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One of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something!) was the time I decided to surprise my then-fiance-now-wife with a day trip to King’s Island for her birthday. We lived in Nashville at the time and King’s Island is almost exactly 300 miles away from Music City – a five and a half hour drive according to Google. We were in college, and it seemed like a great idea to my young, smitten self. Had we spent the night in Cincinnati, we might look back at this as one of Adam’s successful birthday surprises. Instead, we look back and wonder in awe at my stupidity.

The trip there was full of excitement and anticipation. While we enjoyed our day together at Kings Island as a young couple in love, it was hard to ignore the impending long car trip that we knew awaited us. We had left Nashville early that morning, and we knew it was going to be a long, late night of driving after spending a full day at the amusement park. We hoped to leave earlier than we did because we were having so much fun – well, and because we were young and dumb.

When it came time to head back home, we stopped for a quick dinner, and headed south. The first few hours of the trip passed pretty quickly, but as the late summer sunset gave way to the darkness of twilight we got tired. Really tired. I feel like in those times when I am fighting back sleep behind the wheel of a car, I have a pretty good sense of what it must have been like for Peter, James, and John in the Garden of Gethsemane. Once sleepiness and fatigue begin to afflict your body its power is overwhelming.

Somehow, God saw to our safe return home in the wee hours of the morning, though we had at least two sleepy, dozed-off swerves into the shoulder. That ride home was the most tired I have ever been. I have come to realize, however, that there are different kinds of tired.

About a year and a half ago, I realized that I was really tired – but it was a different kind of tired. I was entering my fifteenth year of full-time ministry. I had been fortunate to serve that entire time at the same congregation – the same congregation where I still serve. It’s a small church and we’ve been through a lot together. As the only minister on staff, I dabble in every corner of ministry. I have come to love the diversity of my responsibilities, but I have also come to realize that the breadth of ministry was taking a toll on me. Fifteen years of ministry had made me tired. Tired more deeply than I was that night we drove back from Cincinnati. More tired than the word “tired” conveys. My body was tired. My spirit was tired. My soul and emotions were tired. I was more than tired – I was weary. I was a weary pastor. I am a weary pastor.

It wasn’t that I was feeling called to a new ministry. It wasn’t that our church was having major problems or falling apart. We could use more people. We need more money. There is conflict within the church. But these problems exist everywhere, and overall we were in a healthy place. I didn’t want to run away, and the church didn’t want me to run away – but I needed a break. I was beginning to experience the collective drain that is life in ministry. The incessant pouring out of myself into other people, the constantly being there for others, the devotion to preaching and teaching the Gospel from deep inside my bones, the pursuit of authenticity and empathy, and the increasingly difficult juggling of family life all were building an affront on my spirit . Paul might have said, “Don’t get tired of doing what is good” (Gal. 6:9), but I was on my way. I needed rest. My soul needed nourished. Our family had a nice vacation last summer, and it was refreshing, but only to a point. It helped cured the tired, but I still felt weary.

At the beginning of last year I began to explore the idea of taking a sabbatical. In our tradition the whole concept of sabbath is largely ignored, and the practice of a pastoral sabbatical is rare. So is a minister sticking around for 15 years. A weary pastor is not an effective one, and I believed a sabbatical would provide the refreshment that I needed to rejuvenate my soul and rekindle my passion for my current ministry.

Since around 2000, the Lilly Endowment has offered churches and their pastors what is known as the Pastoral Renewal Grant. The grant is for up to $50,000 to be shared between the pastor and the congregation. The beauty of the grant is that each applicant is encouraged to pray, dream, and create a custom and unique sabbatical experience. Approximately 150 grants are awarded to churches throughout the United States each year (many more are offered to churches in Indiana since Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis oversees the grants).

Early in 2018, I began the application process for our congregation to receive the grant for 2019. I found the application process itself to be life-giving and refreshing as I began to dream and pray and tend to my neglected soul. I worked hard on the application and met with a 2018 award winner who happened to live in Columbus too. He was generous to help and provide advice. I was convinced that whether I received the grant or not, the application process turned out to be a rewarding and worthwhile experience. I refused to get my hopes up too much as to stave off disappointment and focused on the positive experience that applying had been. The distraction of this opportunity was beginning to give this weary pastor some refreshment.

It was with a trembling heart that I pulled out a large envelope from Christian Theological Seminary out of our church’s mailbox in early September. I tried to keep my excitement at bay, but I immediately convinced myself that a consolation envelope would have been much smaller. Patiently, I decided I would wait until our family was around the dinner table that night to open the package that determined our fate together. Around our dining room table that night, we learned that we had been selected to receive a $50,000 grant, and that our family would be spending ten weeks in the summer of 2019 in Europe on a spiritual pilgrimage. My weariness was already beginning to fade.

One of the things that Joel (the local minister who received the grant last year) told me about his sabbatical experience was that it opened up so many doors and put countless things in action that he could have never foreseen. My relationship with Joel was an obvious one, but in the months since receiving the good news, I have met new people and we have had new experiences as a result of this grant. One of the things I really hope to do is to make more and more people aware of the Lilly grant opportunity, and also bring attention to the weary pastors across the country – particularly those in the Churches of Christ. I know of only one other minister in the Churches of Christ to have received this Lily grant. I know there are many of us who work in small and often thankless churches. We keep our noses to the grind and stay busy about our ministry. Our networks are small, we are seldom asked to speak at conferences, and we go relatively unnoticed. Those of us serving at churches with less than 100 members don’t find ourselves on the front of many brochures, and yet there are more of us serving these churches than large ones, and our challenges are different than what often get addressed.

I have started a blog to document the experience of applying for the grant but also for addressing the heart of the weary pastor. Whether I received the grant or not, I was going to have to do something to address my weary soul. I know there are many others out there in my shoes, and I hope these blog postings can be a blessing to you. As exhausting and tiring as driving back from an amusement park can make you feel, years and years of ministry take their toll on us in a more penetrating way. May your weary soul find rest.



We were talking about God and the way he works on our behalf in a kid’s Bible class recently and one sweet kid sat on the edge of the seat. This child wants to go home but instead they go to someone else’s house everyday. It’s a good place but not what they want. The grief of what used to be is too much and leads us to pray each time we’re together for God to fix what’s broken in this young life. They just want to be with mom. Not the mom they are used to or the mom authorities had to remove them from. They want to be home with a healthy, happy, safe mom.

After we talked about the fact that God is for us and takes care of us, this sweet kid with teary eyes came to me quietly, took me by the arm, and asked, “But what if God doesn’t?”

I knew what those words meant. I remember losing my dad over Christmas break when I was in fourth grade and while my friends talked of their Christmas presents when we returned to school, my mind was on my father’s funeral. As a teen, I remember getting the phone call with the news of my mother’s death. The nights I spent asking why and finally accepting the fact that the why isn’t mine to know are countless. But I knew I needed something to say to the kid standing in front of me, so I silently prayed and offered a meager, “He wants to.” We hugged and the bell rang. And I was left alone with the reminder of how hurtful sin is, not only to adults but to the children around us.

What do we do when we feel as if God has forgotten us? And just as difficult, how do we deal with those in our lives who allow their brokenness to cause our own? It’s a difficult lesson when you’re an adult and nearly impossible for children but it’s happening all around us. Church, we have a responsibility to help those struggling.

Speak hope.

If God has gotten you through the dark valley, tell people! The church needs more God stories. People are starving to hear from Christians who have overcome trials by the power of God. Encourage sharing by creating avenues for people to talk about their journey. Take every opportunity to tell how God has rescued you.

Love the church.

We know the sad and frustrating stories of the many times Church has gotten love wrong. But the times she has gotten love right (and they outweigh the others) need to be celebrated. The church has enough critics. She needs more cheerleaders. Support her. Love her. Tell others about the good she has done and continues to do. Remember you’re an ambassador of the Christ. Your words and deeds should reflect your calling.

Serve.

We find healing from our past by the way we love and care for those in our present. Seek out those who are on the fringes of society. Reach out to the poor, oppressed, and unheard and love them. Listen to their stories. Make friends. Support your church’s outreach ministry and if you don’t have one, start one. Volunteer in the children’s ministry. Show them Jesus. Sit with those who sit alone. Service is not only a command, it is the key to our own healing.

Seek God’s face.

There’s a great verse in Colossians 3 that says to set your mind on things above. We tend to gloss over that verse but it is powerful. If we set our minds on the sadness, drama, darkness, and evil that permeates this world, we will be consumed by it. But if we resolve to see our Father through our struggles, we will have the strength to persevere. Spend time in the Gospels getting to know Jesus. Pray for the people around you. Practice loving your enemies and being for those you disagree with.

Fear has a way of telling us we’re alone but God is here, sitting with us in our grief, singing over us as we weep. Even if it seems he doesn’t care, he passionately does. God is for us. He wants the best for our lives and is working on our behalf. He did in the beginning. He did when we sabotaged ourselves in the garden. He did on the cross and he will when he wipes away every tear.

I have no doubt that God deeply loves that sweet kid as much as he dearly loves the child’s broken, addicted mother. Church, he expects us to go out of our way to show them both how much.

2018 was a year to remember. Unless you were asleep under a rock somewhere, you will have an awareness that the faith community and beyond was rocked by sex abuse scandals. January began with the Larry Nassar sentencing in Lansing, MI where an unprecedented over 150 victims gave impact statements on record. In the same month Jules Woodson came public with her story of abuse from her former youth minister Andy Savage of HighPoint Church in Memphis. Both Any Savage and Chris Conlee have since resigned. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek had multiple victims come forward and accuse him of sexual misconduct. Hybels took an “early retirement,” all the elders resigned, along with pastor Heather Larson.  

In August the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was published, exposing over 300 predator priests and over 1,000 victims of child sexual abuse. That sparked a nation-wide probe into the Catholic church and its cover-up of abuse. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was fired in 2018 for failing to report a rape and for repeatedly bragging about telling women in abusive marriages to endure the physical abuse. Sarah Smith at the Star-Telegram released a bombshell investigative report into the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church that spanned 40 states and Canada. It revealed reports of over 200 victims–412 allegations in 187 churches. Of the 168 leaders accused or convicted, at least 45 of them remained in ministry after credible allegations arose. 75 year old Creation Fest co-founder and minister Harry Thomas was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sex with minors. 

And of course Bill Cosby was sentenced 3-10 years to a Pennsylvania state prison. There were many more scandals that rocked both mega churches and small churches alike. I had the high honor of meeting many of the Catholic abuse survivors from the PA Grand jury report. I marched with them on our state’s capital, met with Senators, and was sitting with survivors in the House galley when it passed the Window to Justice Bill. I’ve met so many friends the past year and all share a sacred bond. All of the people I met were either sexually, physically, or spiritually abused or were family members of abuse victims. Almost all of them were rejected by the church. Jules Woodson has become a friend. She shared her story on my podcast. Shaun Dougherty shared his story with me about how his coming forward opened the door to the sate wide investigation into the Catholic church here in Pennsylvania. I’ve met incredible survivors and have been blessed to be able to hear them tell their stories. Kelly Haines is another brave survivor whom I’ve become friends with. 

I’ve listened to hundreds of stories in 2018 and met so, so many incredible survivors and advocates. But what keeps haunting me is how badly the church still is failing to care for and protect the innocent and the wounded. I wrote an article last week called Our “Jesus accepts all” theology is empowers abusers, big time. I write about this a lot–how our theology is embarrassingly protective of abusers and dangerously antagonistic toward their victims. It’s not just my imagination, either. After consulting with churches, personally speaking with hundreds of survivors and dozens of church leaders, I’ve learned that many church leaders radically defend abusers and survivors are feeling the sting. The number of survivors who’ve told me that they attempted suicide after talking with their church leaders about their abuse is breathtaking.

One survey was posted a couple weeks ago that asked if survivors of abuse were helped or felt worse after speaking with church leaders. A staggering 98% said they actually felt worse after meeting with church leaders. Rachael Denholander was interviewed by Morgan Lee at Christianity Today in an article called, My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness. Rachael bemoaned the fact that religious leaders gushed over her one-liner about forgiveness when almost the entire 37 minute testimony was about God’s justice and the need to repent. But what really caught my attention was Rachael’s feelings about how the church responds to abuse survivors: 

Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.

There are a number of reasons why the church continues to fail (another post for another day!). But rather than focus on that for now, I’ll just say that we need to steer our sinking ships back to the harbor of Jesus’ mission. Jesus couldn’t have been more clear: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). 

This month’s theme is resources for the kingdom. There are good resources for churches that are out there for preventing abuse and for walking a church through the aftermath of it. Step one is to become aware of the most valuable resources that are out there. Step two is having the humility to tap into those resources. In the next post I will list different resources and what each person/organization specializes in. As a church leader myself, I have a heart for helping them. I was lost when an allegation of abuse came to me about my own father. I don’t want others to be lost like I was. There is good help out there now. Abuse is incredibly common. In seven years, I have yet to speak at a congregation where there are no victims of abuse. Many of them who tell me about their abuse have never told anyone before. Church, we’ve got to make it safer for victims to come forward and get healing. They should not be terrified of their leaders. We have work to do, but it can be done! 

The Really Big Thing
As the year winds toward a close, I find myself musing about what really matters for leaders in congregations. I certainly know that, for most church leaders, a hundred items clamor for attention. Everything from a new health crisis for sister Maggie to a dilemma with a mission in the Congo to the repair of the HVAC system at the building to what to do about the decline in Sunday morning attendance … all of these things make their way into decision-making sessions in churches large and small.

All of those things matter – yet many of them could find resolution under the care of any number of godly and wise people. What is it that leaders need to attend to because if they don’t, then it won’t be done?

Paul makes a remarkable claim in the middle of addressing a bundle of conflicts and messes in the church in Corinth. Seeking to rise above the tumult of trouble and pointing the Corinthian congregation to reorient and refocus, Paul declares: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

I think Paul knew that, whenever a community of people live and share and work together, conflict and trouble will emerge. He also knew that finding a center, resolving conflict, and plotting a path forward will come only if someone (or a group of someones!) intentionally seeks to think and behave in ways that are aligned deeply with Jesus Christ.

This is the big thing for leaders. Leadership in our congregations must take into account a disciplined focus on being Jesus-followers. Leaders must not assume that either they or congregations will naturally fall into a Christ-centered way of thinking and behaving. Whatever your role, the one thing that is absolutely necessary for the wellbeing of the community is a deep commitment to see others as Jesus sees others.

The second thing leaders must do is closely related to the first! With the eyes of Jesus, leaders are the ones who look for signs of God’s action. Leaders are the ones who refuse to take their attention away from God’s mission in the world, even when unexpected conflicts and dilemmas surface (and they do!).

Knowing Jesus Christ and paying attention to God’s movement in the world are big things. And our churches, families, and cities need leaders who live out those big things!
Merry Christmas!
Carson

NEWS
Using Christmas to grow a small church
The Christmas season is upon us, and this festive season brings with it ample opportunities for churches to connect with our communities. In hisMosaic article, Dr. Larry Fitzgerald (’76) shares about his journey into celebrating Christmas, then offers several creative suggestions for small church leaders to lean into this season, such as participating in local holiday events or hosting a Christmas meal for members who cannot celebrate with family. Fitzgerald is pulpit minister at the Woodlawn Church of Christ in Abilene, and for more than 40 years, he has been a town Santa! For more holiday reading, check out all ourChristmas-themed Mosaic posts.

Ministers’ breakfast in Houston to feature Dr. Jerry Taylor
On Monday, Jan. 28, Dr. Jerry Taylor (pictured) will speak at ACU’s annual ministers’ breakfast, to be held at Ecclesia Houston. The 9 a.m. breakfast will include time for fellowship, worship, and a word of encouragement for a new year of ministry. The annual breakfast is sponsored by ACU in Houston’s University Relations team, in partnership with the Siburt Institute. Dr. Jerry Taylor is an associate professor of Bible, missions and ministry, and the founding executive director of the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action.

For additional details, email Carri Hill, University Relations Manager in Houston, at carri.hill@acu.edu by Thursday, Jan. 24.Click here to register.

Save the date: ministers’ lunch in Dallas/Fort Worth featuring 
Dr. Richard BeckOn Tuesday, Feb. 5, Dr. Richard Beck (’89), department chair and a professor in ACU’s psychology department, will join ministers in Dallas and Fort Worth at Christ Church in Irving for a lunchtime conversation about practices of hospitality, sharing insights from his book Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise. Following Beck’s presentation, extended time will be allotted for questions, answers, and reflection.

The event will go from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the lunch is sponsored by ACU in Fort Worth’s University Relations team and the Siburt Institute. For additional details or to RSVP, email Brent Barrow, University Relations Manager in Fort Worth, atjbb05c@acu.edu by Thursday, Jan. 31.

In many ways, Summit 2018 was a great experiment and success. As we sought to keep the 112-year tradition true to its beginnings while meeting the needs and demands of an ever-changing audience, we have moved Summit into a new model, Summit Re-Imagined.

We are thankful for all who have participated and led in various ways. With deeper course offerings and all-day pathways, more events aimed at spiritual formation for our ACU students, a larger online presence and a soon-to-be-released podcast series, we are excited about all that is ahead for Summit 2019 and beyond.


Holiday Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Happy Holidays from your friends at
the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Ministers’ Breakfast, Houston, Jan. 28. Coordinator: Carri (Teague ’88) Hill Ministers’ Lunch, Dallas / Fort Worth, Feb. 5. Coordinator:Brent Barrow (’86)Ministry in Times of Illness and Loss, Co-Sponsored with Lifeline Chaplaincy, Feb. 23Ministers Support Network Retreat, Feb. 28 – March 3. Coordinator: Robert Oglesby Jr. (’81) Journey – From Text to Congregation, March 21-23

THOUGHTS TO PONDER
“Creating a vision statement is not the same thing as having vision or discerning a vision. ‘Creating a vision statement’ is something that secular organizations do as a function of strategic planning … But in the church, a real vision comes through the Holy Spirit, not through a committee pulled together to figure out on their own what the church ‘ought’ to do or what they want the church to do.” – Dr. Richard L. Hamm,Recreating the Church: Leadership for the Postmodern Age“God doesn’t need our perfection. He already has his own. He chooses us because we offer something different – humanity. To be what he needs, we can’t shy away from our intense experience of weakness … When one person is willing to step into vulnerability, it disrupts forever the cycle that traps us, giving us permission to share our fears, creating a space for others to be human and for God to be God.” – Mandy Smith,The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry

If you’re doing the December Reading Plan in Luke with me this month, then today you found yourself in Luke 19. One of my favorite stories is here. Zacchaeus the dreaded tax collector. If you were to ask the local church people, you would have been told he was he a crook, stole from the less fortunate, and used Roman guard to strong arm his own people. He was known as a trader and nuisance to the good Jewish people. And our Savior, who should have gone straight to the local synagogue to make the religious feel good about themselves, instead spent the day with the Chief Tax Collector.  

I love the Christmas story. I love the baby in the manger, the shepherds in the fields, the caravan of the wise, the animals, the weary, excited parents, and the star overhead. I love the joy, hope, and story of the Nativity. But I am in awe of the Savior who grew to love the unloveable, see the unseen, and defend the weak, hated, and oppressed.

This Christmas season as you’re beholding the baby in the manger, don’t forget who he grew up to be. Take hope and joy to those that most people refuse to see. Befriend the poor and marginalized. Call them by name, share a table with them, and let them know how loved they are. And don’t get too upset when you’re faced with opposition. Following Jesus has a tendency to upset the comfortable.

Continue to love, serve, and encourage those whom others refuse to see. That’s the true story of Christmas. Not a baby in the manger but a King who left the splendor of Heaven to walk our broken streets.  


Many of you are familiar with Les Ferguson, Jr. He writes regularly here at Wineskins and at his personal site. Les wrote a book this year titled, “Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed Through Brokenness” and I want to tell you a little about this book and how it could be a real blessing to your soul.

First of all let me say I am biased. Sometimes I review books of people I haven’t ever met and don’t know much about. But I know Les and so it is hard to not let that bias shine through in the review. Here’s the thing. Part of what makes the book what it is is that Les is who he is. Les is a man who loves God, loves his family, and will bless you if you get to spend some time with him either in person or through reading his book. The book is very genuine and I think you will get an accurate snapshot of who this man is and how God works through brokenness if you read his book.

You can’t really talk about the book without talking about his story and one event in particular, the murder of his wife Karen and son Cole. I expected that story to play out over the course of the book in a much longer narrative but as it turns out it is told in the introduction, before you even hit chapter one. But the repercussions of that story are told through the rest of the book.

The premise of the book is that Les is a mess but that isn’t really any different than the people in the Bible and any of the rest of us. That makes the book something we can all relate to. On top of that, Les’ writing style is relatable because his writing is so personable and personal. He owns his problems so he can face his problems. Each chapter highlights a different person in the Bible, the mess they were and that they got into, and how God redeemed each and every one. That leads to how God is working on us today as well. Each chapter ends with some discussion and reflection questions that would work well for individual reading or group study.

While I really think a lot of people would benefit from the book there are a few groups who might benefit most. First are those who are Christians but are struggling with why God allows all these messes to remain messy for so long. This would be the perfect book for the person struggling with doubts. This would even be a great book for a non-Christian to read and understand what redemption is all about. Last, this is a great book if you need encouragement. That seems like an odd group because the story of loss in and of itself isn’t that encouraging but it is real and to see what God has done with it is very encouraging.

I hope you will get this book, read it, and share it with someone else who might benefit from it. Pick it up for a reading club and work through the discussion questions. You will be blessed if you do. Thank you Les for writing an outstanding book and for opening your life up with such vulnerability that we can all grow closer to God because of this.

Do you ever feel like you need some good news? Let’s talk this month about the meaning of the Gospel. When the New Testament writers used that term how did they use it and what did they mean? When second temple, first-century Jewish people heard that word, what did they think? When Paul and his fellow missionaries traveled the world and used that term with the Gentiles, how did they conceive of that word? We are going to dive into all of that and more this month at Wineskins.

We hope you will read the thoughts that are shared this month and discuss them with us as we enter into a timely dialog on the good news in a world that feels saturated with bad news.

Blessings,

Matt

It”s been awhile since I ventured to share anything here, but the following has been used in the Clarion Ledger as well as part of a message given this past May at Pepperdine… LFjr.

There was a time when my own story of heartache and pain was a raw, open wound. I don’t make reference to it as much these days because God has seen fit to bring an outpouring of immense beauty and hope into my life.

Do I ever have moments when grief and pain, fear and doubt still assail? Yes, I do. When America celebrates Mother’s Day, I am much more cognizant of the pain experienced by many (including some of my children) during this time of celebration and honor.

Although I am grateful that a story like mine is not the norm, there is a need to identify with each other: Every one of us knows some degree of pain, heartache, and difficulties—those are often the human condition.

As the book of faith for Christians everywhere, the Bible has any number of stories that evidence the pain and brokenness of humanity.  I’d like to share with you three stories of broken women that offer an amazing hope of redemption for all…

First up is Tamar–her crazy narrative is found in Genesis 38. It’s a story of family tragedy and loss, of evil wicked men and exploitation. Before the whole disgraceful mess is through, Tamar is thoroughly used, dishonored, devalued, and discounted. Since this is a family newspaper, that’s the G-rated version of the story and about as deep into it as we are going to go. I trust you can read Genesis 38 on your own.

The second story is that of Rahab in Joshua 2. Honestly? I couldn’t find a single version that uses a socially tolerable word to describe her. Euphemistically, we might refer to her as a “madam” or “lady of the evening.” Let me hasten to add that I do not believe for a single moment that this “profession” was her life’s ambition.

Again, I am going to trust that you know more of the story than what is acceptable to talk about at the family dinner table. I am also going to trust that you can read between the lines enough to see that both Tamar and Rahab were the victims of sexual exploitation.

So, there’s Tamar and Rahab, neither innocent of their own sin, but yet both victims of exploitation.

Hold on to the word victim for a bit as we also consider the story of Bathsheba as found in 2 Samuel 11. This story especially could be lifted out of the headlines of today. In short, a powerful man had an affair with a beautiful woman and in the process of trying to cover it up, murder was committed.

The difference in stories is found in the time and culture of Bathsheba. In her time, she would have had very little voice or power with which to deny the king what the king wanted. Was she a victim too? I’ll let you read the story and think through it yourself.

However, I am firmly convinced that all three of these ladies were victims of wicked men and ugly power trips. And I guess if we wanted to, we could use this as a stepping stone to talk about basic human dignity. We could talk about true justice or equality. We could make this about the #metooheadlines and accusations of today.

And maybe we ought to take the time to encourage men and women alike to have a high view of the value and worth of others, that people are not possessions! But in the meantime, I want you to journey forward in time from those three stories all the way to the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel where we read of the genealogy of Jesus…

If you are reading this passage at home, there’s a chance you will be discouraged by all the hard to pronounce names. There is a tendency to think of this as a bit rote and dry. But as you read, you’ll not only find Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, you’ll also see two of the men who exploited them as well.

The older I get, the more fascinated I am by the study of genealogy. I recently sent off my DNA to Ancestry.com—and I am looking forward to learning more and exploring my family tree. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a connection to some historical person or setting, but what I have learned from the genealogy of Jesus is both fascinating and hopeful.

Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba are each an example of a broken, messed up, exploited life! All three of their stories tell me that no matter how bad it gets, no matter where we end up, not matter how deep the hole might be, none of us are unredeemable for the purposes of God!

I hope you are reading this loud and clear. Not a single person is unredeemable for the purposes of God! Say it out loud with me and don’t worry if anybody looks at you strange: “My life can be redeemed!”

In a funny serendipity, for me, it took being broken hard to understand I have always been broken! But whatever my story was, whatever my story might yet be, God can and does work through all of it!

Broken, but redeemed! If God can redeem their stories and mine, then God can redeem yours!

Psalms 147:2–6,The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers Israel’s exiled people. He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; he gives names to all of them. Our Lord is great, vast in power; his understanding is infinite. The LORD helps the oppressed but brings the wicked to the ground.

Another Father’s Day is upon us and I can’t help but think of my dad and his rebellious lifestyle:

  • As a popular high-school football player he decided to spend his life telling others about Jesus.
  • As a young preacher he switched pulpits with one of his close friends, a young, African American preacher. In the early 1970s not many churches were doing that. I’ll never forget dad taking me to this congregation and finding a sweet, older lady for me to sit beside while he preached. I loved the joy and excitement that came from those faithful Christians. Dad taught me that it didn’t matter what color someone’s skin was. We were all family.
  • When faced with the news of having a terminal illness as a young twenty something, dad continued to preach the hope of Jesus even when he could no longer speak. He turned his diagnosis into a way to bless others.

I hope you had a rebellious father. One who looked at his world and refused to let the darkness win. One who knew Jesus and wasn’t afraid to practice what he preached.

I hope you are a rebellious father. I hope you will continue to love God and love others even in a world that doesn’t. I hope you ask God to stand guard over your mouth, your eyes, and your actions. I hope you tell your children in words and deeds that nothing matters more than following the Christ and encouraging his church. I hope you fiercefully love your wife and children and fight for them. And if you need to, I hope you will forgive your own dad for his faults.

Here’s to all the rebellious dads! Happy Father’s Day!

By Audrey, 10th grade, and Halie, 9th Grade,

4th and College Church of Christ, Cordell, OK

 

“What is a good person?”  I get asked this question all the time. When asked, a few people come to mind. Patty Doran, or as she’s known by myself and the rest of the 4th and College Youth, Gigi, is one of those people. She was one of our small group leaders that would spend time with us every Wednesday, and every year she came with us to Winterfest, a huge youth rally in Arlington. Gigi is the very definition of a “good person”. She’s someone who shows love, peace, joy, kindness, patience, goodness, and, most importantly, faithfulness to our God, despite the situation. She’s a person who is not judgmental and holds no grudges against others, but she walks in forgiveness and understanding of anyone she meets. She’s a woman who is so strong, she can bring happiness and prosperity to any person she comes across. Gigi has shown me that there is something living inside of me, and that I’m on this earth for a purpose.

Gigi had to leave us, because she had to move in with her daughter because of her health. If I’ve learned anything from this woman it’s this, “Forget the mistakes of the past, and press on to the achievements of the future.” I will end with this. She’s a woman who is faithful to her faith, and she’s not scared of the future. “We are constantly seeking for answers, we are constantly chasing after the things that cause us pain, when we realize that He has already written our fate, and that within the outcome of every situation a blessing will gradually come to light.”

Farewell, Gigi, we love you!

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