The Wonder of Christ’s Resurrection

Welcome, friends! In the New Testament Gospel of Luke 24:1-12, we find an account of women approaching the grave of Jesus, only to find an empty tomb. Today, people search for reality in all kinds of empty places. There is, however, hope, because Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Click the videos below and let us enjoy and be in awe that Jesus is alive!

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 24:1-12

May the glory and the promise of this joyous time of year bring peace and happiness to you and those you hold most dear.

And may Christ, Our Risen Savior, always be there by your side to bless you most abundantly and be your loving guide. Amen.

Judges 5:1-11 – A Woman in the Middle

Illustration of Deborah in “Woman in Sacred History” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1888

On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

Praise the Lord!
    The Israelites were determined to fight;
    the people gladly volunteered.
Listen, you kings!
    Pay attention, you rulers!
I will sing and play music
    to Israel’s God, the Lord.
Lord, when you left the mountains of Seir,
    when you came out of the region of Edom,
    the earth shook, and rain fell from the sky.
    Yes, water poured down from the clouds.
The mountains quaked before the Lord of Sinai,
    before the Lord, the God of Israel.

In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
    in the days of Jael,
caravans no longer went through the land,
    and travelers used the back roads.
The towns of Israel stood abandoned, Deborah;
    they stood empty until you came,
    came like a mother for Israel.
Then there was war in the land
    when the Israelites chose new gods.
Of the forty thousand men in Israel,
    did anyone carry shield or spear?
My heart is with the commanders of Israel,
    with the people who gladly volunteered.
    Praise the Lord!
Tell of it, you that ride on white donkeys,
    sitting on saddles,
    and you that must walk wherever you go.
Listen! The noisy crowds around the wells
    are telling of the Lord’s victories,
    the victories of Israel’s people!

Then the Lord’s people marched down from their cities. (Good News Translation)

In the Middle

At the center of the celebration – of Israel’s victory over their oppressors – was a woman.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a classic Hebrew poem and song of celebration. Yet, there is something a bit different with this poem. The structure of Hebrew poetry points to the middle of the poem as the central idea and focus, with verses before pointing forward to it, and the verses after pointing back to it.

In many poems, God is at the center. The poet’s aim is typically to highlight the Lord as the ballast or resolution to some situation. But today’s poem has Deborah, a woman, smack in the middle. Israel was in a bad way, that is, until Deborah became the leader and judge in Israel. And this was no weird aberration.

Women in the Middle

Women are central to Holy Scripture. God called the people of Israel and labored to shape them into a community built on love, mercy, and justice, reflecting God’s image. Through the Israelites, God continued the work begun in creation, commanding them to love God and serve their neighbors–the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the alien. Women and men, together, served God in Israel.

The women filled their primary roles in Israel as wives, mothers, and grandmothers. In bearing and caring for children, they patterned their lives on the life of the One who in the beginning labored to bring forth the world, and who later brought forth the nation of Israel and patiently taught it to walk.

Whenever freedom and liberation were needed, women played a central role. The Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah trusted God and refused to obey Pharaoh’s orders. When instructed by Pharaoh to kill the male children, but to let the daughters live, these daughters of Israel preserved the lives of all the newborn. They risked their own lives in order to serve God’s purpose in setting the Israelites free from their slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 1:6-22)

Women were at the heart of hospitality, loving the stranger, as God instructed all the people to do. God empowered the widow of Zarephath to offer lodging and food to the prophet Elijah. Her ministry came at a critical time for Elijah, and this poor widow placed herself and her child at risk by offering her only morsel of food to the prophet. Through her acts of service, the widow advanced God’s work in the world and was sustained by God because of her ministry. (1 Kings 17:7-16)

Miriam and Huldah were prophets, revealing God’s will to the people. (Exodus 15:1-21; 2 Kings 22:11-20). And, along with them, Deborah was both a prophet and a judge, the leader of all the people. She gave wisdom, discernment, and justice to Israel. Deborah even had her hand in the military affairs of the nation. She directed Barak, the general, in a battle against the Canaanites. Although men usually filled such roles, God uses whomever God wants to use in accomplishing the divine will here on this earth, as it is always done in heaven.

God in the Middle

God is the Lord of the past, present, and future. God reigns over both the old and the new, utilizing each for good purposes in the world. In other words, God is not boxed-in. The Lord didn’t start wringing his hands in heaven saying, “Oh, my, I can’t find a man for the job. I guess I’ll have to use a woman!” No, instead, a woman was the Lord’s first and only choice for each situation in which females were used to accomplish God’s will. The Lord is not a victim of circumstances. Rather, God is sovereign and reigns supreme over all situations.

Let’s keep in mind that God is not limited to using men. In fact, God is always doing a new thing in the world. Women and men, equally created in the image and likeness of God, are equally able to be partners with God in the never-ending work of bringing life and redemption to all. Women fulfilling roles of ministry and leadership are not exceptions to God’s order and purpose in creation. Instead, they illustrate God’s true intent for women and men in the world.

We need to hear the stories of women’s leadership and service in Israel as testimony to God’s intent that women and men should be co-laborers with God in God’s work. The Lord isn’t laboring in this world with one hand tied between his back. He is using both hands, both men and women, to establish a benevolent rule and ethical reign.

So, loose the bonds and let the women serve!

Soli Deo Gloria

Judges 4:1-16 – It Takes a Woman

Orthodox icon of Deborah

After Ehud died, the people of Israel again did what the Lord considered evil. So, the Lord used King Jabin of Canaan, who ruled at Hazor, to defeat them. The commander of King Jabin’s army was Sisera, who lived at Harosheth Haggoyim. The people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help. King Jabin had 900 chariots made of iron and had cruelly oppressed Israel for 20 years.

Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet. She was the judge in Israel at that time. She used to sit under the Palm Tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. The people of Israel would come to her for legal decisions.

Deborah summoned Barak, son of Abinoam, from Kedesh in Naphtali. She told him, “The Lord God of Israel has given you this order: ‘Gather troops on Mount Tabor. Take 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun with you. I will lead Sisera (the commander of Jabin’s army), his chariots, and troops to you at the Kishon River. I will hand him over to you.’”

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I’ll go. But if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

Deborah replied, “Certainly, I’ll go with you. But you won’t win any honors for the way you’re going about this, because the Lord will use a woman to defeat Sisera.”

So, Deborah started out for Kedesh with Barak. Barak called the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali together at Kedesh. Ten thousand men went to fight under his command. Deborah also went along with him.

Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites (the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ father-in-law). Heber went as far away as the oak tree at Zaanannim near Kedesh and set up his tent.

The report reached Sisera that Barak, son of Abinoam, had come to fight at Mount Tabor. So Sisera summoned all his chariots (900 chariots made of iron) and all his troops from Harosheth Haggoyim to come to the Kishon River.

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Attack! This is the day the Lord will hand Sisera over to you. The Lord will go ahead of you.”

So, Barak came down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men behind him. The Lord threw Sisera, all his chariots, and his whole army into a panic in front of Barak’s deadly assault. Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot. Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth Haggoyim. So Sisera’s whole army was killed in combat. Not one man survived. (God’s Word)

Deborah was a leader – and a darned good one. And, to state the obvious, she was a woman.

Women are the greatest and largest untapped resource in both the church and the world. Perhaps you wonder why I state such a thing, being that more women attend church than men, and that there slightly more women in the world than men. But I stick to my statement. The reality for many churches and untold institutions around the world is that only men can hold positions of authority.

Within some churches and Christian denominations, the reasoning goes something like this: “The Bible says women can’t serve over men.” That’s curious. So, in other words, in the West, a woman can serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, can be elected as governor of a state, and can manage men on a factory floor, but that same woman cannot serve as an elder in many evangelical churches.  

Those who are of the belief that a church office is based upon gender instead of just good old calling and gifting of the Spirit, then, methinks, it behooves us to ask these questions of the biblical text:

  • If women are not to exercise authority over men in the church, how do we account for actual women leaders in the Bible, such as Deborah, Huldah, Philip’s daughters, Priscilla’s role in Apollos’ life, not to mention the list of women leaders in Romans 16?  If our impulse is to say that these are exceptions because there were no men to “step up,” then what does that say about our theology? That God isn’t big enough to find a man to put into a position of leadership?
  • If we insist that women ought not to teach and be silent based on Paul in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy, why do we ignore Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians that women are to publicly prophecy and pray?
  • Doesn’t the prominence of women in the ministry of Jesus and Paul suggest something different than just having women tag along to teach children?
  • Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately teach him?  If women can’t teach men, why in the world would we ever think that they are the best teachers for boys?
  • How can we apply Galatians 3:26-28 as everyone else, besides women, are free to serve?
  • Does the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers only apply to men? Doesn’t the absence of women in church leadership go against this?
  • Isn’t it weird and confusing that women have an equal vote in congregational decisions, even when a male leader is being elected and/or disciplined, and they aren’t supposed to exercise authority?

I could go on, ad infinitum ad nauseum, but I think you get the picture. The absence of women in leadership is problematic because there are actual women leaders in the Bible. So, here is my unabashed, dogmatic, and biblical belief:  

All individuals are equally created in God’s image, and, therefore, have equal worth, privilege, and opportunity in Christ’s Church without any limitation, including gender. 

There are far too many wonderful Christian women who are exhausted and depressed because they are trying to live up to a certain expectation of being someone they are not. They suppress their gifts and calling. They think they have to prop-up the fragile male egos around them. They aren’t free to serve in leadership positions. And it’s eating them from the inside-out.  

Some women think there is something wrong with them. But the reality is that there is something wrong with the whole system of male-only authority. What’s more, we are missing the blessing of God because of inequity. It’s high time we value all women, even those with gifts of leadership, by allowing them to serve without limitation.

I have a wife and three daughters. All four of them are more intelligent, more gifted, and better leaders than me, the lone family male who holds a range of authoritative positions in the church and the world. To have the ladies in my life using their superior talents in the church by leading and serving is the least threatening thing to me on this earth. I love it that they can outdo me; it is my joy!  

Even more than that, I believe it is to the joy of Jesus, as well. We must be proactive in cultivating and nurturing the gifts and calling we see in women. They don’t need to be put in their place or dismissed as too emotional or weak. The good ol’ boy systems of the church and in the world need a swift kick in the rear. I, for one, am a man who believes in practicing a leadership that sacrifices on behalf of making women’s leadership a priority.

How about you?

Violence Against Women

shame-image

The harassment, abuse, and assault of women is now rightly being discussed by all kinds of people.  It is high time that this is becoming front and center to public awareness.  Far too many times, and for far too long women have endured shaming silence, too afraid to talk for a whole host of reasons in all kinds of contexts from the workplace, the home, and the church.  There are also far too many places where women are not being taken seriously and are dismissed with no policies, procedures, and protocols in place for them to have any recourse.  That needs to change.

Let’s define some terms when it comes to violence against women so that we are on the same page:

Harassment – Any unwelcome advances or requests for favors or any conduct of a sexual nature which intimidates, bullies, or affects a woman’s ability to work effectively, worship joyfully, or live without fear of being blacklisted.

Abuse – Any intent by a boss, church leader, spouse, or person in authority to intimidate or control either by threat or by use of physical force on a woman, her children, and/or her property by inducing fear.

Assault – Any act in which someone sexually touches a woman without her consent, or coerces, or physically forces her to engage in a sexual act against her will.

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women  states, “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women… and, violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”

Harassment, abuse, and assault of women, whether in speech and/or action, is violence.  We need to put it in those persons so that we can unequivocally say without hesitation in our words and policies that there is a “zero tolerance” for violence of any kind here.

Sometimes churches are the last to develop the needed language and protocol for dealing with violence against women.  Many times, the church is the perpetrator through twisted webs of family-based power, clerical abuse, board indifference, biblical misinterpretation, and outright denial.  That needs to change.

This need for change is why I am pleased my own Christian denomination, The Reformed Church in America, through its Women’s Transformation & Leadership Commission, has crafted a well-written statement on the subject.  I am providing a partial text of the document here, with a link to the full text it at the bottom.  Also, I provide a link to The Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Safe Church program, which helps churches implement safe practices, policies, and procedures.

#WeAreSpeaking

A call to the church to end harassment, abuse, and sexual violence against women and girls

From the earliest story of our faith, God has painted a picture of a reality in which women and men together reflect the image of God. In Genesis 1:26-27, God establishes a vision—a vision God calls very good—of a world where men and women alike are treated with dignity, respect, and love as people created in God’s image.

And yet, not long after that vision was cast, an insidious narrative took its place. For far too long, women and girls have been victims of harassment, abuse, and sexual violence rather than being treated with the dignity God intended for them. Women have shared their stories of pain, only to have those stories fall on ears that did not wish to hear. Many women who dared to speak have been mocked and vilified.

A culture of shame and secrecy has stifled the voices of countless others (men and boys included). These people have not felt safe to share their stories because of the very real fear that their lives would be destroyed by those in positions of power. This culture has begun to shift in recent days and weeks, and we in the church are obligated to listen and respond.

We find ourselves in a pivotal moment. Social movements like the women’s march or the hashtags #timesup and #metoo show that people are grappling with how to respond to these stories of pain. Each story of #metoo has reverberated in hearts, in lives, in communities, and throughout the world. These stories have even come from within the church, which we see with the hashtag #churchtoo.

We believe the church must find its voice and speak….

If we keep silent, we are complicit in the continued dehumanization of women and girls.

If we keep silent, we fail to be coworkers with Christ in the renewal of the world and of the relationships between men and women.

If we keep silent, we ignore God’s call to be agents of change committed to ensuring that all people are treated with dignity.

We are speaking because we are committed to standing with and for women and girls who have experienced harassment, abuse, and sexual violence.

We are speaking because we are committed to seeking healthy ways for men and women to live and work together.

We are speaking, even if words fail us and our anxieties leave us uncertain about what we can do.

We are speaking because of our Christian convictions and because of the kind of world in which we want to live. When one part of the body is mistreated, the whole body is mistreated. When one person suffers, we all suffer.

We, as women and men, as children of God, as a church, courageously stand together against any word, deed, or policy that diminishes the dignity of women and girls in our communities….

Reformed Church in America #wearespeaking

Safe Church