Misc.

45 Stand-Out Women in The Bible {Part Two}

mirror reflection 2Recently, I shared the first half of a list of women in the Bible I admire and that I feel we can all be inspired by. I have loved putting these together and seeing how clearly God loves and values women; even when everyone else seemed to be against them, God was for them and gave them His strength. He does the same today.

I hope you feel a measure of encouragement from learning about these ordinary women empowered by extraordinary love. Here’s the second half of them:

Lydia– She was a merchant who sold purple cloth, something expensive and reserved for the wealthy and regal, so she had some wealth and reputation of her own. She was with a group of women by a river near Philippi when Paul and other missionaries came and began speaking to them; Lydia already worshipped God, but hearing about Jesus opened her heart even further to Him and she was baptized, along with her household. She opened her home to other believers, eventually housing a large amount of Philippi’s church. Obvious leadership capabilities and a welcoming nature lived in this woman. [Acts 16:14-15, 40]

Martha– Many of us know about Martha in the context of when she was distressed trying to prepare dinner for Jesus while her sister sat and listened to Him; she eventually asked Jesus to tell her sister to help with the work, to which he responded: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” We often hear this story used as an example of what not to do, and while it is incredibly important to hear His words to her in our own spirits (it’s one of the main verses I cling to in my life), we forget that she was distracted “with much serving.” Martha wasn’t doing something wrong (she served Him dinner again later without issue), she had simply lost focus and was seeking to please Jesus with her hands above her presence; we do the same, all the time. And later, we see that she must have heeded His words and spent more time being present with Him, because she and her siblings were friends of Jesus. When her brother died after they’d asked Him to come heal him, Martha didn’t shy away from Jesus; she confronted Him about how hurt she was, yet she also expressed faith in Him, not only to fix things, but to be the Savior. And her faith was met in both. I truly admire her. [Luke 10:38-42, John 11-12]

Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus)– She was the sister who sat at Jesus’ feet and eagerly listened to Him teach; Jesus affirmed to her that by doing this she had chosen the one thing she needed. When her brother died, she wept and was at home surrounded by others mourning until she heard that Jesus came and wanted to see her; she then approached Him and fell at His feet weeping, telling Him if He had come sooner her brother would have lived. Jesus was moved so deeply that He wept, too. And when He raised her brother to life, the people who had gathered to mourn with her saw it happen. Later Jesus had dinner with their family, and Mary anointed His feet with an expensive perfume and wiped it with her hair; some thought it wasteful, but Jesus praised her for it. The way we see Jesus interact with Mary shows how much He cares about our emotions; she was a passionate woman, but He didn’t ever give her reason to believe that she was too much for Him. He loved and validated her. [Luke 10:38-42, John 11, 12:1-8]

Mary (mother of Jesus)– Many of us know her story: how she was a young girl when an angel appeared to her and told her she was going to have a baby that would be the long-awaited Savior; how she responded with questions but willingness and trust even though it would jeopardize her reputation, especially since she was a betrothed virgin; how she braved a long journey late into her pregnancy and gave birth in a cave surrounded by animals; and how she fled with her family to a different country for a few years soon after. All of that is wild. What the Bible doesn’t go into detail about is the years of raising Jesus (along with the other children she later had). I’m sure it felt like a lot of pressure raising the Son of God on top of all the normal pressures a mother feels. And I can’t imagine how it felt to see Him be crucified, and to hear Him making sure she was taken care of even as He was dying. Mary wasn’t perfect, but she showed up, and it was enough for Him. She was even there when the apostles met to replace Judas after Jesus ascended– a normal girl who would have lived a quiet life, and instead all know her name. [Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, Acts 1:12-14]

Mary Magdalene– She became one of Jesus’ female disciples after He healed her of seven demons (I wish we had more of her history, but maybe it’s even better that all we know of her is her redemption!). She supported and accompanied Him, even when it meant being present at His crucifixion. She was also there when He was placed in the tomb. Some gospel accounts say a group of women was first to discover His empty tomb and share the news, but John says Mary was there alone. At first she wept at the tomb, thinking His body had been stolen. But He appeared to her and put her heart at ease, giving her the mission and gift of speaking of His resurrection and ascension. Her transformation and the way she was always looking to Jesus instead of behind her is so empowering to read. [Matthew 27:56-61, 28:1-10, Mark 15:40-47, 16:1-8, Luke 8:1-2, 24:1-10, John 19:25, 20:1-18]

Michal– She was the daughter of King Saul who fell in love with David and became his first wife. Admittedly, she grew to be problematic when she began hosting bitterness. But the fact that she helped David escape when Saul sought his life, and that she survived being captured and sent off to a new husband for a while by her manic father, shows us she was more than just a spoiled princess. [1 Samuel 18:20-29, 19:11-17, 25:44, 2 Samuel 3:13-14, 2 Chronicles 15:29]

Miriam– She was the daughter of Jochebed who helped preserve her baby brother Moses’ life during a massacre; she later led the people with Moses and Aaron when the Lord delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. She sang powerful songs of worship which are recorded in the Bible, and she was so respected by the people that they deeply mourned her death and listed her name in genealogies along with her brothers (which was not normal). A natural leader with an earnest heart, even when she made mistakes. [Exodus 2:4-8, 15:20-21, Numbers 12:1-15, 20:1, 26:57-59, 1 Chronicles 6:3, Micah 6:4]

Naomi– She and her family had left their home due to a famine, but both her husband and her sons died before they could return. She struggled deeply with bitterness, yet she still did not treat herself like a victim: she decided to go back home alone. But when her daughter-in-law Ruth refused to leave her side, Naomi took her in and did what she could as a widow to make sure Ruth was well– even to the point of helping her approach a man and get married again! She later helped care for Ruth’s baby. I like that she was no-nonsense but still deeply caring. [Ruth]

Persis– She’s very briefly mentioned in one of Paul’s letters, but we know she was important to the church when he calls her “dear Persis, who has worked so hard for the Lord.” That’s a worthwhile sentence to have in your memory. [Romans 16:12]

Phoebe– She was a deaconess in the church in Corinth, known for her kindness and generosity. She was also the carrier of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I like to remember her when people speak negatively of women being in church leadership. [Romans 16:1]

Priscilla– She and her husband met Paul on one of his missionary journeys and ended up joining him; Paul later wrote that they’d risked their lives for him. They hosted a church in their home, and they also journeyed on their own. They once encountered a Jewish man named Apollos who was preaching in the synagogue but didn’t have all the information, so they privately spoke to him and explained what was missing, and he became adept at doing the same with other Jews. Because her name was often listed before her husband’s, it is believed she was a more prominent leader, but both were highly regarded in their maturity and wisdom. They set an awesome example for married believers. [Acts 18:2, 18, 24-26, Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:19]

Puah and Shiphrah– These two were midwives in Egypt when Pharaoh began fearing the growth of the Hebrew population, and he ordered them to kill any Hebrew baby boys that were born. But these women believed in God and did not listen to the orders: they delivered both the baby boys and baby girls. When Pharaoh confronted them, they simply said the mothers had their babies before the midwives arrived. God saw what they had done and blessed them with their own families. [Exodus 1:15-21]

Rahab– She was a prostitute living in Jericho when the Israelites came to scout the land. Two scouts stayed at her house, but when the king learned about it he sent orders for her to release them; instead, she had hidden them under the brambles of her roof and told the king’s messengers that the men had gone, sending them on a pointless hunt elsewhere. But she was also frank with the men she had hidden, telling them everyone was terrified because they knew the Lord had given the land to Israel, and she made them promise to spare her entire extended family when the time came. They promised, and she helped them escape. When Jericho was destroyed, those same men made sure to rescue her and her family. She lived among the Israelites from then on and her family line continued through them– into the line of Jesus. She was kind, yet she was also ruthless in the best way, and God honored that in her. [Joshua 2, 6:17, 23-25, Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25]

Ruth– After her husband died, Ruth was determined to stay by her mother-in-law Naomi’s side, even though it meant beginning life in a new city with no one to provide for them. She was active and sought opportunities to care for herself and Naomi, and ended up gleaning in fields owned by a kind man named Boaz; he took notice of her and continually blessed her with extra provisions and a seat at his own table, knowing her story and admiring her character. When Ruth told Naomi about him, it turned out that he was in line to be her kinsman redeemer (meaning he’d marry her to preserve her husband’s name since he was a relative). Ruth then approached Boaz and humbly yet boldly asked him to marry her. After Boaz went through the town elders to work out the complicated details, he joyfully married her; they had a son who would later be the grandfather of King David. I love Ruth’s forward-moving and optimistic way of approaching life, and the example she and Boaz set for healthy mutual submission. [Ruth]

Vashti– She’s barely mentioned, and she isn’t seen as a hero. But the one thing we know about her is that she was queen to King Xerxes, and when he drunkenly summoned her to appear before his party guests and show them her beauty (we can guess what that meant), she refused. She was banished for it, and these events led up to the search for a new queen, which is how Esther’s story begins. I just appreciate Vashti’s courageous and dignified response to the idea of being ogled, especially given how dangerous it was to respond that way. [Esther 1]

The woman at the well– She was at the well by herself, which is a clue to us that she was an outcast since there were particular times all the women drew water together. Furthermore, we know she had been married five times and that she wasn’t married to the man she was currently living with, because Jesus told her He knew those things. Add all of this to the fact that she was a Samaritan and Samaritans and Jews did not interact, and it helps us understand her (and the disciples’) amazement that Jesus was even talking to her, let alone having a conversation about the kingdom of God with her. And when she expressed faith in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus told her: “I am the Messiah!” Her response? She left her water jar, ran into the village, and started telling everyone about Him. Because of her testimony– which was obviously powerful, because the people listened to her despite her reputation– many Samaritans began to believe in Jesus and listened to Him themselves. Not only did Jesus love her well by showing her she was seen, but He also began restoring her life. [John 4]

The woman with the issue of blood– She had been bleeding constantly for twelve years when Jesus came to town. Because of cleanliness laws, she wasn’t even allowed in the main area of town: she lived on the outskirts with the other unclean people. So when she made her way through the crowds surrounding Jesus, not only was she taking a step of faith, but she was putting her life at risk. She finally reached Him and touched His hem– and, from then on, the bleeding stopped. And Jesus did something remarkable: amidst the crowd of people pressing in all around Him, He knew someone had intentionally touched Him and been healed, and He asked who it was. This woman, who had been apart from the rest of society for over a decade, was terrified. But she went to her knees in front of Him and told Him her story, and He blessed her for her faith. A humble woman with insane courage. [Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48]

The woman in Song of Solomon– I know she’s a semi-fictional woman written by Solomon, but I still appreciate what the story teaches us about romantic love and how God views and values it. And the fact that the female character is the main narrator of the story is unique and special. [Song of Solomon]


Super helpful resources I used to put this list together:

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Misc.

45 Stand-Out Women in The Bible {Part One}

I grew up feeling valued by the church, but valued differently. I was under the impression that my job as a woman was to help with the work men were doing for the kingdom. While helping others in their ministries is incredibly important and no one needs to feel like they’re bringing less value if that’s a role that fits them well, I have learned that women are not the only helpers in the kingdom, and men are not the only leaders; Jesus simply calls His followers. And those followers have always been both men and women, in various capacities.

DSC05067The past few years, I have absolutely loved reading the Bible and finding women who were bold in who they were, walking with strength and courage through the Holy Spirit. They convince me further and further how important women are to Jesus, and how He loves to see them glorify Him in innumerable ways.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I thought it would be fun to make a CliffsNotes-esque list of some of my favorite women in the Bible. These women and their stories are definitely inspiring and empowering for other women to read, but I want to make it clear that this isn’t a list I put together exclusively for women. It’s also important for men to be able to draw inspiration from stories about women. Everyone growing up in Sunday school, male or female, learned from stories about David, Moses, Daniel, and Paul; everyone can learn from stories about Deborah, Esther, Ruth, and Mary, too. When all are represented, all are accessible. I love that the Bible displays that truth.

Without further ado, here is the first half of some of my favorite stand-out women from the Bible:

Abigail– She was married to Nabal, a rich but selfish and thoughtless man who denied David’s request to allow him and his men to participate in a feast day while they were passing through Nabal’s land as they fled from King Saul. David was preparing to bring retribution, but when Abigail heard about what happened, she and her servants took abundant provisions to David and implored him to be a more noble man than her husband. Not only did she convince him to stand down, but when Nabal learned about it and died from shock, Abigail married David and later became a queen. I love how she wasn’t willing to make excuses for her husband; instead, she used the authority and respect she obviously had among their servants (who knew to go to her with the problem) to fix what he’d done. [1 Samuel 25, 27, 30; 2 Samuel 2:2]

Achsa– She was given to a man as his wife, but before going to live with him, she told her father to give her two springs along with the land he’d already given her. She was willing to vocalize what she wanted. [Joshua 15:16-19, Judges 1:11-15]

Anna– She was a widowed prophet who never left the temple, continuously worshipping and fasting. She met Jesus when He was a young boy and rejoiced over Him, knowing He was the fulfillment of what she had been waiting and praying for, and she proceeded to tell others who carried the same hope that their rescuer had come. Her hope was longstanding, and did not disappoint. [Luke 2:36-38]

Bathsheba– I know some might be weirded out to see her on this list, but honestly: if the king summoned you to his palace, would it cross your mind to refuse him? And if the king was as respected as David, would you suspect that he simply wanted to sleep with you? I don’t think she was to blame for what happened, and the Bible is pretty clear that both David and the Lord saw it that way, too. She mourned when she learned her husband was dead (David’s attempt to cover the affair up); she cared. After many years of being married to David, when he was an old man and one of his haughty sons had taken the throne without his knowledge, she (under the wisdom of the prophet Nathan, whom she seemed to have a good relationship with) approached David and reminded him of his promise to make their son Solomon king. And Solomon became the wisest king Israel ever had, which might be partly due to how she raised him. Bathsheba endured a lot of undeserved pain in her lifetime, but she didn’t live as a victim of those things. She is even mentioned in the genealogies of Jesus, to honor her. [2 Samuel 11, 1 Kings 1-2, Matthew 1]

Daughters of Zelophehad (Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah)– These five women were the only descendants of a man of the tribe of Manasseh; he had no sons and recently passed away, leaving his inheritance and his name to be forgotten. But they stood in front of the entire community– Moses, Eleazar the priest, tribe leaders, everyone– and petitioned for the right to be their father’s heirs. Moses brought their request to the Lord, and the Lord responded with a clear “yes.” They not only stood up to receive what was theirs, but they were the first to operate under the new law that allowed this to happen for other women in their situation. [Numbers 26:33, 27:1-11, 36:11, Joshua 17:3-6]

Deborah– She was a prophet and the only female judge (military leader) in Israel’s judge era. She, by word of the Lord, summoned the warrior Barak into battle, but he would not enter into battle unless she went with him; they had victory and the land was peaceful for forty years. The reverence and respect the people had for her is obvious. I also like that the fact she was married is mentioned, but isn’t a part of her identity or the value she brought; she had an additional calling apart from her marriage. [Judges 4-5]

Dorcas (or Tabitha)– Not a lot is said about her. But when the few words recorded about someone are that “she was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor,” that earns immediate admiration. People loved her so much that when she died and they found out Peter was in town, they begged him to help, and she was brought back to life. [Acts 9:36-41]

Elizabeth– She was the mother of John the Baptist, miraculously conceiving him in her old age, and that’s obviously cool. And when it came time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she didn’t lose her kindness, yet she was unwavering in the face of opposition to giving him the name the Lord declared he should have. But my favorite story we know about her is when she encouraged her cousin Mary about being pregnant with Jesus. Mary was young, unmarried, and, although willing, probably had a lot of fear about what was going to happen. But Elizabeth felt her baby leap at the presence of Mary’s baby, and, full of the Holy Spirit, spoke blessings over her and affirmed her. I also think it says a lot that Mary lived with Elizabeth for three months while pregnant with Jesus; it must have felt like a safe place. [Luke 1]

Esther (or Hadassah)– There is so much I could say about her; she’s one of the few women to have a book of the Bible named after her, and many of us know her story: how she was an orphan chosen among the captive Jews by the Persian king to be his new queen, discovered a plot to eradicate her people, and risked her own life to appear unannounced (i.e., unlawfully) before the king while he was with the man with the plot and plead for their lives– successfully. These events are still celebrated every Purim. Esther was a shining example of blooming where you’re planted, and of discerning when to be submissive and when to speak up. [Esther]

Eunice and Lois– These two are barely mentioned, but what we do know about them is beyond praiseworthy: they are Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who raised him with scripture, strengthening his faith as he grew up under an unbelieving father. They stepped up and refused to be passive about caring for Timothy in all ways. I can relate to Timothy in this so Eunice and Lois are obvious powerhouses to me. [2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15; Acts 16:1]

Hagar– She was Sarah’s servant, eventually given to Abraham because they hoped she could conceive a child for them. She did become pregnant, but being treated so poorly led her to run away into the wilderness– and God met her there beside a spring, encouraged her, and spoke promises over her. From then on she called Him “the God who sees me.” Later, after Hagar had returned but a few years later was sent away out of jealousy, she despaired once again in the wilderness, thinking her son was going to die, and the Lord once again met her there and promised to take care of her. They lived, and eventually she even arranged a marriage for her son; he became the father of the Ishmaelites. She just feels very tangible to me; she reminds me that even when I’m alone, I’m seen and cared for. [Genesis 16, 21]

Hannah– She was childless and achingly longed to be a mother, so she devoutly begged the Lord for a son, promising he would be dedicated to Him all his life. The priest Eli saw her praying and, thinking she was drunk, he rebuked her, but she graciously defended herself, and in response Eli blessed her prayer. She became hopeful, and soon she bore her son Samuel, who would become a favored and honored prophet and leader for decades upon decades; she kept her promise and he assisted Eli from boyhood. Her song of praise is wonderful, and her earnest, humble zeal for the Lord is, too. [1 Samuel 1-2]

Jael– When the commander of a Canaanite army fled to her tent because her husband was in good standing with the king, Jael welcomed him– then waited until he fell asleep, when she drove a tent peg through his skull and killed him. She handed him off to Israel, fulfilling Deborah’s words to Barak that the honor of the victory would go to a woman. This story is a bit strange and gruesome, but it’s interesting to see that she was willing to do what a lot of warriors had not done. Later a song calls her “most blessed among women.” [Judges 4:17-24,  5:24-27]

Jehosheba– The royal family was being massacred, but Jehosheba, sister of the recently deceased king and wife of the priest, took and hid away her brother’s baby and his nurse in the temple while the new wicked queen ruled. Six years later there was a revolt, and that baby, now seven-year-old Joash, became the youngest king to rule in Judah. He was a godly king and eventually restored the Temple. I love that Jehosheba was connected to people in power but knew her own power, and that it didn’t have to be over others but rather used for others. [2 Kings 11:1-3 , 2 Chronicles 22:10-12]

Joanna, Mary, Mary, Susanna, and Salome– These women are some of the named female disciples of Jesus. Many of them had been healed by Him, and some of them (such as Joanna) were married to men of influence and supported Jesus financially. They were also the first to go to Jesus’ tomb, intending to honor His body and instead finding it empty and meeting an angel who declared He was alive. They told everyone, including the eleven remaining disciples, what they’d seen. Not only did Jesus have female disciples, but He also had them be the first to deliver the news of His resurrection. Jesus honors and shares His glory with women. [Luke 8:1-3 , 24:1-12]

Jochebed– The Israelites were living in Egypt under a tyrannical ruler who feared their growing population and had begun a massacre of Hebrew baby boys, but Jochebed hid her baby, Moses. And when she could no longer hide him, she strategically placed him in a basket near where the princess would bathe along the river. The princess saw the baby, had compassion on him, and took him in, but she needed someone to nurse him. That was when Jochebed’s daughter approached the princess from the brush and offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse him– and, of course, brought back his mother. Not only was Jochebed able to care for her son, but she preserved his life, and put him in a powerful position once he was weaned and the princess adopted him. [Exodus 2, Numbers 26:59]

Leah– She was Jacob’s first wife, given to him instead of her sister, whom he loved and worked an additional seven years to marry. But the Lord saw Leah in her situation, and blessed her with six sons. At first, Leah’s reaction to having children was, “Now Jacob will love me!” But Jacob’s affections didn’t change. Eventually Leah’s mindset changed, and when she had her fourth son, her reaction was: “Now I will praise the Lord!” And after having her last son, she viewed it as God’s reward and said that her husband would respect her; not necessarily love, but respect. We often tell her story in an attitude of “poor Leah,” and that’s definitely valid; her story is full of struggling against her favored sister for affection. But her story also contains her learning that she was valued beyond how people treated her, because the Lord loved her. [Genesis 29-31]


The second half of this list will be up soon! In the meantime, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite biblical women. Who stands out to you and why?

Testimonies

On Discerning, Suffering, & Trusting Myself to Know

outside breakfast 1Hi.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

This has been a strange, raw year for me, almost as if I’ve been in open heart surgery this whole time. It’s honestly still that way nearly every day. I know that someday I’ll probably tell you every little detail, but not today; the surgery still isn’t over. And recovery takes time, too. I’m beginning to accept that healing is a process, instead of attempting to push it to go faster. Hurt doesn’t usually go away by any force except for the force that time is. But it does go away. I’m beginning to learn that, too.

There is something I’d like to talk about right now, though. I haven’t written (to you, at least) in months, so I hope we’ve still got our cozy atmosphere for conversation and that I’ll still be able to articulate my insides decently on the outside. I want to share it now because it is what’s getting me through this tumultuous year, and, if no one else, I need to have it written down so I can go back to it and tell myself the truth.

Where should I start? Well…

This summer, I was facing a difficult decision. Actually, it wasn’t that difficult; I knew I wanted to say no, and I knew that the path He’d pointed me down years ago wasn’t down the route a “yes” would take me.

But… I struggled to trust myself to know those things for sure anymore.

Because a few months prior, the enemy broke into the lovely home Jesus and I had been building, and he tried to take it from me by attempting to imitate Jesus, treating me in ways I deeply hoped Jesus wouldn’t treat me and saying things I just couldn’t imagine Jesus saying.

Jesus had been shattering the false images I had of Him and replacing them with truth, so I wanted to be open to Him, because in this process I had been learning He was more loving and more kind and more passionate and more absolutely irresistibly good than I ever knew He could be. I didn’t know I could be this in love (with anyone, let alone Him), or that He would be this deeply in love with me. It was the richest I’d ever felt.

So when the enemy tried to deceive me, it nearly worked. Because I was so (beautifully) vulnerable and trusting, that even when I knew in my core this couldn’t be right, I didn’t want to hold the one I loved to a false image I might have of Him if He was trying to shatter it.

It took the persistent presence and affirmations of the people close to me to keep me grounded, to shake me out of the paralysis, and to get me to understand that the haunting, deeply unsettling image couldn’t be Jesus. But damage to my sense of trust had already been done. Because it had taken me so long to rest on the truth of who it was that had spoken… and because my (courageously) open heart had been so open that I almost let the enemy trick me into believing a terrible lie, about Jesus and about myself.

Ever since then, I have struggled to be open to trust anyone, even myself, to tell me the truth. I trust Jesus, with all that I am. But most of the time, I don’t trust myself to discern what He’s saying to me. And I can’t explain how terrifying that is. I’ve tried, so many times; I attempted seeing a counselor about it for a while, and I still haven’t found the words to express how helpless and rotten this has made me feel. No words feel sufficient.

So over the summer, when I faced a decision I thought deserved a no but was afraid should be a yes, I didn’t know what to do. I’d still been speaking to Him, even when I didn’t understand His end of the conversation, so I told Him about it. About how scared I was. About how I’d do anything He wanted me to do, and how I so hoped He didn’t want me to do this. About how confused I was and how lost I felt.

A few days later, I read the story of when He faced the enemy’s lying, imitating voice Himself.

Before Jesus began traveling with the disciples, He spent forty days alone in the wilderness– isolated, exposed, and without resources. He faced consistent temptation every one of those days, and He had no food during them. By day forty, He was weary and starving. The enemy saw that vulnerability, and said to Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

Jesus could have done it. Jesus probably wanted to do it. And most interesting of all: the act itself, of turning a stone to bread so He could nourish His starving body? It wasn’t an inherently bad, sinful thing to do. It even made sense.

But Jesus didn’t do it.

Why?

Because He knew who was telling Him to do it.

The voice telling Him to do it was telling Him to prove Himself– “If you are the Son of God,” it had said. And Jesus knew He had to do no such thing. He knew who He was already. And He knew His Father wouldn’t make Him question that or ask Him to prove it. Jesus knew that in His Father He had security and safety. So when the voice speaking to Him didn’t display those truths, He knew to reject it.

The enemy presented many more temptations to Jesus during that time, but the last one was unique. He brought Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, and told Him:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”

The “if” statement was there again, but there was something more complicated in play, too: the enemy had quoted scripture.

It is wildly unsettling to know that the enemy can use scripture, but I’ve witnessed it so many times, in my culture and my church experience and my own mind. I struggle so much to trust anyone’s interpretation of scripture, my own included, because deception isn’t exempt even there. But Jesus experienced this, too. And He knew how to face it head on. The enemy used scripture, yes–

But he didn’t use love.

Because he doesn’t have any. That is his dead giveaway:

God is Love.

Love is the defining context of all of scripture, because love is God’s character. If it isn’t love, God doesn’t do it and He doesn’t ask us to do it. When the enemy told Jesus to jump off a building as a sign of faith, Jesus knew that His Father who loved Him would not do that to Him or ask that of Him.

He also knew scripture; that while it did host the words the enemy said, it hosted other words, too. He knew scripture required context to be properly understood. And He knew the words Love had for Him were not the ones that had been spoken; instead, the correct words were: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” So He spoke those words back to the voice, the enemy’s voice. Eventually, the enemy saw his efforts weren’t working, and he left.

Jesus knew His Father. He knew He was well-loved by His Father. And that was the pillar of truth for Him, who is Truth. That was what kept Him firm.

It is still so hard for me to trust that I’m walking in the truth. But I stick by Him. I study scripture intently, to see what love looks like manifested through Him. And though I admit I approach the Bible and His presence with a measure of fear every day, what I find there is not crushing– it is life-breathing. It is Him. It is love. I see that love is patient and kind, doesn’t insist on its own way. And that greatest love does not push us down– it lays down everything for us. Like He has always done.

I’d had it wrong. I knew that love leads us to suffer for the other person, but I didn’t understand what that meant. I wasn’t even aware that I thought this… but I thought that Jesus wanted me to love Him by suffering. I thought He was telling me to suffer and that it would prove I loved Him.

He was not. He would not.

Jesus knew it when He refused to jump from the temple roof, and I am finally learning it for myself.

Love does lead us to suffer for the other person. Love does not lead us to tell the other person to suffer.

That is not love, that is manipulation and cruelty and fear. When anyone else acts that way, it’s usually obvious to us that they aren’t being loving. Why do we automatically assume God, who is Love, might be the cruel and controlling exception?

Why do we continue to think that God, who is Love, would be less loving than we are?

Jesus laid Himself down to suffer for those He loved. He told us to follow Him in doing the same for others. He did not tell us that in order to love Him, we must suffer. Instead, He told us that when we love Him, suffering will come and He will be with us in it. He is not the source of the suffering; He is not behind it, He does not bring it on, and He does not want it for us. He faces the inevitable suffering with us, even after He suffered for us. That’s what love does.

Love doesn’t hurt others– it hurts for and with others.

Love lays itself down– it doesn’t push others down.

That’s what I hold to. That’s the heart I seek behind every voice. And if that heart isn’t there, I reject the voice and I wait for His. For the truth. I sit with Him, let Him wrap me up wordlessly, nestle in close.

Because, while I still struggle to be sure of His voice… I can always be sure of His presence. His overwhelmingly soft and kind presence.

He keeps my feet on solid ground, even as He lifts me up off my toes.

He’s love.

Responses

A Letter to Pastors: On Adversity, Silence, & Us

Dear pastor,

Please: will you tell the church what happened?

I’m not asking that you share an entire sermon about it. And I’m not asking you to get up on stage and declare any political or polarizing opinions. That isn’t what this is about; it isn’t what so much of this has been about.

church ceilingI have struggled to find a home in the church for a while now. There have been a lot of reasons for that, and most of them I discover along the way as I keep seeking. That’s another story, one I’ll tell another day.

But as I’ve been going through this process, I’ve noticed something about the church and the different ways it handles the things happening around (and within) it.

I grew up attending one particular church. I haven’t been a regular member there since the beginning of this year. But when the first refugee ban was put into place back in January, I asked a friend still attending that church if anything had been brought up concerning it that morning. And he responded:

“About the what? Are you talking about that thing they mentioned on TV?”

I thought I would be angry or sad, but I ended up almost feeling numb. I didn’t expect the answer to be yes. But I also didn’t expect him to know nothing about what was happening. That was what stuck with me the most.

Some time later, I visited a different church. I had never been to the service of any tradition but my home church’s before, so much of it was new to me. But a time for corporate prayer came, and the clergy began with: “First, let us pray for the people recovering from the shooting.”

I knew that was right. I knew that was what the church of Jesus would do.

I attended a few services at that church, and a simple call to prayer for what was taking place around the world happened in every single one of them.

It wasn’t political, wasn’t polarizing, wasn’t angry, nor was it despairing– it was basic compassion.

It was looking at events taking place in the lives of others and recognizing: “I have a share in that.”

To the people in that church, because something affected humanity, it affected them, too. They were kingdom-minded.

I have no memory of the churches I grew up attending ever mentioning or praying for things like this.

But it isn’t a denominational thing to do– it is a biblical thing to do.

Again, pastor, I’m not asking you to preach a fiery sermon about anything, or to give your church a political label, or even to share your stance on how to fix things.

What I am asking is that you remind the church that people who care about other people are the true Jesus people.

The church has a messy reputation, and not for no reason, but I know there are so many lovely, Christ-like people within those walls. Let’s believe that the people in your congregation are wonderful people who do care about others. The thing is?

How many good, kind people are in churches right now, with hearts and hands ready to help– and they don’t know people need it?

The man I spoke to about the refugee crisis didn’t know what it was until I explained it to him that night. He’d heard a headline on the news while channel surfing (related: most people don’t watch the news), but he didn’t know it mattered. He didn’t know who he could pray for, let alone what he could do to help. No one told him. He had been in church that morning, but no one there said anything, pastor or otherwise.

That isn’t the only example. This weekend, a violent Nazi demonstration happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. One of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known didn’t hear about it until I mentioned it, assuming she already knew. Shock and tears filled her eyes immediately. She had gone to church that morning, too. But no one there said anything.

Is it the church’s job to make sure individual people are staying aware? I don’t know; I think we all should be actively seeking opportunities to pray for and contribute to the lives of the hurting.

But it is the church’s job to make disciples. And that means teaching people what Jesus meant when He told us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.

There are so many good, caring people in the church. But when those people don’t know about the problems, how can they fix them? When the only people who know about the problems are the ones contributing to them or the ones who do nothing, what can that help?

How is that keeping the peace, when there isn’t truly peace to begin with?

We aren’t called to be peacekeepers, but peace makers.

As someone that many people are looking up to as a leader, you, pastor, have the ability to directly affect how the people in your community will respond.

You are in a position to remind the church that humanity is a family, with fates all tied together, and you have the ability to inspire more prayer and more compassion and more action in people whose hearts Jesus has already built for it. You don’t have to tell people how to care; just teach them why they need to. He will do the rest.

Not only that: you get to tell the hurting that they are seen. That they matter. That you won’t turn away but instead will stand with and for them.

That Jesus loves them, and that’s why you are going to love them, too, with a generous, sacrificial love.

A simple announcement. A simple call to prayer. They don’t do everything, especially when there’s such a volume of work to be done. But they do so much more than you’d think. They’re a spark.

Please, pastor: will you tell them?

Will you tell the church when things happen to our family? Will you lead the church to pray and to seek?

Will you show the world the real church of Jesus?

 

“To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.


[If you are not a pastor, I still so strongly encourage you to hear this. Bring awareness to the people around you; pray with people; seek a way to help. You are just as capable of sparking change as the people in power, because you give yourself to Jesus, and He multiplies what you bring Him. Love will always make a way to come in.]

Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

Responses · Testimonies

“Jesus Loves You More Than a Man Ever Could” – On Guilt & Falling in Love

I was listening to a love song. A person came to mind (or maybe to heart) when I heard it. And I immediately felt guilty.

back at the pianoI grew up in a culture that told teenagers their romantic feelings and desires were something they needed to get rid of. And if they couldn’t shake those feelings and desires no matter how hard they tried, they had to direct them toward Jesus instead.

“Jesus loves you more than a man ever could,” I was told innumerable times. And when I’d have a crush and it just wouldn’t go away, I would reprimand myself for not letting Jesus be enough for me. I loved Him so deeply. But I didn’t have confidence that He was satisfied with me; I believed He was demanding I love Him more and love Him differently. I didn’t believe my genuine love was enough for Him.

When I was told Jesus loved me more than another person could, the application was always: “So you better give Him credit for that.”

Back in October, when I heard that love song, I felt guilty. Because I wanted to sing it about a person, and what’s left of teenage Tessa immediately pointed an accusing finger and told me I couldn’t. I had to sing it to Jesus, or I shouldn’t be singing it.

But then I heard the whisper:

“What if I sang it to you?”

A bit of all of it happened. And He healed something in me that day.

Jesus loves me. More than anyone else ever could. But instead of the response to that truth being guilt, He wants something different.

When He sang that love song to me, He wasn’t shaming me for any lack on my part (and He certainly wasn’t angry at me for having feelings toward a person). He helped me understand by using a song I could relate to: the way I felt for that person? It resembled how He felt about me. And the response He wanted– the response it naturally elicited from me– was not guilt or forced praise.

It was awe.

I had so much in me for that person; it swept me up just to be in possession of it. They didn’t have to do anything to maintain it. It was something living in me, for them. I loved them because of who they were, not because of anything they felt (or, more accurately, didn’t feel) toward me. It was overwhelming in a beautiful way. And finally it was beginning to connect– God goes through that concerning me?

I am a wildly imperfect person, yet I am able to love in measures like these. Why have I believed that God who is Love… would do less?

It would take more time for me to unpack these things. I’m still in the process; He’s still teaching me how to let Him love me. But I wrote in my journal that night, after the song ended:

“Maybe the whole reason we fall in love is so that we can grasp Him better.”

[Listen]

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies · The Basics

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

flower walk, pink and treesGod knows how to love you.

He knows what’s going to reach you. He knows how to show you love in a way that will connect with you and make its truest mark on you.

He doesn’t love like people do.

People have loved you, but not perfectly. Sometimes, their love has manifested as dominance and even control. And it scares you, makes you build your invisible boundaries so that people can see you but can’t know you. You are open and honest and don’t hide your true self from anyone… but never do you give yourself to anyone. You let them see, but don’t let them touch. Because if they can touch, they can hurt. You don’t want that to happen to you anymore. So you hold up your invisible boundaries, so that you are visible but not truly vulnerable.

You know love is giving. That love is always a risk. But the cost… you’re not sure you’re truly willing to pay it.

She tells you that to love is to be willing to be broken for their sake. And that in order to be loved, you must make yourself vulnerable to receive what they give… which makes you vulnerable to the risk of being hurt. You know she’s right. You want to listen to her.

But you realize that in your efforts to keep people from controlling you, you have begun to act controlling toward them. You’ve learned to maneuver conversations and interactions so that you can keep anyone at a subtle distance, to protect against the chance of them hurting you. And when He shows you that you’ve even extended that to how you relate with Him… it terrifies you. Because who is He, truly, if He isn’t the image you’ve crafted of Him for yourself? If you can’t ignore pieces of Him and pretend He’s someone He might not be?

You pray a prayer you can feel the danger pulsating throughout: “Reveal your true self to me. Help me to accept the way you want to love me, even if it’s not a way I’d ask for.”

He starts answering. But not in ways you expected. And you even expected the unexpected.

He shows you a young man. One who is sweet and humble, but not without being strong and bold. The young man leaves soon, but not without searing that image in your mind. Part of you slowly begins to believe those things can coexist, gentleness and strength. Part of you begins to see that strength makes you feel small, but doesn’t have to in the ways it has before. Instead of intimidating and scaring you, this strength can make you feel safe. You don’t have to feel powerless. You can feel wrapped in it, and it can warm the winter in you. Among the wild mess inside you, there’s a moment of clarity, and you realize that is what’s happening.

You realize it is Him doing it.

You see that His love is meeting you in ways that will get through to you. He’s been going at your pace. Instead of demanding you change so that you can be loved, He has been entering what’s there, even your vices, and loving you. Not simply in it, but with it. Anything, He says, to be with you.

Anything to love you.

He knew what would reach you. You hid, but He still saw you and knew you. He became the shape that would fit the hole you’d found yourself in.

He knew the deep desires you barely knew existed in your heart, and He entered them, met them in ways you wouldn’t have thought. You didn’t think to want these things, because you didn’t believe you were the kind of person who would ever have them. But He brought love home to you, in a bouquet of flowers bigger and more elegant than anything you’d ask for. It blew you into wide-open wonder and gratitude. But you weren’t looking at the flowers when you thanked Him– you just looked at Him. You met His eyes with your teary ones, and you just looked at Him. Because He was the gift. He didn’t only give you flowers; He had given you His heart. Himself.

Love is giving. The giving of yourself for their sake. And He knows that more than anyone. He always has.

He’s been doing it right under your nose this whole time.

You thought you had to do the hard work of breaking down all the lies that live in your core before you could let yourself be loved. You tried to take steps to do so, and it was beautiful and brave of you. But He chuckles, and He murmurs into your ear that only one thing has ever been necessary.

All you had to do was lean into Him, and let Him love you.

So that’s what you do. You close your eyes, lean against His chest, feel Him wrap you close.

And you let Him love you.

“Simple trust is your participation.”   –Eve by Wm. Paul Young