Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Know Your Role

*This was originally written as an essay for my English class.  I have expanded my thoughts a bit since I have no word count limits on this blog :)      

  For many years, women have been silenced in the church and their role has been limited to teaching children and baking casseroles.  While children and food ministries are very important, women have so much more to offer the body of Christ.   God calls all of us to obedience, and when women are forced to conform to man made religious laws, they can be forced to disobey God’s calling on their lives.  All of God’s children have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit, and women should be encouraged to use their gifts to benefit the church.

            Peter quotes the prophet Joel, “'And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.'” (Acts 2:17-18 HCSB)  In order for a woman to be able to prophesy, she must be able to speak.  God promises to pour out His Spirit on all people, men and women alike.  The Holy Spirit equips each of us with gifts we are expected to use to build up the church and to minister to those outside of the church: wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles, prophesy, distinguishing between spirits, different kinds of languages, and the ability to interpret the languages. (1 Corinthians 12:8-10 HCSB).  The Holy Spirit does not distribute the gifts as man sees fit, and there is no indication in the Scriptures that they will be distributed  based on the gender of the recipient, but rather,  distributed as He wills.  (1 Corinthians 12:11)  

There are several instances in the Bible of women using their spiritual gifts and praying in the presence of men, as well as serving in leadership roles.  After the ascension of Jesus, the disciples gathered in the upper room and were “continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Acts 1:14)   Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, invited a Jew named Apollos into their home so that they could teach him the way of God more accurately to him. (Acts 18:26)  The evangelist, Philip, had four daughters who prophesied . (Acts 21:9)  Paul commends Phoebe, a deacon, in the Roman church, and encourages them to welcome her in a manner pleasing to the Lord. (Romans 16:1).  Did Paul feel the need to let them know of her coming ahead of time, encouraging them to welcome her because they struggled with the same issue of women's role in the church as we do?  

            It is better to obey God rather than man. (Acts 5:29)    Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27 HCSB).  Too often,  man made rules regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit have caused women to question whether or not it really was the voice of their Shepherd they were hearing when called into certain ministries.  It takes courage for a woman to go against what her culture has deemed acceptable, but she must “be on guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV)  No human can tell you what ministries God has called you to.  No human can limit the spiritual gifts you have been given by God.   In the end, who will we have to answer to:  Man or God?  I don't know about you, but I want to be obedient to the One who will decide my eternal fate.  Hebrews 10:35-38 says, "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For, 'In just a little while, he is coming will come and not delay." And, 'But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.'"  I can not help but wonder how many times women have "shrunk back" from saying something (prophesying), or praying with someone, or pursuing a certain ministry that God has called them to because of limitations the church has placed on women.

            When women’s role in the church is limited, some women are often forced to serve in areas in which they are not gifted.   If women are to be obedient to God, they must be able to serve in areas that man has closed off to them.  “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelations 3:8 NIV)   Women must find the courage to step outside the confines of church culture and tradition in order to discover the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them and use them to produce what is beneficial for the church.  In the end, we all want to hear God say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 5:21 NIV)  

Romans 16:25-27 (HCSB)
Now to Him who has power to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages  but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all nations—  to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to Him be the glory forever! Amen.

Friday, October 3, 2014

For Such a Time As This

The majority of the people of the Bible who are taught to children as heroes are men.  However, there are many women throughout Scripture that God has used in many ways.  Esther was one of the bravest women in the entire Bible (in my opinion, anyway).  

           She was a Jewish girl who had been exiled to Persia with her cousin, Mordecai, who was raising her.  After Xerxes, the King of Persia, banished his wife, Queen Vashti, because of her disobedience to his orders, he went on a search for a new queen.  Esther was among many young women gathered to “audition” for the position of Queen of Persia.  Of all of the ladies, King Xerxes found Esther to be the lovliest and chose her to be his queen. Mordecai instructed Esther to keep her nationality a secret.

            King Xerxes had a royal official, Haman, who was the most powerful official in the empire.  Everyone was to bow down to Haman when he passed by, but Mordecai refused to.  Haman was filled with rage, and when he found out that Mordecai was a Jew, he went to King Xerxes and asked to issue an royal decree to destroy all of the Jews living in the empire.  And so it was to be done nearly a year later.    The king agreed to the complete annihilation of the Jews.  The decree was issued all across the empire.  When the king issues a decree, it is irrevocable.  When Mordecai found out about what was going to happen, he tore his clothes, covered himself with ashes and mourned.  When Esther sent her attendant to find out what was wrong, he told her of the plan, and requested that she go before the king and beg for mercy and plead for her people. 

However, the problem with that plan was that anyone who entered the king’s inner court without being summoned would die, unless he held out his gold scepter.  Mordecai was asking Esther to risk her life in order to save the Jews.  The king had not called for Esther for a month, so she was not confident that she would be welcomed by him.  Mordecai begged Esther again, telling her, “Don’t think for a moment that because you are in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed.  If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives would die.  Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)  Esther fasted, along with her servents and all of the Jews of Susa.  After three days, Esther dressed in her royal robes and bravely entered the king’s inner courts without being summoned, risking her own life to save a nation.  Fortunately, the king was pleased to see his queen and held out his scepter to her.  He offered her anything she wanted, up to half the entire kingdom.   After requesting two banquets with King Xerxes and Haman, Esther exposed Haman, revealed her nationality, and begged the king to save her people.  Filled with anger, King Xerxes had Haman executed on the gallows that he (Haman) had built to have Mordecai killed on.  Since a decree issued by the king can not be revoked, a new decree was issued to the Jews giving them the authority to unite and defend themselves against anyone out to destroy them.  The enemies of the Jews thought they would over power them, but they did not. The Jews were victorious over their enemies.

Esther was a girl of humble beginnings; a simple Jewish girl.  She was not royalty by blood, but she was chosen from among many young women to become the Queen of Persia. Because of her courage, the Jews were rescued from complete annihilation and the blood line of Jesus was saved. 

That is an abridged version of the story of Esther. It is not a long book, and I encourage you to read it all if you have not yet; it is full of intrigue, drama, and suspense.   But here are three lessons that I have taken from this story: 

1.      Growing up in the church, this was not a Bible story that was ever taught at VBS, and it was not taught to us in Bible class to the same extent as the stories of David, Joseph, Joshua, and Samson (who, by the way was NOT a hero at all).  When we skip over incredible stories like these, we do a great disservice to not only our young girls who desperately need a brave, strong woman to look up to, but also, we do not allow our boys to see girls as people who are capable of being strong.  Being the “weaker vessel” does not make the woman completely weak.  Girls and boys need to know this.  Girls need to know how to be strong with beauty and grace, and who better to learn from than someone like Esther?

2.      Our past does not define our destiny.  Esther was not born into royalty, but she was divinely appointed.  She could have kept looking at her past, saying, “But I am just a poor Jewish girl.  Who am I to do such a task?”  But she didn’t.  She took the wise advise of her cousin and she fasted, which would imply that she consulted God about her purpose and destiny, and was willing to die to fulfill it.  All of us have a “for such a time as this” purpose in our lives, and our past, and not even our present define that purpose.  People can not define your purpose for you.  God does.  People might tell us what our purpose is, and they may be right, and they may be wrong.  People often stay in the context of what is culturally acceptable and not have open eyes to what is biblically acceptable.  When taking the advise of others, we need to consult God and be obedient to His will for our lives, not others.  Sometime we have to break the rules our society places on women's roles to step into our God-given purposes.

3.    Esther could have remained unharmed in her palace, without risking her neck to save her people.  However, she saw the bigger picture.  As Mordecai told her, you can save your life now, but you will lose your soul (paraphrased).  If the Jews died, they would die, but they would be delivered eternally.  We have to be willing to risk our lives to save our souls.  It is easy to send out little "I believe Jesus is Lord" emails, or post cute pictures on Facebook when the persecution you face might be having someone make fun of you, and you probably only send those emails to other believing friends and family, but if someone was threatening your life if you confessed your faith in Jesus Christ, would you be as courageous?  Would you prefer to save your earthly life, or your eternal life?  Would you risk your life to save the lives of others?