On Women and Preaching, a guest post

Thankful to be hosting my husband, Ethan Merck, on here today.
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In the discussion about women preaching from the front on Sunday – the current surge of concerned discussion – I want to acknowledge that many women I know have been hurt and disadvantaged by people applying principles in ways that go beyond Scripture.

The wrong is real. The hurt is real. The seasons of recovery under God’s love and grace needed are real. Many churches have a lot of changing, experimenting, and apologizing/repenting to do in regard to women using their gifts to bless the body…

There is a place for dealing gently with those in a pendulum swing and wrestling through the key passages again. This also applies to more isolated and younger churches anywhere in the world who are working through these things for the first time.

But let us also be clear about something, that nothing about the nature of God’s Word has changed. We may need to revisit passages and allow what they say to fundamentally reshape our understanding and practice. But God’s Word is still what it always has been: flawless, timeless, consistent and complete words from the mouth of God delivered through Spirit controlled human instruments.

Discussions I’ve seen on whether women preaching up front is a matter of conscience or a matter of sin generally point in the right direction. But in my opinion, the way people are talking often misses the key issues.

We have to push to the side testimonies of our own experience and blessing – whether for or against. These just aren’t the issue. Similarly, general calls to stop repressing women, or general calls to obey the Bible are also unhelpful in stimulating productive dialogue. They are likely to be heard only by those who already agree with us.

The heart of the matter is what the Bible is in its very nature, and principles for how we interpret it (hermeneutics.)

The Bible’s own starting place for itself is that it is *all* the Word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17, 2 Pet 1:19-21). That has implications. One of those implications is that the Bible alone is qualified to interpret itself, far and away before we speculate meaning from another basis.

We must look at what is said directly and clearly, and start from there. Wherever we end up, it must fit within what is said directly and clearly. Introducing a view that undercuts clear New Testament teaching, or tries to “protect” a passage from contradicting what is seen elsewhere in the Bible? That is a clear sign of a problem in me, not in the text.

The Bible doesn’t *contain* God’s Word, it is God’s Word (2 Tim 3:16-17). All of it, in every part, in every way. If we start trying to defend the Bible from itself, and think it falls on us to use our cultural instincts to discern what is from God and what is only Paul’s personal opinion – I am afraid we have joined Thomas Jefferson’s Bible-redacting club. The same is true of forcing passages through a test of historical beliefs imported from our community of faith.

If we start down that road, with scissors either physical, cultural or historical, after a little while we may find we have destroyed the only foundation we have.

So let’s make sure our discussions give God’s Word its proper place, and that our aim is to swim always and only within its richness. Let’s discuss women’s roles in Jesus’ church from that place, laying aside any mantles of self-righteously assumed roles – whether as defenders of historical beliefs or defenders of oppressed women. The God whose Word we hold is worthy of our humility before Him. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

 

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On Friendship

I loved Autumn Kern’s & Lauren Washer’s thoughts recently on doing life in community, with friends who are walking with you and know the real you, not the one online. If you haven’t read those posts, go find them. Beautiful and true.
But what if you are like me, starting all over finding community? What if you are grieving the loss of your last precious community? What if church life looks very different than it did before? No small groups or Bible studies in place? What if people around you speak a language you can only speak very brokenly? What if most of the people you know are moving away soon?
I cried yesterday listening to the last Out of the Ordinary podcast episode on Friendship Hacks (so so good – give it a listen!!). The topic of friendship & community is so raw for me these days. It is full of grief & longing; perplexity & questions. This new season is so counterintuitive for us because we have never crossed the bridge of language with a family before.
I offer you what I am learning in this new season:
  • Grieve with Christ. As often as you need to, go to Him with your heart in pieces and full of longing.
  • Pray. Ask for friends. Ask the Lord that out of the friendship He has with you, you would be a friend to others. Receive His grace to welcome others before others welcome you.
  • Initiate, initiate, initiate. Send a text, invite someone over, invite yourself over, bake cupcakes – take them to your neighbor. Ask how you can pray. Make a meal for a family. Invite someone to pray together. Invite friends to the movies with you and your kids. Don’t get discouraged if none of them can make it.
  • Be patient. It might take time before the seeds of friendship bloom…but just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean they are not growing.
  • Expect God to surprise you. An older sister – and not a peer – might end up becoming a close friend. A friend that speaks another language than yours might be a sweet companion and sister in the Lord. Over time, that friendship will grow stronger as your language grows. At least, it’s what I am praying for.😉
  • Be transparent with others. Share what God is teaching you.
I am sowing seeds of community, fiercely hoping in the Triune God who is a community and who creates community. I am praying against the cynicism that seems near – the one that thinks this isolation is how it will always be. That knowing and be known just won’t happen here.
I look at Christ’s relentlessness in pursuing His friends, even when they fell asleep, and left Him in his hardest moment. He wasn’t ruled by cynicism. His hope for them in God was firm. He loved them till the end.
He gave His life to create true, lasting community. His blood has welcomed me to the community of the Trinity.
And because His blood also binds me to my brothers and sisters, maybe what Lisa Jo Baker said is not too good to be true: “Some of our best friends are here. We just don’t know it yet.”
But we will never find out if we give up loving others and welcoming them as Christ has welcomed us.

Why My Kids Are God’s Grace In This Season

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Have you ever gone through a pretty significant transition as a family and found yourself thinking, “Man! Doing this with kids is HARD?” Yeah? Well, it has actually never crossed my mind. I love every minute of going through transition with our kids. Like when I come home dead tired after getting lost in a city I don’t know while running errands in a language we are still learning, only to find kids that need discipline. Or when I want to retreat in the downswing of culture shock to process all the change, but my kids are needing me to process their own emotions as they, too, go through change. Yah, it’s super sweet. 😉

No, but really. Going through change with young kids, especially cross culturally, IS hard. The constant demands of caring for them paired with culture shock makes for a great deal of stress. We have done this whole gig without kids and it’s another story entirely (though admittedly, with it’s own set of hard).

And yet, moving with kids has been God’s grace to us. Here are a few ways I see the blessing they are to us in this season:

  1. When you transition with family, you bring your own little home with you. Even when your new house doesn’t feel like home, and you still don’t have “safe” friends that you can be yourself with, you have your husband and children with you – the people that know & love you best.
  2. Children help you live life in community. They introduce you to new friends through their friends at school or in the neighborhood. Having kids forces you out of isolation – their need to burn energy takes you to the park; their need for friends helps you remember you need friends too; and, their cuteness breaks down walls & ice with neighbors.
  3. You get to experience the new city or country twice – through your eyes and theirs.
  4. Having kids pushes you to keep doing hard things necessary to create a life in your new community when maybe you’d take a break. For example, my girls really enjoy going to church.  Even though I love worshipping God with His people, sometimes going to church is hard work for me in this season, because of significant language barrier. There have been times I am tempted to stay home. Knowing how much they want to be there is a sweet encouragement to me. The discipline of showing up Sunday after Sunday to a worship service in a foreign language is yielding fruits in my heart. There is a knowing & being known happening that in turn deepens love for God’s people in this place. This gives Him glory. I will write more about this soon.
  5. God uses my kids to build up my faith. He uses their endurance to grow my own. Their courage in the face of hard things is life- giving to me. Christ really knows what he is doing with them.
  6. Having little people’s needs to care for ahead of my own is God’s mercy to me. Their vulnerability and neediness drives me to the end of myself very quickly. When life gets hard, and I want to seek strength by myself, Christ draws me to Himself as the one who alone is my strength.
  7. Finally, kids – they keep you laughing. And man, the Lord knows how much we have needed laughter in the middle of all the crazy.

Christ’s faith in us gives us eyes to see God really is kind in all his ways. His wisdom planned this transition & language learning season with kids. It is challenging and yet also His good gift. I look forward to getting more perspective into all He is doing in us during this time. And yet the trustworthiness of God assures me of this: goodness & mercy will follow us as a family every single day of our lives.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some ways you see God’s gift to you in your kids during challenging times?

A Journey Back in Song

We are leaving the UAE in 3 days. For almost 3 years, this country has been our home. Father brought us here, brought me here, to continue remaking me after Christ. He has used so much – people, conversations, trials, disappointment, joy, temptation, the birth of our son – to reveal my heart, to feed my hope on the Resurrection, to delight in being one with Jesus… to give me more of Christ.

Something this week made me want to look back on the songs that God used at key points to minister to me these past 3 years. Re-listening to them this morning brought back such strong memories of specific moments in this journey. Through them I can see where I was on the journey at different times: excited and hopeful, weary and broken, rested and comforted, tempted and failing, steadfast and full of faith. They remind me what I needed from the Lord and how He was so faithful to comfort, encourage and strengthen my faith every step of the way.

I tend to listen to songs over and over again. These are my most-listened songs during our time in the UAE.  I thought it’d be fun to collect them all in one place.

 

 

 

What We Gained from Losing a Bike

Today we are starting to sell/get rid of all our things, getting ready for our move next month. So yesterday, we went around the house saying goodbye to the things we love. At first it seemed like a funny thing we were doing. The girls were very amused by the exercise.

“Bye, couch…!” Giggles.

“Mom, that’s so funny! Couches can’t talk!”

“Bye fridge!!” More laughter.

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But then, we got to their bikes. Our four year old melted in my arms, completely devastated. “I can’t keep my bike?!” Her voice broke down. “But I LOVE my bike! It’s my birthday bike. I really wish I could bring it on the airplane….” All this between sobs. It was one of the hardest moments we have had as parents. We knew it would be hard. Ethan and I had already pre-grieved this loss earlier this week. But seeing her walk through it was heart-breaking. We sobbed with her.

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At the same time, beauty blossomed in front of my eyes. My husband held her for a long time. And she spontaneously prayed, “thank you, Father for giving me my bike…”

It’s funny how God knows the ways I need to grow up as a mom. I have been dreading these last moments here in this city. I wish I could keep my kids from hurting, but if I did, I wouldn’t see this: their child – like trust in God or the beautiful picture of a Father that embraces us and hold us in our grief.

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I wouldn’t hear my oldest daughter say, “We get to stay together as a family. It’s like we get to bring our house with us wherever we go.”

I wouldn’t see God giving them the faith to say, “I’ll have more adventures on another cool bike.”

Yesterday, God grew my faith for this new transition. He’s not only asking us to walk through it, but He is really carrying us into it. He is creating something beautiful in us as a family in the midst of loss. And He is giving us something far better than bikes, and friends forever and a grief-less childhood:

My girls are tasting the comfort of the Father.

I am seeing Jesus living His life in me, giving me His own child-like trust to entrust our family to my Papa in Heaven.

Our whole family is learning to live inside the much bigger Story we are part of.

After all, He is worthy.

Joy-sharing, Vol. 2 – My favorite reads in 2017

Full disclosure: This year was the first in a while that I read so consistently.

The first part of the year I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and I felt like I had no capacity to read or process. I watched lots of Hallmark Christmas movies posted on YouTube. But at some point, I don’t remember how, the Lord nudged me to begin reading again. And once I started, I couldn’t quite stop.

I am so thankful for my Kindle (maybe possibly my favorite toy?) for a few reasons:

  1. The built-in light allows me to read at night without bothering my  husband. So when I was awake during those sleepless 3rd trimester nights, and later nursing, I would read.
  2. I can get books either on Amazon or through my library in the States. I don’t feel as limited by the fact that I don’t have as many options available here as I did back home.
  3. I can carry it with me easily and read while I am waiting in different places.

Now on to my picks! If you are my friend and have a kindle, I would be so happy to loan any of these books to you!

First pick – Love that it is written by an Anglican. She has a different framework than mine to think about life. I welcome that. I don’t usually reread books and yet found myself with this one going back to think through some of her insights.
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My second pick. And quite honestly could have easily been my first. This book was thought provoking and gave me insights into our homemaking God that I had never considered. Jen melted my heart with beautiful pictures of a servant, homemaking, feast-preparing God.
I really enjoyed reading this book memoir by these two ladies and again – a framework different than mine enriches my perspective.
A writing Memoir – Need I say more?
I really loved how this book is part memoir. But my favorite thing about it is how Anderson kept fixing my gaze on Christ and his humility. I journalled through some of the chapters as it helped me process my life. It is beautifully and honestly written. Probably my 3rd pick 🙂
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I really enjoyed reading this book about this traveling family. Now I want to go to New Zealand.
I am not quite done with this book but have been savouring every single chapter. There is no truth that buoys my hope as this one: I am one with Christ. Wilbourne’s writing is compelling, clear and what he shares thrills my heart again and again.

This year I am hoping to double the amount of books I read – sharing this because accountability. I am hoping to do that by trying different things:

  1. Read two books at the same time: non-fiction and fiction.
  2. I deleted a few apps from my phone that I use too much and can distract me from reading.
  3. I am planning to listen to more books on audio – especially fiction books. (Listening to non-fiction doesn’t work as well for me).

What are some books you read in 2017? What do you do to make time for reading? 

 

A Fall Poem

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I am delighted by how much Maia loves to write. She loves writing stories, letters, lists… and recently she suggested writing a fall poem. It reflects the two realities she knows about life both in the US and here…especially the last two lines. Everyone here knows that the mall is where you go to eat donuts! Here is her poem. She is my favorite guest poster so far 🙂

UAE fall and USA fall

by Maia Merck

I love the fall

I can cuddle my doll

I can buy a cat or play with a bat

Or put on my orange leaf hat.

What do you want to do?

I want to jump in the leaves

And get donuts at the mall too.

Picture by Autumn Mott (Unsplash)