The hemiplegic body of Christ

When I worked as a doctor, there was a diagnosis I never liked to make. “Hemiplegic” is the medical term used to describe paralysis down one side of the body that occurs, for example, after a stroke. If the condition was severe, it was potentially a devastating diagnosis for the person involved, who had to come to terms with the fact that they would be weak and unable to fully function and might have to depend on the help of others for the rest of their lives.

The body of Christ in the West is hemiplegic. Half of it–the female half–is significantly weakened, if not totally paralyzed. The whole body of Christ is suffering as a result.

Where are the women apostles? Where are the women who are prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers? Where are the female role models who dare to do great exploits for the Kingdom of God?  I’m grateful to count several like these as my friends, but in general, women in any form of strategic church leadership in the West are conspicuous by their absence.

It’s not that way in other parts of the world.

  • In China, around 80% of house churches are planted by ordinary women
  • In India there is a significant harvest being reaped by women of all castes. Two years ago, I met two women–ordinary, middle aged housewives–one of whom was responsible for starting 2,000 churches and the other, 6,000 churches.
  • In Dr. Cho’s church of more than 800,000 in Korea, two-thirds of the associate pastors are women, and 47,000 of the 50,000 cell group leaders are women too.
  • In many nations where there is restricted access for the gospel, women are planting churches–they have easy access to homes and naturally share their testimony with others, pray for the sick and demonized and find persons of peace.

If women can do it in other nations, why not here in the West?

Are there women in this country who are willing to break out of the stereotypical role assigned to them by tradition? Who will follow the Great Shepherd into the harvest? Who will dare to break out of their boxes of convention, who will color outside the lines of expectation.

If God is using women in extraordinary ways elsewhere, (and he is) then why not here too? We do not have to remain hemiplegic!

Do you have examples of what God is doing through women either here or in other nations?

Photo credit: Vici-Jane


A story from the Philippines

For some years we have been friends with Molong Nacua, who lives just 40 minutes from where the worst of Typhoon Haiyan hit in the Philippines. He’s not exactly a house church guy, but he makes disciples all the time. His new disciples go on to make other disciples and so far they have touched about 600 families, reaching to 14 generations of disciples. They don’t hold meetings; for them, life is one long encounter with Jesus in the company of others. Discipleship is practical, and very reproducible.

We stayed with Molong and his lovely family a few years back. They live simply, as an extended family, always taking in others in need. There were two other families and several single guys living with them when we were there. They looked after us like royalty, giving up their bedroom for us to sleep in, producing delicious meals that we ate out in the open, talking and laughing until late in the evening. They took us to the coast–I’ve never seen such an incredible variety of starfish before or since.

So when we heard about Typhoon Haiyan, we were sure that Molong and his community would be in the thick of things. Sure enough, they were.The community, including the children, spent hours and hours preparing hundreds of grocery sacs of food and water to take to those in need.  These they delivered out in the community, visiting different areas, distributing to thousands of people.

As people elsewhere heard the story, they sent them funds that are being used to help provide for those whose lives have been devastated.

The work continues, blessing many whose lives were impacted by the typhoon. Nowthey are rebuilding homes. And alongside all of this, they continue to make and baptize disciples. Eight were baptized just yesterday!

Molong’s blog on Facebook is worth following to give you an idea of what is going on. His pictures are worth a thousand words.

The needs will be ongoing. You can donate to the work Molong and his family are doing via House2House.

Where in the world is the church?

During World War II, my father was a prisoner of war under the Japanese. He, and those with him, endured unspeakable atrocities for more than three years. Although I was protected from all the details as I was growing up, it dominated our family in many ways. Looking back on it now, I’m fairly sure he would have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. It affected him for most of the rest of his life.

Today we have troops coming home from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many veterans from the Vietnam War. Yesterday I came across these horrifying statistics. More than 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Every day. That’s one every 65 minutes. It’s more than are dying in combat.

Where in the world is the church? Surely Jesus has an answer.


Photo Credit: Za Rodinu via Compfight cc

The Christian author’s dilemma

A few years back, Paul Young, author of The Shack spoke at one of our House2House conferences. When we first invited him, The Shack was barely known. A few months later, by the time he spoke at our conference, it had sold 7 million copies!   We asked Paul for  the story behind the book.  It went something like this. Paul was working three jobs when he finished writing a book for his children. Somehow he managed to scrape up the money to get 11 copies for his family and a few friends made at Kinkos. Friends sent it on to friends… From there, the rest is history. It was a God thing! No marketing, no publicity campaigns, just the Holy Spirit taking it and changing lives through it.

It was every Christian author’s dream.

But it was a once in a generation thing.

I’ve just finished compiling The Black Swan Effect: A response to gender hierarchy in the church,  and it’s now with the editors, due out in April 2014. I’d love to send it off to the printers and just have the Holy Spirit do what he wills with it. But the work for most authors when they finish a manuscript is only half done. Which is where the dilemma comes in.  I want to promote the message of the book, but I want to make sure that my motivation is not seeking recognition for myself or any kind of self-promotion.

And so I will do the things that authors need to do in our current climate to bring their books to the attention of others, while asking Jesus to deal with my heart, praying that he gives me wisdom.

It’s only the Holy Spirit who can transform lives and change the church. I pray that The Black Swan Effect will be a tool in his hands.

 

I am thankful

Sometimes Tony and I will look at each other and just say, “We are so blessed.” God has showered us with his grace and favor in many, many ways.

I am so thankful for you, the readers of this blog, who put up with my rants about this and that, my theological musings, my passion for simple/organic church and for women in ministry. Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for being my brothers and sisters in Christ.

May you all have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving!

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Half the Church

I’ve read a couple of books by Carolyn Custis James. Her book,The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules is an unusual and inspiring look at the book of Ruth and how it communicates the truths of the gospel. It was of particular interest because it was through our church’s study of the book of Ruth that a Hindu couple committed to the Lord.

Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women is another book by Carolyn. It covers two major areas:

The loss that occurs when women believe there are limits on how God will use them. This loss isn’t just to half the church whose vision of God’s purposes for their lives is stifled, but also to the men who are carrying a weight of burden they were meant to share with us. God meant us to build his Kingdom together.

A global tragedy is underway as women and girls are suffering the worst kinds of injustices. The book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Krystof and Sheryl WuDunn graphically details some of these atrocities–sex trafficking, female genocide, genital mutilation and so on. In Half the Church, Custis James examines this further. What is the church doing about oppression and injustice to women? Apart from a few Christian organizations, most of the church is too busy and just ignores their plight.

Half the Church challenges us to search for God’s vision for his daughters. His plans for us are more far-reaching and life-expanding than we have yet experienced.  God is calling us to engage in the world, to right injustices, to stand up for truth. If the other half of the church would fully engage, we can impact the world for the King.

Those who have been reading my blog for some time will recognize how this well-written and thought-provoking book resonates with truths that I believe the Holy Spirit is bringing to the attention of the body of Christ. I highly recommend it.

Women are not allowed to teach. Really?

My last post about a female Indian church planter who  was not allowed to share in class obviously struck a chord with many. In response, someone asked me how he could answer those who use 1 Timothy 2:12 as the basis of their belief that women are not allowed to teach and shouldn’t have authority over men.

I don’t believe those who silenced my friend are deliberate misogynists. My guess is that they are genuinely trying to follow the Scriptures. The problem is, they take a legalistic viewpoint on an English version of a verse that can, with total integrity, be interpreted in a different way.

So here’s the question: is 1 Timothy 2:12 an absolute prohibition on women teaching men? Is it right for the men in her class to forbid my friend to speak?  Or are there other Scriptures that provide a balancing view, in which case, a different interpretation is acceptable.

People sometimes go to ludicrous lengths to accommodate this verse, as my Indian friend discovered.


Photo Credit: potamos.photography via Compfight cc

Consider the following in trying to understand 1 Timothy 2:12

  • 1 Timothy 2:12 is the only verse in the Bible that apparently explicitly states that women are not allowed to teach men.
  • Paul and Timothy had traveled together for some time, and Timothy would have known if Paul forbade women to teach (I Corinthians 4;17). It would have therefore been surprising if Timothy and Paul hadn’t made that clear right from the start in Ephesus. Even more surprising that Timothy allowed women to teach and the practice needed to stop.
  • Paul acknowledged the very real role that women had in teaching Timothy  (his mother and grandmother).
  • Priscilla (named first) and her husband, Aquila, taught Apollos a “more accurate way.” (Acts 18:26)
  • 1 Corinthians 14:26 gives a list of things that everyone is expected to participate in. “When you come together, each one has…” The Greek word for “each one,” hekastos, is a word that encompasses both genders. This list includes teaching. Several times in chapter 14, the word “all” is used. Verses 24 and 31 both say that all may prophesy, and we know from Paul’s teaching in chapter 11 and from Acts 2 that this includes women. If Paul really forbade women to teach, why didn’t he mention it then?
  • A number of gifts to the church, including teachers, are listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. For some of these gifts there are female examples in the Scriptures (Junia was an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied), but again there’s no qualification here that women are not allowed to teach. Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” While the obvious answer to this question is “no,” there is no implication that any of these gifts are gender specific.
  • Colossians 3:16 exhorts us to teach and admonish one another.
  • In Revelation 2, the church in Thyatira is chastised for allowing “Jezebel” to lead people astray. It’s what she teaches that is the problem, not the fact that she’s a woman teaching.
  • The Great Commission, in which disciples are commanded to both baptize and teach is not limited to men.
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 is the classic passage on discipleship. It is often rendered “The things you have heard me say…  entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. The word “men” in the Greek is anthropos, a generic term for humans rather than gender specific.
Let this form the backdrop of how 1 Timothy 2:12 is interpreted.

 

A true story that makes me angry (and sad)!

It takes a lot to render me speechless. Even more to make me angry. This story happened yesterday.

We have had a delightful lady church planter from India staying with us this week. She trains other women church planters and between them they have seen 50,000 to 60,000 baptisms of women over the last few years. In the network that she and her husband run, there have been around 250,000 baptisms. They have planted thousands of house churches.

This lady is in the United States to get her doctorate in ministry–she comes over once a year to attend the course in person. The course is about missions and how to reach the world for Christ.

I was driving her back to the airport and the subject of the book I’m compiling on women came up. I told her that in some circles, in this country, women are not allowed to speak in church.

“I understand what you mean when you say that ,” she said. “I am the only woman in the group taking this course, and I don’t say anything.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I’m not allowed to speak because I am a woman.”

“Do the people in the course have any idea what you are involved in?” I asked. “Do they know how many churches you have and how many people have become Christians through what you are doing?”

“Oh no,” she replied, “I haven’t been able to tell them. I’m not allowed to take part in any of the discussions that the men have.”

I asked her several questions to make sure I was really understanding her correctly. The men are allowed to speak during the course but she has to keep silent. They teach from theory but do not benefit from her experience. They have no idea what a treasure they have in their midst.

Here’s a woman who has seen what these men long to see–a move of God–and she’s muzzled.

It’s the men’s loss, but oh, what a tragedy!

 

 

Could this really be church?

For some time, Tony and I were involved in a church plant in the low-income housing projects in our city.  Each time we got together, we started with a meal; at times, it resembled a stampede to the table. On one particular occasion, we had barely finished the meal when a fight broke out between two of the kids. James, the son of Rosa, our person of peace, took the troublemaker upstairs; he wanted the instigator to know how that kind of behavior in the projects around the wrong person could possibly get him shot. Then Rosa got involved, telling James that he was handling the situation all wrong. (This is supposed to be church!)

When things had settled down and the kids were outside playing again, James posed a question to the rest of us. “How do you handle it when you hate someone?” Was this the Holy Spirit leading us to discuss this question?  We thought so.  For forty minutes, we discussed how a Christian should handle hatred, how to discipline kids, and what to do when Christians disagree. Everyone read Bible passages and shared personal experiences.  Then someone else suggested that we pray about the situation.  Again, this seemed to be the leading of the Lord, and so we prayed for each other.  There were tears and laughter.   Then the kids joined us for a time of praise. At one point I looked up, and two kids about nine and eleven years old were singing their hearts out with their faces raised, eyes closed. It may not have been the most in-tune worship, and it was certainly loud. But I thought to myself, Jesus, You’re here, and You love this!

Black girl praying