December 7-10: Favored Woman

“And the angel came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you.’ But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Then the angel told her: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'” – Luke 1:28-30

Favored woman.

This is a title we all long to hear. We want to hear it from our boss, friends, spouse, kids, or our social-media following.

Maybe I’m the only woman who wants to hear that… But I doubt it.

This week, I desired that others would favor me. I wanted to appear strong, capable, and winsome. So I delayed writing advent pieces until I felt like what I wrote was good enough. Through this delay, this passage from Luke was swimming laps in my head, not ending anywhere.

Mary found favor with God.

The word used here for “favor” is the same word for “grace” or “kindness.”

Mary was the one who received an extension of God’s grace. So what? Haven’t all believers found favor with God? Haven’t we all received grace?

I asked these questions as I read this Scripture over and over again.

I believe the answer to these questions is “yes.”

The Lord was with Mary. He chose her to become the one who was with child – the one who was literally with the Lord. Mary did nothing to entice the angel to speak this word to her. The angel was sent to tell Mary that the Word would be made flesh through her.

It was God’s grace to bring His Son into the world through Mary’s womb. It was God’s grace that this child would live perfectly in this shattered world. It was God’s grace that this child grew into a man who died on a cross. It was God’s grace that this man died for our sin and came back to life so that we could be called favored or recipients of grace. 

My sinful desire to be favored because of my good works and accomplishments find their death in Jesus. And, God’s holy desire to die for my sinful desire is God’s favor upon me.

When a believer receives the grace of God, she receives it through Jesus.

We are recipients of grace. We, by Mary’s child, can receive this word:

“Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you.”

 

December 6: Son of David

An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:” – Matthew 1:1

Jesus’ genealogy, the legacy he bears, is scandalous. God promised to always have an heir of David on the throne (Jeremiah 33:17), but David’s successors are shameful women.

Tamar pretended to be a prostitute so that her father-in-law would impregnate her (Genesis 38, Matthew 1:3).

Rahab was a prostitute who hid the spies and was then welcomed into Israel’s family. She was also a Gentile (Joshua 2, Matthew 1:5).

Ruth was a Gentile and from a pagan people who had no hope (Book of Ruth, Matthew 1:5).

Bathsheba was summoned to David’s bed and bore David’s son Solomon (2 Samuel 11, Matthew 1:16).

Mary was pregnant before marriage (Matthew 1:16).

The genealogy is a declaration that Jesus has fulfilled the promise God gave in Jeremiah 33:17 – that the throne would always have an heir of David. But it is also a declaration that God is not afraid of the shameful.

God uses these disgraceful, unworthy, and marginalized women, and announces their place in His story. Women have a place in the story of salvation. Matthew 1 declares this to be true. The Son of David did not come from a clean bloodline. He came from a God-designed bloodline. And this to bring glory to Himself.

December 5: Born of a Woman

“When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” – Galatians 4:4-5

It is in these verses we see the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

“God sent his Son” – Jesus is the eternal Son of God, which means that he exists forever and he is from God. Jesus was not created by human hands. He is the fullness of God.

“Born of a woman” – Jesus was not created from dust like Adam. He was not pulled out of man’s side like Eve. Jesus was born of a woman, which makes him human.

God came down and wrapped himself in skin, bones, and muscle. The Holy One, different from us in every way, became one of us. He did this “so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

We cannot invite ourselves into God’s family. We cannot become God’s children by making ourselves clean and moral. We cannot become more like God on our own, so God had to become like us. He became the Son of Man so that we could become sons and daughters of God.

Ladies, God is not a far-off rule-maker. God is a near-by Savior-man. God came all the way near to us. He was born of a woman. What could be closer than that?

 

December 4: Hostility and Labor Pains

“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head and you will strike his heel. He said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children with painful effort.” – Genesis 3:15-16a

God cursed Satan with a lifetime of hostility against humanity. This hostility entered the world through Eve’s sin and the serpent’s lie. All humanity now lives in this fight against sin. We wear the bruises of our sin on our heels and limp through life.

The first command God gives mankind is, “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Our rebellion against God in Eden made it harder to accomplish His command. Now, filling the earth comes at a cost. Eve’s offspring will enter the world through their mother’s labor and pain.

Women bear physical reminders every month and with every pregnancy that the world is not as it should be. Our bodies cry out for relief – God, remove the curse!

It is no mistake that the curse of Satan and the curse of Eve are both about child-bearing.

Satan’s curse meets its maker in the birth of Jesus. The snake-crusher has come into the world! Jesus has bruised heels, just like the rest of us. But he is the one who strikes the head of Satan, crushing him forever at the cross.

Eve’s pain in childbirth (and every woman after her) is not taken away when Jesus comes. Jesus’ birth was just as painful for Mary as it is for any woman. The curse is not removed yet. 

Mary’s tears, pain, labor, and sweat point to an eternal promise. Jesus crushed the enemy of Eve’s offspring. Though her offspring still struggle with great pain to “fill the earth,” Jesus declares that the pain will not be forever. While we groan for today, we hope for His return when pain will be no more. We are made right with God through Jesus. We long to be with Him soon. Return, Lord Jesus!

December 3: No More Shame

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” – Genesis 2:25

Why were Adam and Eve naked and unashamed? They knew each other fully, God knew them completely, and because there was no sin, there was no shame. When sin entered the world, the first couple covered themselves with leaves and hid from God. Because there was sin, there was shame.

Every day since sin flooded our world, we’ve covered ourselves. We still wear clothing, which signals that we still have our outward shame. Shame affects our relationships. We hide from one another when our inward shame is exposed.

Mary was no stranger to shame since she was pregnant before marriage. Joseph planned to end their courtship (Matthew 1). But God intervened and took away the shame Mary would endure (Matthew 1:20-21).

Not only that, but God took what is shameful to the world (pregnancy before marriage) and used it to bring forth the one who would bear all our shame on His shoulders.

This is God’s marvelous and paradoxical plan. He takes the shameful things – the barren, the prostitutes, the widowed – and makes them achieve His salvation plan.

Childless, barren, hurting, lonely women –  God offers you a relationship where you can stand before Him fully exposed and experience no shame.

Any shame you have dies with the Son of God born to a woman!

 

Advent: Reflections for Women

This Christmas season, my prayer is to grow in intimacy with Jesus and press toward what He called me to do. I am called to know and be known by God and share what God teaches me, especially with women.

Women are not benchwarmers in God’s kingdom. The Savior of the world loved women while he was on earth. He laced His entire redemptive history, from Genesis to Revelation, with faithful women. Joseph and Mary’s baby came to reconcile all people. The gospel is good news for men and women.

This Advent season I will write daily reflections about women in the Christmas story. My aim is not to glorify women through these reflections. My aim is to help women see how Christmas is good news for them. Through our intimacy with Jesus, we can glorify God with our lives.

Ladies, I hope you will join me on this journey toward Bethlehem. I pray we will love Jesus more by December 25th.

To Momma:

It is important to know the ways that God makes himself known in our lives. When we’re told how we reflect the nature of Jesus, we are less prone to doubt that he is with us. I give praise to God for how he continues to shape you more and more into his image, and I want to point you to the ways that God’s character is evident in you.

First, you are gracious. You do not let the sin of others cause you to seek justice. Like Jesus, “where sin increases, grace increases all the more” (Romans 5:20). Though we are guilty before God for all of our heinous sins, Jesus gave us more grace than we could ever imagine. The gracious way that you act towards others has taught me to choose forgiveness over anger or condemnation.

You also have endurance. The Christian life is one of difficulty. The writer of Hebrews calls it “a race.” Instead of choosing to be lazy or to quit when things get difficult, you have endured. You have “laid aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles, and ran with endurance the race that is set before you, fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus is our perfect example of endurance, and you emulate him in your life.

Another quality of God within you is the way that you give boundless love. You love others deeply, fully, and richly. There is this amazing word in the Old Testament used to describe God. It’s called “hessed” and it is usually translated just as “love” but it means much more than that. It’s the kind of love that is pure, the love that produces kindness towards others, the love that is better than life itself (Psalm 63:3), and the love that is only able to come from God. The Lord has given you the ability to show this kind of love to others.

Finally, you feel things deeply. This may not seem like a quality of God at first, but God is the creator of emotions. He is the one that made them, and they are good. They have a purpose, and that purpose is to draw you closer to the One who created emotion. You have taught me how to feel, and how to not be ashamed of those emotions, but to let them draw you closer to God.

(I wrote this letter to my mother for part of her Christmas gift. It was appropriate to share again today.)

25 Women Who Have Influenced Me

For my 25th birthday, I wanted to share 25 women who have influenced me so far in life:

1. Momma

Is it possible to measure the influence of a loving mother? I don’t think so. I do think, though, that since my mother has an immeasurable influence, it screams of her immeasurable love for me. Momma displays the deepest, kindest love of any woman I have ever known, and has shown me how to love like Jesus. Not another woman on this list can hold a candle to her influence.

2. Amanda

I’ve written about my sister before, and you can read my full description of her influence here. In short, Amanda influences the way I see the world. She will forever be the one I look to as my earthly example for how to have the compassion and grace of Christ.

3. Alaina

My baby sister is different from me in a lot of ways, but she has become a dear friend over the years and her desire to know Jesus and seek for the best way to follow Him has taught me a lot. She has wisdom that I didn’t have and I learn from her thoughtfulness often.

4. Stephanie White

Stephanie was the first real mentor I had. She was especially influential in my love of literature and the arts. I have always been encouraged by her drivenness and vision, and for how she has loved me like a true older sister in the faith.

5. Hannah Vernon

Hannah was my advocate in the Fusion process and exemplified life-on-life discipleship to me. She showed me grace in times when I didn’t deserve it and challenged me to love God with my life.

6. Michelle Peters

Michelle is my best friend and one of my biggest role models. A lot (if not most) of my growth in my early adult life can be contributed to my life, conversations, prayers, and arguments with Michelle. She has loved me through it all, for some strange reason. 🙂

7. Tamara Zajac

I’ve known Tam for as long as I’ve known Michelle, and what was at first challenging for me to see has now become a strong influence. Tamara has influenced the way I relate to others and has taught me how to listen and care for those with whom I commune.

8. Akilah Medlock

She gets me. There are some people who understand what you’re saying, and others who know the precise emotions and reasoning behind your words. Akilah is that person and has influenced the way that I seek to understand people as fully as she does.

9. Amanda Gibson

She also gets me. We share many of the same loves and Amanda has influenced the way that I enjoy life’s little pleasures. She is also one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known and continually challenges me to give up my own comforts for the sake of others.

10. Mallory Pulliam

In so many ways, Mallory has influenced the kind of woman I want to become. If I ever have children, I want to parent like she does. I’m incredibly thankful for her influence in the characteristics I strive to emulate.

11. Ashley Smith

She probably doesn’t know this, but she was the instrument God used to influence my decision to pursue writing. We were in a small group together, and she said, “go for it,” which was the confidence I needed to submit the first post.

12. Stephanie Savage

In my first few years of life in Kansas City, Stephanie was the one who became a “mother” to me. She took me into her home for meals, prayed for me, and exemplified what it means to welcome people into your home without hesitation.

13. Amy Gilmore

When I returned from my second trip overseas, I struggled with several things in the years to come. Amy was the one who gave me language for the depression I experienced and the tools to overcome. She showed me how to counsel others with care and boldness.

14. Elizabeth Mejia

There’s a phrase that Liz said many times many years ago that has never left my brain. “What does the Word of God say?” Always, with every statement I made, she challenged me to seek God’s Word as my foundation and not my feelings, and I still cling to that question.

15. Faith Lewis

Faith is the Timothy to my Paul. That statement is less about my greatness and far more about her faithfulness. I clumsily disciple Faith, and despite my failings, she has held fast to the Lord and obeyed him with joy. She lives up to her name and pushes me towards stronger faith.

16. Marina

What a gift, this sister is to the church. Marina partnered with me overseas and taught me how to be faithful amidst real persecution, how to fearlessly proclaim God’s Word to people who don’t know Him, and how to be a woman of prayer.

17. Amy Doolittle

In a moment of deep uncertainty, Amy stepped in and with tears in her eyes and told me to go back to a country and a people group I refused to serve. She reminded me that God calls us to obedience and that we serve a God who makes all things new, which I still remember regularly.

18. Howard

My high-school literature teacher is probably one of the main reasons I love literature and writing so much. She was the first person I can remember who encouraged me to pursue writing and I think my love for fiction could be traced back to her as well.

19. The Woman at the Well

This story in John 4 has always been one of my favorites. She doesn’t deserve the attention of Jesus, and yet he shows her deep love. She is known by God and that promotes her to share her story with the whole village. Incredibly influential women.

20. Lillias Trotter

Y’all don’t even know how much this woman is shaping me right now. Her story is not well known, but she was a fierce, obedient, artistic woman in the 19th century who I have learned much from, and hope to continue to learn from for the rest of my life.

21. Ann Judson

Her husband usually receives the spotlight, but what an incredible woman! She gave up all comfort to take the gospel to Burma, fought to keep her husband alive, and worked hard in the ministry. Her life reminds me that the gospel is worth our whole lives.

22. Belle

Judge all you want for this, but Belle from Beauty and the Beast was and still is influential over my personality. I found it difficult to balance my bold personality and compassionate heart as a child, and Belle helped me understand how to be a strong woman. (I wrote a bit more about her here if you’re interested).

23. Elizabeth Elliot

Mrs. Elliot is one of my heroes. She didn’t leave the mission field even after her husband was killed. Her steadfastness and sincere love of God is a beautiful example to Christians, and I’m extremely thankful for her life.

24. Marilynne Robinson

Few novels have enriched my soul like Marilynne Robinson’s. She is one of the few authors of our day that writes lasting stories. Her books have taught me how to reveal simple things as extraordinary.

25. Lore Wilbert

Lore’s writing has impacted my writing style and the way I think in ways that she’ll never know. She once said, “God has you exactly where you can bring him the most glory, and when he wants you to bring him glory in another place, he’ll move you.” That statement changed my life.

The Cure for Cynics and Scoffers

From the beginning of time, skepticism has been the natural inclination of our hearts. Our sin in the Garden highlights the beginning of our doubts. Even the most remarkable truths, like the truth that creation is “good” (Genesis 1), is subject to destruction by the imputation of our preferences over the will of God. We have doubted goodness ever since.

Not only have we doubted, we have disbelieved. In skepticism, we hesitate to agree with declarative statements made by friends and leaders. Yet it doesn’t always stop with simple disagreement. We have somehow found our way into cynicism. It is in our cynicism that we hold so strongly to our preferences and become scoffers of anything that does not build up what we love.

The origins of our cynicism do not begin in isolation, but in communities that forget why they exist. We are inclined to spend time with like-minded friends, and though it is good to dwell in a community that holds similar ideals and opinions, these groups can easily become a breeding ground for an attitude of supremacy. I can give countless testimonies of how this has played itself out in my life, but let me draw you into one way I have been guilty of this. I love good quality coffee and most of the people I spend time with are confessing coffee snobs. Because of this, I have become convinced that coffee is superior to all other warm beverages. In turn, I patronize anyone who thinks differently than me with a “good natured spirit.”  Though this is a light-hearted testimony, there are far more serious acts of cynicism that can destroy the ultimate foundation of our love for one another.

To love one another is not to love our shared ideals. Our sinful motivation to receive human acceptance casts a shadow upon a rightly-motivated longing for unity found in Jesus. This universal striving for acceptance and self-elevation plays out in the lives of Millennials more evidently than any other generation. Far too many of our conversations are about why one church is the best in polity, or how a specific kind of music, preaching style, discipleship model, major, leadership training program, or missions agency is superior to all others. All the rest is reserved for scoffing.

Don’t mistake what I am implying. I am not saying that disagreeing about our preferences is wrong. We are shaped by humbling ourselves and then allowing others to challenge our opinions and ideals in a gracious and loving way. The truth is that there is nothing edifying or loving about a disposition of disagreement. Instead of building up the body of Christ, we turn our opinions into law for other believers. The dilution or degradation of another believer’s voice is a painful reminder that we love ourselves much more than we love each other. When we elevate our personal preferences over the truth of the gospel, we are communicating to those who share in the Spirit of God that we care nothing for their thoughts and ultimately do not need them to interfere with our kingdom of right-thinking. Human dignity is demolished in the face of our adherence to our own kingdom. We set up a banner of unity that says something other than “Jesus.” What we desperately need is to adhere to the King.

How can we achieve true unity? Is it possible to have conversations about Calvinism where our motivation is not to win an argument, but instead we are motivated to elevate Jesus and affirm one another? We could look to plenty of moralistic methods for positive thinking and being tolerant. But “morality” did not save the Pharisees, and it will not save us. The solution is a person, not a system.

The only way we can be healed from our negativity towards one another is through Jesus. Christ achieved the perfection we could not achieve and did so with greater humility than we could ever strive to produce. It is in the context of unity among believers that Paul encourages the church to speak in a manner that edifies and gives grace (Ephesians 4). This leaves no room for cynical, scoffing people in the Kingdom.

Is there hope for the one who, like me, tends to speak her opinions without love? Only in Jesus. We must stand under the banner of His Name, not our ideals and preferences. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together that, “the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

We can bring the message of salvation to one another. But we can only do this by submitting our hateful tongues and dirty hearts to the Lord. Thankfully, it is not up to us to create unity and speak without cynicism; at our best we will still possess latent sinfulness. We need the grace of God and the power of the Spirit to clear our lives of cynicism and make the way for loving unity that only comes by the work and person of Jesus.

Why I’m Going to Seminary, and Why I’m Going [Back] to Midwestern

If you have ever graduated from anything, you have been asked some form of the question “What’s next?” As my own college graduation date approached this past May, this question fell from the lips of every single person I knew (which, strangely, is not much of a hyperbole). My reply to them became an ever increasing forceful shrug of my shoulders in exasperated uncertainty. Apparently, this is not an acceptable answer to this question, so I would stumble around trying to conjure up a statement of my mythical desires and opportunities to give to my well meaning friends until I satisfied their inquiries.

The future was quite muddy, but I was mostly okay with that. Initially, three things kept me from considering Midwestern. One was that I just completed a five year stent of education at MBTS and wasn’t entirely fond of adding four more to that number. Wise people encouraged me to go elsewhere and expand my horizons in education, which is a helpful and good piece of advice. Another blockade was a growing apathy that was settling in my mind for lack of passion. Because I was not sure what I was passionate about pursuing, pursuing anything at all was paralyzing. I am not the kind of person that chooses a path just to choose something; I need to have good reasons and strong passions that I’m sure will make me love Jesus more to make a choice. Finally, I didn’t want to go to Midwestern just because it is familiar and safe. I know the professors, culture, students, city, and staff that contributes to making that school what it is. Not only do I know it well, I also love it. I have made a home in Kansas City and the last five years of my spiritual development have begun in the walls of the classrooms and apartments of Midwestern’s campus. It seemed like going back would be much like returning to an old friend simply because you can’t find any new friends, and that wasn’t a good enough reason.

Thankfully, I have some of the best friends a struggling girl could ask for. They began to remind me of my inclination to find what I love and pursue that wholeheartedly. During these conversations I was free to analyze all of my interests and find the thing that deserved to be next.

As I analyzed all my options, two things rose above the rest. I have been transformed by the redeeming work of the older brother Jesus to pay for my wretched ways with his blood and call me to the Father as a beloved prodigal daughter rather than a distant harlot. The Gospel has given me a yearning to know the Word of God, the revelation of Jesus better than I know anything else. Not only do I hunger to understand the Bible, I also hunger to know its implications for women. Even in the early years of my education in college, I sought the Scriptures for the meaning of Biblical womanhood which then translated into seeking to understand complementarianism, the specific gifts God has given to women, the way women can and should function in the church’s process of discipleship, and in recent months how women fit into the intellectual seminary setting.

Once I realized these two things, that I want to know God’s Word and how to utilize that knowledge to make disciples of women and teach them how to obey Jesus, the transition to thinking about seminary was an easy one.

Why wouldn’t I continue my education so that both of my heart’s longings may be cultivated?

More than that, why wouldn’t I do so at a seminary that elevates the Word of God above all other sources of knowledge so that the Bride of Christ that I so deeply desire to be communal with (Redeemer Fellowship) may be built up with men and women who can lead, equip, and love her well? My decisions could not be evaluated by standards of what would make me great. They could only be evaluated by what would make me love Jesus more.

If you know anything about Midwestern, you now know why I wouldn’t second guess my choice to continue here. They are committed to training leaders who know the Bible for the church. Sure, I am going to be in a comfortable and familiar setting, I am going to be here for quite a while longer, and I am not going on to an Ivy League school for my masters degree. One thing I am going to receive is a Biblically committed education from Christ-exalting professors, fellow thinkers who can help me grow in my love of God and his people, and a closeness to the city and church that God has called me to plant myself in. I trust I will grow in my love of Jesus over the next 3-4 years, and that is worth it all.

I pray that the passions I pursue in this next stage of life continue for the rest of my breathing life and serve as constant pillars of light that point myself and others to the God of my salvation until he calls me home.