been the best Bible Study I have had in such a long time. I haven’t read Scripture this way, ever, I don’t believe.
Thank you for this challenge.
Just as many churches are right now, our church is also suffering. I am excited to share the Word of Hope with them through fresh eyes. Challenge my sisters in Christ to see what scripture says outside of the culture we have established. And of course recommend your books!
May God continue to bless you in strength, health, and a wisdom to keep searching the Word and sharing it with the world.
It breaks my heart to read about the renewed Taliban efforts to restrict Afghan girls from formal education. It is not only tragic for the young girls, I can’t imagine a more effective way to sabotage a nature’s future.
The tragic stories of Afghan girls shed important light on the biblical narrative of Mary of Bethany. We are well aware that the events in the New Testament took place within a full-fledged patriarchal culture much like that of the Taliban. We all have read or heard how the ancient rabbis believed it was a waste of time to educate girls. In the ancient patriarchal world any education available was primarily for men and boys.
Gospel writers don’t provide demographic details about Mary of Bethany, only that she was living in her sister Martha’s home. What we do know is that, in Martha’s home, Mary was seated at the feet of Rabbi Jesus in a room where he was teaching men (Luke 10:38-42). The expression Luke uses to describe Mary in his Gospel identifies her as a rabbinical student for she “sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said.” Luke uses the same language when he records Paul identifying himself as a student of Gamaliel (he was trained “at the feet of Gamaliel” Acts 22:3, NRSV).
Imagine the impact of this narrative on Afghan girls today. Imagine how they would be drawn to Jesus especially for his firm defense of Mary! What impact did that have on his male disciples?
The impact on Mary proved revolutionary. Her story—all three episodes—are the heart of my book When Life and Beliefs Collide where I make the case that Mary was the First Great New Testament Theologian. Her story begins, but does not end, at the feet of Rabbi Jesus and his emphatic defense of her right to be there when Martha raised objections. And the learning he advocated wasn’t just for learning’s sake. It would lead her to ministry—profound spiritual ministry to Jesus himself, which he would affirm in the most jaw-dropping statement, “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matthew 26:10).
I thank God for the United Nations’ determination to call attention to the injustices and atrocities daily committed against women and girls in every country and to direct our attention to the ongoing battle for girls to be as valued, educated, and championed as boys. At the same time I grieve that the American evangelical church does not always share Jesus’ enthusiasm for educating women and girls, much less any interest in receiving spiritual ministry they might offer. What are we losing? Inside the American evangelical church, a slanted value system continues to exist. Boys return home from college and are questioned at church about their studies and future plans. Girls are asked “Have you met someone special?”
As followers of Jesus, God help us from allowing this day to be a mere annual observance. May we follow Jesus in becoming advocates for girls to learn and grow and minister as Mary did. If Jesus was such a determined advocate for Mary and other women who followed him, how can we do less?
In Esther’s story corrupt male power leads to the sex trafficking of young girls (including Esther) that loved ones like Mordecai were helpless to prevent. In Ruth’s story we learn twice that she is risking her safety by venturing out alone (which she does) on Naomi’s behalf. Boaz—a very powerful man in Bethlehem—displays a counter-cultural gospel brand of masculinity and employs his male power to empower Ruth. The Ruth/Boaz story points to Jesus, the true antidote to the #ChurchToo crisis. It is exactly what we need more of in the church today.
Check out these and other #MeToo related articles while you’re on the https:jofum.com website.
Arden is not having surgery this morning as planned. I can’t believe I just typed that. The surgeon postponed the procedure to run a couple more tests and make sure she’s in good shape for the surgery.
Arden’s birthday party was a grand success, even with the cloud overhead of the surgery scheduled for today. She, family, and so many friends were bracing for the procedure. And then this news.
It feels like whiplash!
Already we’re hearing supportive messages from friends and family: “Better safe than sorry.” “This is not a coincidence. God wants her super strong at the time of the surgery . . . this has to be for the better.”
So this morning, Arden and Avery are back in school; family members from out-of-state are changing flights and heading home; and I’ll be leaving Wednesday morning.
Thank you for praying. I’m grateful that the heavens are already hearing her name as so many of you are praying. Please don’t stop. God’s hand is on her and in this sudden shift in plans.
Our Arden is turning seven next week. It’s an important milestone. She was four when doctors discovered she had severe hip dysplasia. Two surgeries later, at least three spica casts, lots of physical therapy, and a determination to ride her bike and her scooter, and run around with her sister Avery and other children, Arden has been a champ throughout.
[Search this website for “ARDEN UPDATES” to retrace her story.]
We couldn’t be more proud of her or more grateful for praying friends and so many who helped her GoFundMe succeed.
Tuesday, May 18, is another important milestone. Arden will have surgery at Akron Children’s Hospital to remove the metal on her femur that enabled her to heal and get back on her feet. As hard as it is to face another surgery—for her, her mommy, and the rest of the family—this procedure signals hard earned progress.
Please join us in praying for a smooth and successful procedure and a speedy recovery.
“. . . this harmless looking little story . . . will awaken us to a whole new way of being human that will reconfigure our lives and leave us longing for more. . . . and will inject rich hope, purpose, and significance into the veins of the most God-forsaken, hollowed-out human soul.” ——————————————————Finding God in the Margins
It doesn’t require any arm twisting to get me to talk about the book of Ruth. I’m always ready to liberate Ruth from the traditional Cinderella damsel in distress just “waiting for her Boaz” and to get to the heart of the story. The book of Ruth is a paradigm changer.
Revd Bruce had recently hosted a webinar on the coronavirus pandemic back in November 2020, inviting me to be a presenter with Rabbi Jonathan and Professor Ted Fuller of the University of Lincoln, UK and UNESCO Chair on Responsible Foresight for Sustainable Development.
It was a huge honor to participate and unforgettable to hear from these two men. I will never forget hearing Rabbi Jonathan talk about ministry to those suffering and losing loved-ones from Covid-19. Learning about UNESCO’s efforts was truly heartening as well.
I can hardly wait for this next conversation. If you are interested in joining this ZOOM webinar, the welcome mat is out.
Sometimes a book finds you at just the right time in your life.
I’d known of Carolyn Custis James’ book, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, since it was first published 10 years ago. But it was one of those books that stayed on my ‘I should read that someday’ list. Maybe I wasn’t ‘ready’ to wrestle with the global issues I suspected it’d raise. Maybe I thought it’d demand too much of me in navigating the complicated world of women’s roles in a male-dominated world. So I put it off.
Until now. And talk about timing. Five months ago, I started working for an Australian-founded, global relief and development organisation whose primary mission is to “be love and end poverty”. Every day I feel the enormous privilege it is to engage in discussions about how we can join God in the work He’s doing in places like Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia, where we partner with various Christian agencies on the ground. These agencies provide a range of opportunities to help women, children and men – regardless of status or religion – to emerge from poverty. To flourish. They organise workshops on gardening, hygiene, fish farming, education, savings clubs, etc, in impoverished rural areas.
Most of us in the West can’t begin to appreciate the challenges these families face every day because of the complicated impact of poverty, made worse now because of COVID. Nor can we appreciate just how much of a lifeline humanitarian efforts such as these actually can be throughout the world. Yet even before the 2020 pandemic, our partners were on the ground teaching families daily hygiene to avoid disease and how to grow their own crops when food shortages took a plunge in already vulnerable cultures. They had a step up for what 2020 brought.
In other words, God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, whose heart is turned toward the poor and marginalised, has always been providing for His most perfect design – humans – through, well, other humans.
Enter Half the Church – an inspiring breath of fresh air. Custis James’ compelling writing and solid theology bring these issues together. She begins each chapter with a story from the Majority World – child brides/widows, sex trafficking, horrific abuses imposed on girls and women daily all before 2010. Sadly, they hold true still in 2021 – and so her book remains a grounding and crucial read today.
Custis James cites frequently the impact of another ground-breaking book, Half the Sky, which clearly informed her thinking around these issues. Kristof and WuDunn’s book exposed the atrocities gender inequality brought in the new millennium – many of which continue today. That book was a confronting and personal wake up call for Custis James, giving the American author an opportunity to explore a deeper and more robust theological response to God’s global vision for women.
At its foundation, her book centres on what is often missing in daily ministry and global mission: creation theology.
“When God created human beings in his ‘image’ and ‘likeness’, he was designating us as his representatives on the earth” Custis James writes.
“Instead of running things directly himself, he chose us as his intermediaries to run things here in this world. As his image bearers, we speak and act on his behalf. This is not only about Christians. Every human being is God’s image bearer – granted the highest possible rank of all of God’s creatures. Every human being has a strategic role in God’s purposes in the world. Every human being possesses a derived significance – grounded in God himself. And every human being is summoned to the highest of all possible aspirations – not to be God, but ‘to be like’ God himself. God is the standard for who we are and what our mission is in this world. By pursuing this loftiest of all goals, we move toward true flourishing as human beings.”
In eight well-researched and thoughtful chapters (though with some obviously American perspectives), Custis James provides a meaty and inviting theology for Kingdom work, regardless of gender: That leadership is about bending down to serve. That women and men were always meant to minister together in what she calls a “Blessed Alliance”. That from the creation theology put forth in Genesis, we find a blueprint for understanding our identity as women and men. That women are (as the Hebrew called Eve and also refers to God throughout Scripture) ezers, a word most often used in a military context throughout Scripture as warriors. God is a shield, a defense, a watch over his people, an ezer. For Eve to have been called the same is to see God’s identity reflected in – and for – her.
“He deploys the ezer to break the man’s aloneness by soldiering with him wholeheartedly and at full strength for God’s gracious kingdom. The man needs everything she brings to their global mission.”
Yet make no mistake: This is not a feminist’s handbook any more than it is an enemy of men. Custis James’ chapters on the ‘Blessed Alliance’ of (men and women working together) and the Bride of Christ are riveting stuff, anchored deep in the Biblical narrative, giving juicy Scriptural illustrations, and calling all Christ-followers to dig deep into the mutual power of God’s blessing beyond gender, especially if we want to care and advocate for those fellow ‘image-bearers’ living on the margins. Their justice, after all, is ours; their hope one we all share, because both are rooted in Christ’s crucifixion and raised again for the opportunity of new life available to all throughout the world.
And while Custis James sneaks close to ‘the issue’ (of ordination), she respectfully explores both sides of the ‘Great Debate’ about women’s roles within the church. But she goes way beyond taking a stand – her vision is much bigger than narrow-minded certainties that too many denominations hold about gender roles.
Rather, Custis James offers a much-needed Kingdom strategy in which all are called to participate – a perspective I didn’t know how much I needed until I finally devoured her book. And because she majors on the majors, not the minors, of Scripture, we see the ‘indisputable’ truths in the lives of role models like Eve, Naomi, Boaz, Ruth, Esther, Mordecai, Mary, Joseph, and others, that reaffirm their identity as ‘image-bearers’ and vessels of God’s work. Together they point to Christ the King. In other words, the whole body of Christ is to do the whole work of the Kingdom to serve all of God’s image bearers around the globe, especially those in poverty.
As Custis James put it 10 years ago, in a challenge that rings just as true in 2021:
“There is much work to be done. Earth is emitting a distress signal we cannot ignore. Suffering and injustice are rampant, and they are our business. God has called us. We are ready.”
Review by Jo Kadlecek. Author, reporter and teacher for many years, Jo Kadlecek is now the communication manager for Baptist World Aid Australia. She and her husband and their dog Clark Kent live in Sydney, Australia. Former Gordon College students may remember her as a Journalism Professor at their alma mater.
At the Society for Pentecostal Studies Conference last weekend, Médine‘s presentation preceded mine. She couldn’t have raised the widespread harm of patriarchy more clearly. It’s a battle she faced personally and continues to fight on behalf of others, although, by God’s grace, she is free and flourishing. You will love her heart!
It’s also a good reminder that if #MeToo and #ChurchToo have taught us anything, violence and abuse of women is at epidemic levels in the United States. As Christians, we have work to do.
So watch in segments, but please watch both presentations!
Médine Moussounga Keener, Ph.D. (University of Paris 7) spent eighteen months as a war refugee in Congo Brazzaville. She has firsthand experience of violence against women and the plight of African women. Médine serves as Pastoral Care Coordinator at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. She writes and speaks on the issues of racism, ethnicity, and reconciliation in Africa and the U.S.
Just as Covid won’t go away without effective vaccines . . . . As Christians, we cannot in good conscience adequately address this global crisis of Violence Against Women without exploring causative factors that increase female vulnerability and allow violence against women to occur within our ranks.—————————Carolyn Custis James
This past weekend the Society of Pentecostal Studies held their 50th Annual Meeting at The King’s University in Southlake, Texas. It was the SPS’s second attempt to hold this conference. SPS’s 2020 conference location was Southern California, which at the exact same time became the USA’s biggest Coronavirus hotspot. The conference had to be cancelled. But the conference theme lived on.
Conference planners stuck to their original theme and moved it into 2021: This is My Body: Violence Against Women. Only, with the Covid-19 pandemic still with us, the 2021 conference would be hybrid.
In explaining the urgency of the crisis of Violence Against Women, Program Chair, Professor Melissa Archer, Assoc Professor of Biblical Studies at Southeastern University, referenced a 2006 Study of the United Nations Secretary-General, “Ending Violence Against Women: From Words to Actions.” The report declared that
“eliminating violence against women remains one of the most serious challenges of our time. Global statistics show that 7 out of 10 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. In the United States, more than 600 are raped or sexually assaulted every day. . . . The pervasiveness of violence against women across the boundaries of nation, culture, race, class and religion points to its roots in patriarchy the systemic domination of women by men.
Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the fallen cultural backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message. We need to understand that world and patriarchy in particular—much better than we do—if we hope to grasp the radical countercultural message of the Bible.
Malestrom features the stories of men in the Bible we all too often overlook. These men put on display a whole new gospel brand of masculinity that is both freeing and empowering for men in ways that reflect Jesus, bless the lives of others, and give hard evidence that Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world.