Sunday, December 22, 2019

Beyond Church 12/22/2019

Dethroned Royalty by Elizabeth Stone

And the angel said unto her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33

Dethroned royalty.  That was the tribe of Judah and the house of David when the angel Gabriel came to announce to Mary that she would bear the King of Israel.  Caesar was on the throne of Rome, and Herod was ruling Judea (and he was Rome’s puppet and had no Biblical right to rule) so we can understand Mary’s confusion. Her betrothed husband was a carpenter, her people lived in poverty trying to eek out a living under the Roman occupation.  Not what we usually associate with royalty.  Kings are rich and live in palaces and wear great clothes and have political power over all the people in the Kingdom.  They have servants and armies and people obey them.  But not dethroned royalty.  When the people of France revolted against their monarchy, Louis XVI, his family, and all his courtiers were guillotined.  When Tsar Nicholas of Russia was dethroned, he and his family were assassinated.  And when the house of David faltered, the line of David survived, but his heirs lived in poverty and obscurity.  Dethroned royalty can be a threat to new rulers, so if they are not dead, they had better be powerless.  

How was the Kingship of Jesus Christ established?  Herod tries to kill Him when He is just a baby.  And then He, like His earthly parents, lives in obscurity, and learns and works at Joseph’s trade.  When He does come into the public eye, it is not as a military leader, but as a preacher, homeless and camping out in the open, traveling from place to place teaching about the Kingdom of God.  When He is illegally arrested and faces trial, He tells Pilate that His Kingship is not of this world.  Jesus takes up His royal position through suffering; He dies for us.  Now, after His death and resurrection He is King, seated in Heaven, and reigning with power.  Just as the angel Gabriel said, it is a forever throne and a forever Kingdom.  Every promise to David for a permanent kingship is fulfilled in Jesus Christ because Jesus reigns as King in eternity. 

The Bible tells us we are – like our Savior – royalty.  But also like Him, our riches, our power, are not of this world.  Like Him we live in obscurity and we work for a living, our service and obedience are to God.  Like Him we tell others about the Kingdom of God, and how to get there. And as we do, God’s family grows, and royal children are born of the Spirit.  We follow King Jesus imitating His life, so that in eternity He will crown us as His own. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Beyond Church 12/15/2020

Backwards Angels by Elizabeth Stone
Hebrews 5:7-14

Thanks to my children and grandchildren, my Christmas tree is up.  Knowing how important it is to  me, whoever comes for Thanksgiving brings the tree in, sets it up, adds lights that actually work, and decorates it. This year my son dragged in all the Christmas boxes, and his two toddler daughters helped Daddy and Grandpa decorate.  When the average height of the decorators is about two feet, we have a superabundance of ornaments on the lower branches, and some of the angels are, well, backwards.  One child put all of her ornaments on one branch, the other spread hers across maybe three.  But they were so proud, and they had such a good time.  It is expected because they are small, and immature, and super cute. 

Christmas brings us all back home, if not physically then at least emotionally.  Most of us have wonder-filled memories of childhood Christmases, and some do not, but the longing for home, for a simpler time, for love and joy, for a safe place at the holidays, is universal.  Christmas is, after all, about love; God’s love that sent His one and only Son for us, the greatest gift, the indescribable gift.  As we grow up, we become the providers for Christmas joy to the younger generation, the ones who are responsible for the simple, safe, love-filled celebration for the children, so I have to ask, are your angels backwards?

The author of Hebrews calls us to mature faith in Christ.  The Jewish believers have become dull of hearing, and have stalled out in their faith-walk.  All their angels are backwards and in the same spot. They haven’t grown up in Christ, they are still drinking milk, they haven’t advanced to the solid spiritual food of the mature.  Over and over they need to hear the basic principles of the oracles of God, over and over they need to review the discernment that makes them sharp enough to tell good from evil.  Their mature correspondent reminds them about Jesus’ time on earth, and points them to His prayers of Gethsemane and His passion:

In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.  And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Milchizedek.  (Hebrews 5:7-10)

What is striking about this is: Jesus was heard.  God heard every prayer that Jesus spoke, every request that Jesus made when He was on earth.  He was heard because of His reverence for His Father.  And He obeyed, not because it was easy, but because the goal was that He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.  Like our Savior, we too are heard, and we also must learn obedience by constant practice, by opening our ears to the deep things of God so we can discern good from evil, and do the good.  Mature Christians are invested in God’s purposes, and over time, we learn that those purposes always include His very best for us.

My granddaughters will grow up, and will know the backside of an angel from the front, and will be able to reach the highest branches. Will they understand the reality of Christmas?  Will they find their own way to the Source of eternal salvation?  Only if we who know Christ have open ears to His Word, and are living the example of prayer and obedience, and only if we tell them.  It is still true that we who are mature create the love and joy of Christmas for the young. You can move the ornaments around after they are asleep, but our witness, our sharing Jesus’ birth story, our worship with them, and above all our walk of obedience will call children to the Christ-child for eternity, which is the great WHY of Christmas.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Before Church ~ Sunday November 24, 2019

Consider Your Calling I Corinthians 1:18-31

We take ourselves way too seriously.  Have you watched the news lately?  Good for you, it’s really best to avoid the national outlets.  But if you have, like me you have seen all of the politicians screaming and yelling, people attacking one another, and it is so much noise. The wise, the scribes, the debaters of this age are as foolish in God’s eyes as were those of Paul’s time.  Culture holds up as sages: politicians, athletes, authors and speakers, entertainers, the rich who have and can make money, all of whom tell people exactly what they want to hear and who offer vain foolish promises they can never fulfill.  God’s wisdom is exactly opposite to the world’s; God’s power is exactly opposite of the world’s; God’s wisdom and power is the cross.

Cross = a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.
Cross = power of God to us who are being saved

Consider your calling.  Consider your calling not in the light of your abilities, gifts, or skills, but in light of what God has done – the cross of Christ.  Our calling is first to participate in the folly and weakness of God, the illogical upside-down plan of salvation that is the cross, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.  Every human being falls into one of those two categories: those who bark their shins on the great big Cornerstone that the builders rejected, or those who dismiss salvation as complete foolishness.  That was us before we were called; it is the default setting for human souls.  Once we have received the love and grace of Christ, the foolishness of God, the weakness of God, these become our lifeline.  After we are redeemed, we understand that the cross is the power of, the wisdom of, salvation; we are spiritually dead and powerless without Christ. With Christ we have divine wisdom and power, upside-down eternal wisdom and power. 

“For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world – even things that are not – to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, Who God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (vs. 26-31).

Whatever calling we do, whatever mission we accept from God, it all starts with the call to the cross, to the folly and weakness of God.  Purpose, vision, mission, vocation, all flow from salvation; the simple surrender to the love of Christ displayed on the cross, the most illogical and incomprehensible example of servant leadership, of forgiveness, of grace – God’s spiritual buy-back of our souls in the sacrifice of His Son. 

What passes for wisdom in our time is what’s popular; the story du jour with no truth, no spiritual backbone, no longevity; worldly power is using force to control others.  But God’s wisdom and power are eternal and lasting, forever truth and forever strength that from age to age reveal the love of Christ in the cross.  From this salvation we also receive the righteousness, the redemption, the sanctification of Christ.  So consider your calling in light of the cross, and don’t take yourself too seriously. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Timing is Everything
by Elizabeth Stone

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."  Ecclesiastes 3:11

I've been reading Ecclesiastes and Solomon was experiencing some severe depression.  There is this sense of futility to the opening chapters, but by the end of the book he has worked through a lot of his issues.  You have to read the whole book to get the picture, but it is oh so easy - especially for those of us who have lived awhile - to look back on the years and feel the same sense of vanity and uselessness, of not having done enough or not having fulfilled dreams and aspirations.  Ecclesiastes asks the questions - good questions - that all humans face.  "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. . ."  John Lennon posited the same questions in his lyrics, but the problem is, with no religion, no faith, no eternity, there is also no hope.  If we have no expectation of life after death, no expectation of grace and forgiveness, no conviction that God will put all things right, and the brokenness of the world will never be healed, it makes for a sad depressing life.  Solomon of all people had it all: power, wealth, education, wisdom, accomplishments, luxury, love, glory, etc., and yet with all the best the world has to offer, he hits a mid-life crisis, or maybe a late in life crisis, and asks all the right questions.  What is the use of all our human endeavors if we just return to dust?  
The answer: right here in chapter 3 Solomon realizes that not only does everything (and everyone) have seasons of beauty that God gives, but eternity is in our minds.  We have the capability of imagining that there is a Heaven, and that there is a time when all the problems of the world, all the sin, and misery, the devil's work, and even death will all end and we will live in eternity with God.  This perfection that we can clearly grasp with our limited imperfect minds is evidence that we are created for immortality.  Solomon didn't get to see it, but he had enough wisdom to ask the right questions.  And we, living in post-resurrection times, know that the answer is: Jesus.  Because of Christ the door to Heaven stands open for anyone who wishes to go through, for anyone who will lay hold of His salvation.  Solomon asked the question, Jesus is the resounding answer.  John Lennon makes the point for us: it actually takes some effort to imagine that there is no Heaven, because we were made for eternity, we were made to believe in God.  Created in God's image, our minds and souls naturally understand eternity, and yearn for it.  And God also yearns jealously for our spirits as well, because He has made a way for us to spend it with Him.  The light of eternity shining on us now makes the blessings of life sweeter, the suffering easier to bear, and the promise of life eternal gives us all the hope we need.  
The butterfly has a season of being a wriggly caterpillar, but eventually it has a season of being a beautiful butterfly.  Sometimes it takes longer than we wish for things to turn out right, and a season of beauty to begin.  But after all the ups and downs of life, eventually, like the butterfly, we will be permanently changed into something beautiful, something glorious, an eternal soul in shining glory. And we will be reunited with our God who made us with this concept of an eternity, beckoning us to our Heavenly home. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Not Skirting the Issue

Before Church: Sunday October 27, 2019
by Elizabeth Stone

A sermon written for 6/22/2008 and edited for 9/22/2019.  Longer than my usual, but in view of requests for the message, as well as the timeliness of the subject in the church, thought I would share.  

And after that, I will pour out my Spirit on all people;
your sons and your daughters will prophecy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions. 
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days. ~ Joel 2:28,29

Last week I promised to take on the elephant in the room, so today we are going to talk about women in ministry.  Good, honest Christians come down on both sides of this debate.  Is it Scriptural to ordain women, to let them teach, preach or hold office, or is it not?  In the end analysis, that is the only question that matters.  So today I would like to take you on a journey to help form your own theology of women in ministry. 
Back in the seventies, an Episcopal bishop ordained three women to the priesthood against church law, and they were big news on TV.  Arrogant and defiant, they flaunted church polity using ordination as a protest.  Ministry was not about a call God placed on their hearts; they wanted a job that the church told them they could not have because of their gender.  Their feminism pre-empted faith and their Christian witness.  Had they in humility declared that God had put a Jeremiah-like fire in their hearts, and they had to preach or be consumed with it, I could have sympathized.  Instead their attitude shamed me as a woman, and I was pretty well convinced that women shouldn’t be ministers.  As the years rolled by, more and more denominations ordained women, and I hate to be hard on my own sex, but so many of them showed the same arrogance and defiance.  Many women clergy just didn’t do the job well; it disheartened me that once having attained what they wanted, they didn’t go at it with all their heart and soul, and serve with excellence.  Thus, when I went to college, in spite of all the best efforts of the Religious Studies department to woo me away from mathematics, I was convinced that I had no future in vocational ministry. 
Exposure to some excellent women in ministry began to change my mind; women pastors and seminary professors doing their jobs well challenged me to think that women’s callings might include ministry.  The Rev. Dr. Roberta Croker, the first woman ordained by the Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery in 1977, is the most astounding pastor I ever met: kind, compassionate, smart, and with a great work ethic.  She mentored both Greg and me, and all of her advice was golden.  Never have I seen anyone with a more passionate pastor’s heart, never have I been so loved and supported in ministry.  She used to laugh so heartily as she said, “I can’t imagine anything better than getting paid for loving Christ, just for loving Christ!”  When you realize that as she spent herself in service to others she was also battling cancer, her ministry is even more amazing. 
As you can imagine, this towering example of God’s love in action brought me to a faith crisis.  While more and more of my work in education faded, and ministry came to the forefront, I had to get into the Scriptures to see if women were allowed to do the job that more and more I felt called to do.  And today I will tell you, that if I believed I was truly in violation of God’s Word, then I would resign at this moment and never do pastoral ministry again.  So we have to ask: what does the Word of God say about women in ministry?
First question: where did the inequality of the sexes come from?  From Genesis, of course.  God created the man and woman as equal partners.  Although Eve was created second, she was not subordinate.  God’s parade of critters in Genesis 2 convinces Adam that he needs a human helpmeet, someone like him.  The Hebrew word “ezer” meaning “help” is the same word used to describe God as our helper, and word for “meet” best translated as “equal” and “similar.” Therefore Adam’s helpmeet cannot be inferior to him.  Adam and Eve are equal stewards, equal bearers of the God-image.  Before the fall marriage was perfect.  Human relationships were perfect.  All equal.  No tension.  When did it all go off the rails?  After the fall, when both Adam and Eve equally receive judgment.  Genesis 3:16 tells us the relationship between them was ruptured; Eve will desire her husband, yet Adam shall rule over her. The Hebrew here could also be translated as Eve desiring her husband’s authority. The inequality of the sexes we see in history is a result of the fall. 
As Christians we believe that everything is redeemed in Christ.  All of our sins, all of our curses, everything was bought back by Jesus on the cross and confirmed in His resurrection.  And although we live in the time of already and not yet (already saved, not yet glorified), we see the seeds of redemption sprinkled throughout the Bible, seeds that show us a glimmer of Heaven here on earth.  Spiritual victories, God’s people coming into their own, and the constant evidence of Christ’s salvation coming and happening and continuing even up to today.  This guarantee assures us that when Christ comes again, eternal perfection will set in, everything will be made right.  So we have to ask: are there seeds of Biblical equality that we see in redemptive history? In the Old Testament?  In the New? Who are the heroines of the Bible, the women who made an impact for God?  What was their historical and cultural context?  Well, strap on your seat belts, ‘cause here we go:
Let’s start with the Law; God’s temporary fix until the time of grace.  And let’s not rip it out of its context and judge it by our modern standards.  For its time in history, the Law of Moses was far and away the best religious and cultural environment for women, more than any other ancient nation.   No other judicial system valued women and protected their rights the way the Hebrews did; for example, women could inherit property, and they could not be sold into slavery. They could be married off, but not enslaved (I know, some of you ladies think it’s the same thing – that’s the fall talking – marriage isn’t slavery).
There’s a long list of extraordinary women in the Old Testament:  Miriam led worship in Exodus 15:20, affirmed in Micah 6:4 “I sent Moses to lead you, and also Aaron and Miriam.”  When the Tent of Meeting was first set up by Moses, women ministered at the entrance.  They even donated their bronze mirrors as an offering (awesome offering for any woman, to give up her mirror!). Rahab rescued the two male spies in Joshua 2.  Hannah composed Scripture recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 as did the mother of King Lemuel in Proverbs 31; the midwives in Exodus and later Esther are women who all stopped the annihilation of the Jews.  Ruth was more to Naomi than seven sons, becoming the wife of Obed and the ancestress of David and Jesus; Abigail saved David from slaughtering the household of her foolish husband, Nabal, in 1 Samuel; in 1 Chronicles 34:14-28 Huldah was a prophetess who gave King Josiah counsel.  When the temple was rebuilt choirs included male and female singers.  The Daughters of Zion figure largely in the Old Testament prophets, women called out to be a voice of joy and of promise.  Psalm 68:11 contains a specifically feminine gender, plural in the original Hebrew, and the NASB and ESV translate accurately: “The LORD gave the command; the women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host.” The most influential woman in the Old Testament has to be Deborah in Judges 4 & 5; not only was she a judge who governed the whole nation of Israel, not only was she the general of the Israelite army, but she was a prophetess, the prophetess who was the spiritual leader of the people of God.  If you want a one-word answer to whether or not women should lead, it has to be: Deborah.
Fast forward to the New Testament. Extraordinary in His time, the first thing a careful reader of the Gospels notices is that the Lord Jesus treated women well, as equals.  Christ spoke with them, taught them, healed them, and partnered with them in ministry.  He saw and understood the suffering of women in His culture and time better than anyone else.  He loved His mother Mary and submitted to her authority (Luke 2:51).  Jesus honors the widow who has only a meagre offering of a mite to give (Luke 21:1-4). In Nain He raises the widow’s only son who is not only her beloved child but her only financial security for the future (Luke 7:11-17), and He turns water into wine at the wedding in Cana at His mother’s request (John 2).  More than that, he accepts material support from women who were, in effect, the breadwinners for his ministry (Luke 8:3).  And in Luke 13 the Lord Jesus heals a woman crippled and bent over for 18 years, welcoming her into the “men’s only” section of the synagogue on the Sabbath day, proclaiming her freedom from the demon that bound her and then: touching her, completely against cultural practice and tradition.  When she glorifies God for her healing, Jesus doesn’t silence her, but lets her proclaim the high praises of God in the congregation.  His first missionary is the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  When she brings her whole town to hear Jesus, He doesn’t say, “You stupid woman; what do you mean by bringing all these people to hear the good news?!”  No, He teaches them.  And then He stays with them.  Isn’t that our job, to bring others to Jesus?         
In Christ’s passion and death, it was the women who were the most faithful. The Gospels are unanimous in praising the women who followed Jesus through the steps to Golgotha, stayed with Him through the bloody hours, and watched to see where He was laid.  As if in answer to their faithful vigil, while many of the disciples cowered in a room or even denied Him, Jesus reveals Himself first to women after His resurrection.  When they make their way to the tomb early on the first day after the Sabbath, it is the women who are greeted with the angelic manifestations announcing the resurrection of the Lord, “He has risen!” “He is risen indeed!” And it is Mary who has the first sight of the resurrected Jesus.  In characteristic form, it is the women who are quick to believe the glorious news, while the disciples are eventually convinced through further testimony and their own encounters with the risen Lord.  These women become the first evangelists, sent by Jesus Christ to tell others the good news of the full Gospel: “Go and tell My disciples.”.  Go and tell.
Pentecost.  When the Holy Spirit falls on the gathered disciples in Acts 2, the assembled group is 120 people, male and female, and the Bible says that they all were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other languages.  When a crowd gathers, Peter uses today’s verses from the Old Testament to explain what is happening to these people.  It is no accident that these Scriptures say, “I will pour out My Spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters will prophesy,” and “Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days”. Peter chooses this particular prophecy to describe what was going on.  Everyone there, regardless of their sex, was telling the glories of God and communicating the Gospel.  Joel foresaw a time when everyone would experience Spirit-enabled prophecy, and Peter declares “This is it!” This is the start of that epoch. 
After Pentecost, a revolution of faith began sweeping the ancient world, and house churches sprang up all over the Mediterranean Basin, many of which were held in the homes of prominent women, notably Lydia (Acts 16:11ff), and Nympha (Colossians 4:15).  Hosting a house church meant you were also a leader of the church.  Paul identifies fellow workers such as Priscilla (Romans 16:3,4) Syntyche and Euodia (Philippians 4:3) all women who have labored with him in ministry.  Priscilla was specifically involved with team teaching with her husband, and since Scripture names her first, it suggests that she was the lead teacher.  Moreover, the only pupil mentioned by name in Scripture under Priscilla’s tutelage was a man.  Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis are women mentioned in Romans 16.  Prophetesses speak in the early church.  Anna prophesied over Jesus when He was born (Luke 2:36-38), and there were four daughters of Phillip who prophesied (Acts 21:9).  Just as in the Old Testament, the office of prophetess is affirmed in the New.  Junia, a female, is named as an apostle in Romans 16:7, the highest office of the primitive church. 
Conclusion: faith communities of ancient Israel and the early church not only included women, but allowed them prominent positions as prophetesses, leaders, financial supporters, missionaries, evangelists, teachers, and heralds of salvation.  Example after example piles up in the Scriptures so that the evidence to support women’s full integration at all levels of ministry is overwhelming.  These aren’t just seeds of equality in redemptive history, they are full grown redwoods.  However, there are three passages in the Pauline letters, I Corinthians 11,                  I Corinthians 14, and I Timothy 2, that specifically address women’s role in public worship, and we cannot just set them aside.  These are the Scriptures that are most often quoted by Christians who want to exclude women from pastoral ministry.  And any woman who wants to do the job that I am doing must wrestle with these verses. 
I Corinthians 11: 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head and every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.
I Corinthians 14:33-35 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.  As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
I Timothy 2:11-15 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission, I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, she must be silent.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  But women shall be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety. 
So how do we reconcile this with the overwhelming evidence of women’s ministry in the Bible?  We look at it in its context, the surrounding verses and what we know about the book.  And we expand our search to look at other Scripture, because Scripture interprets Scripture.   Where there’s confusion, we see what else in the Word applies.  Mike announced in Sunday school that he has eleven pages, so if I miss anything, follow up with him. 
In I Corinthians, Paul in chapter 11 tells women to pray and prophesy in public worship with their heads covered, but in chapter 14 tells them to be silent.  Both are written by Paul, both are in the same letter.  How can women be silent while praying or prophesying?  And then, the real kicker, he throws in that we should be silent and in submission as the Law says.  As the Law says?  Excuse me?  Paul is the one who teaches that the Law was abolished by grace! Romans 6:14 says “For you are not under the law but under grace.”  And chapter 7:6 “But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”  Every letter that Paul writes affirms that the law is dead, and is a dead-end road for salvation.  The only way we get to heaven is through the new order that Christ created, the grace available to us through the cross.  Galatians 3:10, “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse,” and verse 13 declares that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. . .”  Chapter 5:4 says “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law.”. Putting women under the Law sends us right back into the “before Jesus” time, and makes us live under the curse of trying to fulfill the Law instead of enjoying God’s grace.  
The Timothy passage is more complicated.   Here a woman is not allowed to teach or have authority over a man.  Why?  Because Eve’s the one who was deceived and became a sinner.  But again, this passage contradicts Paul’s writing in Romans 5 that identifies Adam as the sinner, over and over.  “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, . . . the transgression of Adam. . .”  Remember Adam was present in Genesis 3 when Eve was having her fateful dialogue with the serpent.  Why didn’t he speak?  Why didn’t he challenge the serpent?  And why would God curse Adam if Eve were the only one to have sinned?  God made it clear that they were both guilty, and Paul, in his other writings, concurs.  Also, in all three of these passages, the Greek word for “woman” can equally be translated “wife”; the word for “man” as “husband.”  Reasonably, these passages could read that a wife not teach or have authority over her own husband in public worship.  In the Timothy passage it makes sense because the preservation of the hierarchy within the family is what saves a woman through childbirth.  Why would childbirth be mentioned in the context of the church?  It wouldn’t.  It would, however, make sense within the confines of family.  Plus the Greek takes us from the singular “she” to the plural “they” in that verse: “But she shall be saved through childbirth if they continue in faith. . .” She, the wife, will be safe through childbirth, if they, husband and wife, continue in faith. 
Silent. The word “sigao” that is translated as “silent” in I Corinthians can also be translated as “hold your peace.”  That has a whole different connotation than mere silence; to hold our peace means that we keep quiet for a reason, we are trying to promote peace rather than conflict.  The Timothy passage goes even further with the idea of peace because this word translated as “silent” is “hesychia,” one of the rarest words in Koine Greek.  It is used perhaps twice in the whole New Testament, and outside the Bible only once.  Other more common words that mean “silent” were not chosen.  “Hesychia” means not just “to be at peace with others” but also means “ending warfare”, and the “cessation of hostilities”.  The logical conclusion is that both in Corinth and in Timothy’s church there were women, hostile women, battling things out in public during worship.  It’s like those people who fight with their spouses on Facebook; please, please, please, keep it off the internet. Public worship should not be a battleground between husbands and wives, between church members and leadership.  Stop fighting; be at peace with others.
Are there any other groups that get so roundly rebuked in the New Testament?  Sure are.  False teachers.  II Peter 2 is entirely devoted to condemning false prophets and teachers, the whole lot of them.  And every noun and verb in the chapter is masculine: male false prophets, male false teachers.  Paul kicks them up in Galatians and Philippians, too, the Judaizers who wanted every male Christian to be circumcised; he calls them “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh.” John calls false prophets the spirit of antichrist.  Conclusion? Any group that is doing something that harms the church, they need to stop, male or female. Be nice. Get along.  Be at peace. Teach the truth.
More generally, in Galatians Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all are one in Christ Jesus.” If this is true, then all of us are equal in faith and in practice.  And I Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” There is no gender mentioned in these verses; the priesthood of all believers includes women. 
            Tractors, epidurals, and tambourines.  The judgments of Genesis 3 restrict our sin and slow us
down, reminding us that we need God.  From the time of the fall, the people of God have worked to undo the curses, but Christ’s grace is the final solution.  Yet until He returns we have responsibility to redeem this creation, to share the freedom of the children of God with every person, to reverse the curse.  So when a farmer is faced with cursed ground, what does he do?  Does he dig in the soil with his fingernails?  No, he uses his gifts and resources to buy and use a tractor.  When a woman is in childbirth, does she endure the unnecessary pain?  No, she uses the gifts and resources available to her in modern medicine to get an epidural.  In exactly the same way, it is un-Scriptural to maintain the inequality of the sexes which threatens to squelch more than half of the church from using their gifts and sharing the good news.  With Miriam we women take up our tambourines and lead worship, because women are still called to be prophetesses and apostles and teachers and the hosts of God’s people.  If Christ’s cross truly brings us back to pre-fall conditions, then the inequality of the sexes has been handled by grace, and women are elevated once more to serve in all contexts of the church.  Ladies, pick up your tambourines! 

For further reading: 
Beyond the Curse by Aida Besancon Spencer
Discovering Biblical Equality,  Pierce and Grouothuis, editors

I am greatly indebted to my wonderful husband, Rev. Greg Stone, author of a masterful exegesis paper on I Timothy 2, with a word study on hesychia.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Occupy Heaven

Before Church 10/20/2019

Occupy Heaven
by Elizabeth Stone

But Jesus called them to Him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you, But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  ~Matthew 20:25-28
Mrs. Zebedee wants prime seats for her sons in eternity.  But in order to occupy Heaven, to have honor and position in Heaven, we must be able to drink the cup Christ drank, and be appointed to that position by the Father.  Christian leadership is not based on the worldly cut-throat competition for achievement, nor is it based on human authority and rule, but on the upside-down paradigm of leadership that Jesus established and lived out before us: sacrificial servanthood.  Being first in the community of believers means to humbly take up our position as last, as slave and servant to the LORD and to His church; to follow in Christ’s footsteps, coming to serve, giving up our lives for others.
Orientation at seminary found me sitting with a young man who wore a snazzy fedora, set at a jaunty angle (which he didn’t remove indoors).  We shared a table with two professors, both men, and this newbie talked exclusively to them, talking about his goal of starting a mega church; he was going to do great things for Jesus.  I thought about my two small churches in West Virginia, and the soul-draining work of walking with my people as I strove to complete my education and my ordination.  And it occurred to me that this young man despised the day of small things, that he was determined to have personal glory, missing the whole point Jesus was making here: to be great in God’s Kingdom is to dedicate one’s life to servanthood, and the greatest leaders are the ones who humbly serve others.
What does this mean practically? It means that Christian leaders take on a job that will tax all their energies of life, learning, and compassion. It means to be passionate about salvation, as Christ was, to always be seeking to save others, and to save them for their spiritual good.  It means to humbly take on tasks that forward the passion Christ has for souls, to listen, to ask people what they need, to help them, to touch the them, to bring the healing of God into their souls as well as their lives.  This means to be last in the eyes of the world so as to be first in God’s.  It means to share in Christ’s sufferings, the betrayal, the false and unjust testimonies and trials, the unjust condemnation and sentencing, the mockery, beatings, punishment from the world, so that we may also share in the joy of His resurrection (Philippians 3:7-11)  It means that we stop, we don’t pass by the people shouting for help, nor the people whose voices are hoarse and weak from crying out. We silence those trying to exclude them, we help them and by Jesus’ power to heal them, and we invite them to also follow Jesus. 
November is the time churches in my denomination select elders to rule the congregation.  What attributes are we looking for in leaders?  Are the people chosen to lead the people who know what it is like to be in the trenches with God’s people, to serve the least of these, the ones who often are overlooked?  Because to occupy Heaven, we must take up cross, and follow Him.  The best leaders in the church are the ones who have a history of serving others. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Before Church 10/13/2019

Muscle Memory
by Elizabeth Stone

Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He Who promised is faithful  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~ Hebrews 10:19-25

 I sat down to a piano piece, Beethoven’s Sonata in G Major (Opus.49, No. 2), which I had memorized for a recital when I was. . . well, a long time ago.  Eight pages not including repeats, and I experienced: muscle memory.  As the notes swam in and out of my field of vision, my fingers took over and just played the music, not perfectly, but with the rhythm and melody of greeting an old friend, one long missed but much loved, and I was surprised at how well it sounded after forty plus years.  It was as if my brain was trying to keep up with my hands, not vice versa.  And I thought, spiritual disciplines are like this. We create spiritual muscle memory when we make a practice of prayer, of Bible Study, of worship, of fellowship. 
            Hebrews teaches us that having faith assurance, keeping our confession of Christ vibrant, remembering our baptism are the foundation of our hope; signed, sealed and delivered by Jesus, the One Who is faithful and Who promised.  Creating spiritual muscle memory comes from prayer, from worship with other believers, from sharing Gospel truths in our own quiet time and in fellowship, from encouraging one another, stirring one another up to love and good works, and making it a habit to meet together with other Christians.  Habits become routines, and routines kick in and help us when life gets crazy.  And just like our muscles remember playing an old piano piece, or riding a bike, our spirits are built to retain the truth and patterns created by our habits of spirituality, our practices of faith.  If we are faithful to believe and to keep active with our prayer and devotions and worship, when we need it most our spiritual muscles will take over and will guide our minds.  What habits of faith do you practice?  What habits do you need to create?  What routines do you need to bring back into your life?  Spiritual muscle memory is created with practice, practicing the principles of faith. 

Saturday, October 5, 2019

John 5:1-9 “Poolside Miracle”

by Elizabeth Stone
How long have you waited for your miracle? 38 years? That’s how long this man had been crippled, lying on his mat on the ground at the pool of Bethesda.  It was said that an angel would come down and stir the waters every so often, and if you were the first one who got to the pool and bathed in the waters, you would be healed of whatever disease you had.  So this man has been here a long time hoping that somehow he would be able to maneuver down into the water first when the waters were stirred.  But his infirmity is that he cannot walk, so others who are there when this miracle happens, the blind, the deaf, the lepers, they can walk so they can get down into the waters first and he misses his opportunity.  This man is alone; he has no companion who could bring him down into the pool at the perfect time to be healed. 
            I’ve seen this place in Israel; it is a complex of pools and walkways on many levels; very beautiful, but not handicapped accessible.  And I wonder how many ill or disabled people were lying around this pool, yet Jesus singles this particular man out.  What did Jesus see in him that made him remarkable? 
            Jesus looks at the man and sees his need.  It is sort of obvious.  Our Lord knows that this man has been lying there a long time.  And taking everything in, the pool, the other invalids, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be healed?”  What kind of question is that?  Here is this man, a 38 year invalid, unable to walk, and Jesus asks him does he want to be healed.  But the man doesn’t answer His question.  He goes into this long explanation about how he is a cripple, and how when the waters are stirred and the miracle happens, he can’t get to the waters first.
            Hope is an incredible thing.  It can make us do crazy things.  You have to imagine, with this legend so firmly fixed in the mind of the people, that when there was even a breath of wind, and ripples floated across the surface of the water, there was an unholy rush to get into that water first.  Desperate people, clinging to hope, pushing and shoving others away so they could plunge into that pool first, and walk away healed, leaving everyone else to the race the next time. 
            Notice that the author does not make any commentary about the healing waters.  His concern is not whether or not they actually work, but showing the hope people had in them.  Can you imagine this man, lame and hurting, trying with just his arms to pull himself painfully over the stone patio and over the edge of the pool to fall into the waters?  Some days he waited as close to the edge as possible, sometimes he may have been getting his dinner, or answering a call of nature when the waters were stirred.   But for a long time he had been waiting there for his miracle, and time after time others pushed ahead of him to get into the pool.  A photo finish for the winner.
            But Jesus isn’t interested in the pool or the waters.  He is interested in the hope.  He is interested in the persistence of this fellow to lie by this pool day after day, month after month, year after year, and hope that on one occasion he would be the closest to the water when the miraculous turbulence of the waters started, and he could just fall in ahead of everyone else.  The man’s explanation shows that he still has hope, and that is what the Lord Jesus is looking for.  And when He sees that hope He simply says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 
            And at that moment, the man gets his miracle.  After all this time, the healing does not come from the pool or the waters, it comes directly from the almighty Son of God.  The man rises up, his misshapen feet become normal, his useless bones become strong, the atrophy of years falls away from his muscles, and he stands up on his legs, his own legs, and he begins to walk like a pro, like he’s been doing it all his life.  He doesn’t shudder, he doesn’t stumble, he even walks while carrying his own bed.  Christ saw hope in his heart and Christ commended the hope by this miracle of healing. 
             So as we wait for our miracle, we have to answer two questions: One, do we want to be healed?  Do we want to leave behind the illness, the sorrow, the addiction, the excuses, and really give God full control to heal us in His own way?  Or are we still lying around the pool in self-pity, counting on one and only one way of healing?  Do we think that God is limited to our solution for our problem?  And the second question, do we have hope?  Can Jesus Christ see the hope in us?  Can He look into our hearts and see that we trust in the One Who died for us and rose again from the grave?  Our Lord Jesus Christ took our punishment upon Himself, the chastisement of our sin was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.  Even more than that, He rose from the cold tomb, made alive again by God to live forever with  the power of an indestructible life.  That, more than anything, should prove that God’s solutions are not our solutions, and that in that kind of power, we can surely hope.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Before Church – Sunday September 29, 2019

How Do You Remember Who Your Backup Is?
by Erin Stone

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  - Jeremiah 29:11  ESV

This was a verse I heard so much in my youth. It was even the verse of our summer church camp the year after I attempted suicide. This had been my verse for a long time. It is a great way for me to ground myself when the weight of the world is ready to crush me.

In our current society, we are bombarded by so much information. What we should look like, how we should dress, what we should think, how we should speak; and it’s exhausting. It is easy to understand how all of these pressures along with work, school, bullies, kids, family and significant other dynamics can cause anyone to want to pull their hair out.

This is the moment. This is it. When I am teetering on the edge of the abyss of my mental and emotional sanity, I have an out. This is when I pull out one of my many verses (usually this one) and remind myself to Whom I belong. I am a child of the Most High God. In Him, I have HOPE and a FUTURE. Not only am I not walking this path alone, but I am walking it hand in hand with The Creator. The One that designed me to be exactly who I am. Anxiety, depression and all. Though a work in progress, I am unique and precious. Just like you. And though we are broken, God, the Great Designer, uses imperfect people for perfect purpose all the time!

You are so much more important than you can possibly realize. And while things are not always easy. While things often don’t go our way, there is more than this life. There is more than just this moment. And God has a plan for each of us. You just happen to only be in the middle of the journey right now.

Now I know that this verse may seem misleading because God never promised us an easy road. He didn’t promise luxury, wealth, or comfort in this life. He promises so much more. He knows what is to come for each and every one of His children. That is such a comfort to me. Knowing that the God of the Universe has a plan for me. And for you.

I have battled with depression and anxiety for many years now. The older I get, the easier the battle becomes because I’m ready for it. I have my armor, support system and action plan ready to go. I understand that many people are still in the most difficult parts of this battle or similar ones. I think that it’s important to understand that we are being held within the arms of the Almighty Savior. He is our Hope. He is our future. And what an amazing future it will be!

I would like to challenge you to find a verse that really speaks to your soul. That really breathes life and love into you. Something that reminds you that you are not alone and that you have the BEST backup imaginable in our Lord Jesus Christ. Memorize this verse. Rehearse this verse. Know it forwards and backwards and put it into your arsenal. Then, when this verse is a part of you, choose another. Pack your arsenal full of love and life. When the dark comes, you will have the light within you to withstand the storm. God bless you.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Before Church Blog

Sunday, September 15, 2019
Make Your Mark! by Elizabeth Stone

Matthew 4: When Jesus was tired and hungry, when He had been fasting and praying in the wilderness for 40 days, the devil comes to tempt the Savior. Satan doesn’t come when Christ is rested, strong, and satisfied with good food and drink; he comes when Jesus is physically vulnerable.  The devil attacks on three fronts: hunger, suicide, and power with glory.  Each time the devil is trying to get Jesus to obey him, rather than God. Most of all, the devil is trying to derail the plan of salvation. You see Satan knows that Jesus, well, He’s THE GUY.  So if he can get Jesus to sin – even once – then Jesus can no longer do the work of the Father.  And let’s not give the devil too much credit here; Satan cannot see the future and has no idea of the Father’s plan to save us. But when God steps out of eternity in the Person of the Son, Satan knows he has to stop Jesus, he has to stop THIS GUY. 

Round 1: make stones into bread.  Use divine power to satisfy personal need.  Jesus counters with Scripture: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Round 2: Jump off the pinnacle of the Temple. Jesus’ Scriptural response again: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test”.  Round 3: worship Satan to get power with glory, but without the cross. Jesus responds: “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve.”  Every one of these temptations was designed to derail Christ’s mission to save the world. Today let’s focus on #2. 

In Jesus’ time, the Temple of the LORD stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the highest place in the city.  Built on a foundation of immovable stone that still stands today, it rose 135 feet above the plane.  When the devil took Jesus here, it was to have a high enough position to ensure death if He caved, if He would throw Himself off the Temple to see if the angels would rescue Him.  Crafty little demon even uses Scripture to convince Jesus that this is okay.  But Jesus knows it is a trick, and knows that if He completes suicide, if He dies like this, the plan of salvation dies too.  Christ’s mission, His contribution to the world, is to die for our sins, at the right time, in the right way.  So Jesus passes; He chooses, as He does so many times in His lifetime, to fulfill His mission in God’s way and in God’s time.

Are we any different?  Does Satan wait until we are strong to tempt us? No, never.  And when he comes to us with the temptation to end it all, to complete suicide, it is so that we won’t do our mission for God either, it is so we will never make our contribution for God’s Kingdom.  The devil wants us to cut our lives short so that we never share the love of Christ, never share the good news of salvation, never find our calling and use our gifts, never live our lives out in grace.  Because Christ died for us, we have the blessing of living for Him.  So if the devil comes at you with this particular temptation – to complete suicide – remember two things: Satan wouldn’t be trying this on with you if you weren’t vulnerable, so get some help to find your strength; secondly, Satan wants to stop your mission too, so don’t deny the world the awesome contribution of your mission in Christ.

At her recent book signing, author and speaker Cathy Fyock signed her book to me: “Make your mark!”  This is what we are called to do, to live our lives out fully and make our mark for Christ. After all, He made His mark for us, on the palms of His hands.  Can we do any less for Him?  
Notes: Matthew 4:1-11; Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:16; 6:13; Photo credit: Greg Stone, Jerusalem, model of the Second Temple.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Before Church Blog

Sunday, September 8, 2019
Because this week (September 8-14 2019) is National Suicide Prevention Week, I am hosting a guest blog by my daughter and co-author, Erin Stone. 
We All Know Where We Have Been. Do You Know Where You’re Going?
by Erin Stone

As Suicide Awareness and Prevention Week approaches, I am hit with overwhelming feelings. Anyone that knows my history will understand because I attempted suicide when I was 17.

At 29 years old now, I can’t believe how amazing my journey has been. 12 years seems like a long time and quite a bit of separation. As they say, hind sight is 20/20. If 17 year-old me could have looked into the future and seen what my life would look like now, I’m not sure I could have gone through with my attempt.

I am so thankful that I am still living in this world. I have so many opportunities to change the direction of my life. When I was 17, I couldn’t image a life like this. A life where I am so happy to be alive. A life where I have people that I can feel their love and acceptance like a weighted blanket (in case you didn’t notice, I want one!). A life where even when everything at work is going wrong, I’m stressed, I’m tired, the dogs pooped everywhere and the cats threw up on the bed, I’m good. I may have a moment of freaking out. Who wouldn’t? But then I just have to laugh at the absurdity of the entire situation.

Why do I say any of this? Well, I want everyone to know that there is an end. It may take some time, but the pain and suffering ends. It has to. You have to let it end. My attempted suicide is such a small part of my life now. It is barely a blip on the scale of my life. I refuse to be defined by the bad things in my life. We go through bad things in this world. We go through terrible, heart breaking things in this life. The key is to not let any of those things define you.
Here’s the point though, this isn’t about me. It’s not about my history. This is about you. This is about the people that you love. If this week means as much to you as it does to me, then you have been touched by suicide or something just as difficult. It is such a difficult thing to put your head around. Someone feeling so low that they couldn’t imagine another moment on this earth.

This is why this week is so important: to let people know that they are not alone. That they have so much to offer this world. And knowing that we were each preciously and fearfully made by the most loving and all-powerful God, doesn’t hurt at all.

The more you rely and grow in Him, the easier this all becomes. Be the light to the world, as God is our Light. Share that love with others and let it GROW! When everything is dark and the walls are caving in, remember, Jesus went before us and showed us the path.

I am NOT a victim. I am THRIVING! You are NOT a victim. You are THRIVING! We have so much power, because we have God. Use this week as a reminder that through God all things are possible. He specializes in impossible. It’s really His sweet spot of operations.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” - Philippians 4:13 -ESV