Friday, July 14, 2017

Badly Packaged Truth ...

In our world, marketing is an art.  Swaying your opinions is a science.  Advertisers look to combine the two and create something that grabs your attention, holds it even if briefly, and implants a message that you should like the product they sell.  If they cannot make you like it, perhaps they can make you curious about it.  If they cannot make you curious, perhaps they can have you associate feelings with it.  The packaging of a message has become the way we tend to judge the message itself.  Imagine trying to sell a pizza in a cardboard box with a car tire track/print clearly running diagonally across the top of the box.  Seeing a tire track across the box, would make you think this pizza was run over, and is probably crushed inside.  No one would want it.  Imagine attempting to sell soda inside a dented, scratched, and bruised up soda can.  You would naturally think this soda can will have way too much pressure in it, and when you open it, it will explode.  Even if you could secure the contents without incident, the packaging would make you think that the can had “been through the mill”.  It would do little to inspire confidence in the quality of the drink.
People get used to seeing packaging of a certain type for the products they buy.  When the packaging does not match the historical expectations of what it should look like, it draws attention, but most often negative attention.  It is like introducing a third wheel on a motorcycle.  At first no one sees the value in this, and then a niche market is carved out in biker clubs for the unusual, or as utility in a side cart.  Surely no one would introduce a fourth wheel, but then they do.  And voila, the All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) is born.  But wasn’t that a Jeep?  No, the ATV is a motorcycle on 4 wheels, exposing you, the rider, to all of nature’s elements including massive injury if it rolls, or throws you from its grasp at high speed.  And yet the ATV market continues to grow.  Just like the idea of putting a motorcycle on the water, and voila, the watercraft market is born and thrives as well.  It would seem there is no limit to how we could apply the principles of a basic motorcycle with a little imagination.
And while we are now open to seeing perhaps a new kind of airplane based on a motorcycle given its rapid recent evolution; we are not so open in church.  All too many Christians, expect to see their leaders in a certain kind of package; a three-piece suit to be exact, something with a tie, and shiny shoes.  A deacon, or deaconess can get away with small variances.  But elders hardly can.  And a pastor, is chained to this image of appropriate packaging as surely as they are, to carry a Bible with them at all times.  And using your phone is a cheat, you must have a printed red-letter edition King James Bible, if you are to claim the title of preacher or pastor in this day-and-age.  Packaging sold to us by tradition.  Packaging in sync with our ideas about doing our best for God, but out of sync with what Jesus wore.  Even in His day, Jesus did not wear fine clothing.  He only wore clean clothing, certainly a by-product of baptizing so many people in the Jordan river.
Jesus did not take much of an interest in fine clothing.  In fact, he must have shunned it, at least for Himself.  It would have been remarkably easy to ask for it, from His followers.  They would have either given to Him, or secured it through taking up an offering, like so many modern ministers do believing this is the only way to secure the Lords favor.  It’s not.  Only at His death, is Jesus finally given a royal robe to wear, for the purposes of mocking the King of the Jews.  This is the robe the soldiers eventually gamble for as it still has value, even when Jesus dies above them.  But somehow, modern Christians cling to the idea, that simple, and clean are not enough.  Practical … for hands-on ministry to the poor and to the diseased never even enter our minds.  By this logic we would all be better off wearing scrubs.  With disposable clothing we could embrace the poor, and hug the sick, throwing away our scrubs later and buying new ones if they could not be cleaned in the wash.
But then, scrubs are not the most flattering of garments.  And our ministries are not designed for physical contact with those in need.  Our ministries are designed only for the listening ear, and contributing wallet.  So we expect 3-piece suit packaging, complete with tie, and shiny shoes.  Should a minister take the pulpit dressed in cargo shorts and a short-sleeved shirt with tennis shoes, we would rise up of one accord and throw him out.  Or at minimum, remove ourselves from the blasphemy that is sure to occur in a place that would permit this.  But it is not only clothing that marks our acceptance of a messenger of His truth.  It is behavior.  We have standards after all.  Biblical standards (or at least our interpretation of what those might be).  And we rigidly enforce our standards on everyone … including … Jesus.
Matthew marks the beginning of this thinking (or at least one of the first times it was publicly exposed) in his gospel in the ninth chapter picking up in verse 9 saying … “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.”  As Jesus is leaving his home country or city, He sees Matthew engaged in the practice of collecting Roman taxes.  This is the MOST hated position in the entire nation.  The guy who cleans the poo out of the swine pen would be considered high-society, compared to a tax collector.  Tax collectors are thieves by profession.  Even if they do not steal more for themselves (which most do), they steal Israelite wealth and transfer it to Roman coffers by the nature of what they do. 
Asking Matthew to become a disciple, was literally like asking public enemy number one, to become one of your chief ambassadors.  No thinking modern minister would ask a deformed, lesbian, overweight, stuttering, loud-mouthed, aging minority woman, dressed in shorts and a tee shirt with bare-feet, full of skin disease, and right up to the last minute, a thief of everything you owned, person … to come and follow them, and secure a prime place in your ministry for Christ.  The packaging is ALL wrong.  Any one of those things could perhaps be OK, but the entire combination would make them public enemy number one in the Christian community.  To make them an Apostle of Jesus Christ, is simply unthinkable.  This was the emotional equivalent of selecting a Roman tax collector in the time of Christ.  Matthew would begin his discipleship with Christ as the MOST hated man of the 12, and of the nation at large.  And what does this hated man do … he invites Jesus and the others to come dine in his home.
Matthew continues in verse 10 saying … “And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.”  The friends of the hated, are hated themselves.  Matthew opens up his home not only to Jesus, to but too everyone else that would be willing to dine there.  His friends are the dregs of society.  Prostitutes, beggars, whoremongers, other thieves, even a gentile or Roman or two.  The list of people willing to associate with the most hated, are by nature also hated themselves.  Though on the social scale, Matthew is clearly the worst, the lowest, and the most hated of any of these groups.  They all serve a purpose.  Matthew and tax collectors serve only Rome.  None the less, Jesus comes and dines with them all.
Matthew continues in verse 11 saying … “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”  Enter organized religion into the story.  Enter centuries of tradition passed down within the church, even if they are wrong, or misguided … they remain traditions.  The behavior of Jesus was simply unacceptable.  His behavior rules Him out as being our Messiah.  How many things do you do in your church, or church service, because you have always done them that way?  How many rules and burdens have been placed upon you from the organized church, having nothing to do with the example of Jesus Christ, that you follow because someone said you should?  And when the pastor says you should, how many search the life of Christ, and through this lens, the scriptures for themselves to see if what even a pastor says is what really should happen?  We don’t.  We don’t take the time.  We just do what we are told, as sheep are known to do.
Matthew continues in verse 12 saying … “But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. [verse 13] But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Yikes!  Questioning the need for the sacrificial system itself in favor of mercy, was tantamount to blaspheming Moses and the history of that system that Jesus setup in the first place.  But then, Jesus setup that system because we care little for mercy, and so are in need of sacrifice to remind our hardened hearts what mercy should be.  To kill the innocent animals, was supposed to be hard for us to do.  It was supposed to be a reminder that the mercy we feel for the innocent would one day take the Saviors life for us all.  Because we prefer sin to mercy.  Because we prefer the love of self, to the love of others.  And in this preference, our mercy wanes.  And we are ALL unrighteous.  And we ALL have need of the mercy of our Lord to save us from ourselves.  Jesus reminds us that mercy underwrites our very salvation.
If the incident or the story ended here, we might feel good being able to criticize only the religious leadership of the establishment, about their narrow ideas of packaging, and their hypocrisy.  But even the fringe have ideas about packaging as well.  The fringe folks of our community look down on 3-piece suits as being haughty, as being condescending, as being un-enlightened with what is truly important.  The fringe folks have their own music, and methods, and ideas.  And as they rebel against the establishment, they become like the pilgrims of our ancestry who fled religious persecution, only to establish it themselves.  The fringe folks harden in their own ideas about what is important, and become inflexible to change, or adapt to something new.  And it is like looking at two sides of the same coin; both chained to the metal of insistence of being right that binds them. 
Matthew continues in verse 14 saying … “Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?”  John the Baptist was definitely NOT mainstream Israelite society.  He dressed weird.  He ate weird foods.  His hair was uncut.  He bellowed messages of repentance and baptized people under that banner in the river Jordan.  This was not the Rabbi you followed for a traditional experience.  This was the fringe.  The out there, the weirdo of the church.  He fit no mold.  Yet he and his followers maintained a few traditions like fasting.  And as they observed Jesus, they begin to see the unfairness of them fasting all the time, and the followers of Jesus never fasting at all.  It bothers them.  Even from a fringe perspective the packaging begins to look wrong.  Both the organized Pharisee and the fringe disciple of John are questioning the same thing … could the packaging of Christ that is different from both indicate He is not actually the Messiah?
Matthew continues in verse 15 saying … “And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. [verse 16] No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. [verse 17] Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”  Jesus tells both audiences the same message, what He brings is new, it is a new life.  The traditions that burden us were never supposed to be there as burdens.  They were meant to free us, or we should be rid of them.  Fasting is not meant as a burden, but as a tool, to clear the mind to see the will of God clearer … or not at all.  Association with the dregs of society is not a sin, it is meant to show them love from a God of love, not to become them and like them participating in the same sins they are held captive to.
It is the love of Jesus that can free us from who we are, whether traditional Christian or fringe Christian.  Our freedom is not found in how we package ourselves, but in how much we love others, and burn to make their lives better.  How much we burn to point others to Jesus as the way to escape the pain of their lives, is the basis of our freedom, nothing else.  His mercy defines our freedom, nothing else.  When we love, we remove the need for sacrifice.  When all our minds are consumed with love of others, there is no room for sin to enter in.  Better that kind of love, then a cycle of sin-and-forgive we are content with today.  Better to love others so much, we do not have time to sin, we do not have desire to sin, we only want to see people find the love of Jesus Christ.  It is not up to us to clean them, that is the work of Jesus.  It is not up to us to judge them for who they are today, but instead to point them to Jesus and have faith that He will clean them up over time.  Jesus is not just looking to meet someone, and then turn over their salvation to you.  He is looking to meet them, love them everyday, and see them freed from pain of sin.  That is what salvation is all about.
Does it bother you that Jesus does this in a homespun garment and simple sandals?  Does it bother you that Jesus gets dirty on dusty roads?  Does it bother you that Jesus picks up all kinds of germs as he embraces the lepers, the demon possessed, the crippled, the folks with diseases of the skin and bloody wounds?  It is not clean work healing the folks in need.  Love is not clean, it is messy.  Love that redeems is messy to.  It has to be, to get to the place where you are, and remove you from it.  The Truth has a name.  It comes to us from the inspiration of His Holy Spirit still today.  Even if it is not wrapped in the package we traditionally accept, we can still listen for His Truth even when the person who offers it, may not be perfect yet.  It was never the package that mattered.  It is not the 3-piece suit that lends credence to what is said.  Only the content of what is said, can be measured against the Truth of Jesus Christ.  A lot of lies are said in 3-piece suits, just as they are in cargo shorts and tee shirts.  But a lot of truths are offered in both as well.
Let us open our minds to His Spirit, focus on it, and discard the package for what it is … meaningless.  It was not the homespun robe and simple dusty sandals that gave Christ His passion for us, and they did nothing to deter it either.  All they were, was clothing, nothing more.  No significance.  What He said matters, not in what clothing He said it.  The same is true today of ALL of His messengers to us.  Truth still has a name.  And Truth can still come to us from the most unlikely sources, if we will but see it.  Leave the packaging up to the influence of His Spirit, and focus only on the Truth that is uttered.  If Jesus is in it, the package is meaningless.  But if Jesus is not in it, no matter how well it is packaged, it is still worth nothing.  Jesus reminds us, if we want to do our best for Him, we should show mercy, and love others.  The recipients of that mercy and love will be looking in to your eyes, not at their reflection in your shiny shoes, or at the wrinkles in your cargo shorts.  Your eyes will reveal your passion … or not.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Bigger Gift ...

Perspective can change your mind, or your priorities.  We make decisions, and set our priorities, based on how we can assess a situation, on what we believe we know of it.  Introduce more facts, expand the vision to a wider time frame, understand those consequences to our actions, and our minds can be changed, even our desires altered.  I’m certain the folks on the Titanic’s biggest concern was which party to attend, wearing which outfit, right up until the iceberg hit.  If that knowledge had been common before that event, not a single person on that ship would have cared about parties, or outfits.  To a person they would have either prepared for the inevitable with far more time to do it.  Or attempted to prevent the event entirely thus changing the history of the maiden voyage of the ship that “could not be sunk”.
It’s not just the big calamities we would avoid.  It is the little ones as well.  Driving just a bit more carefully, or being aware of the erratic or careless behavior of the other driver intent upon hitting us; we would take additional precautions, change our route, and avoid driving altogether if needs be.  But avoiding calamity requires some degree of additional foreknowledge, or does it?  Where it comes to our health, we seem to make one set of decisions before something goes badly, and another set, only after damage is done.  Science has warned us of the dangers of smoking and alcohol consumption for decades, maybe longer.  But the young are willing to “take the risk” believing themselves to be invulnerable, until history catches up with them, and the long-term consequence outweighs the short-term risks they took.  These days it is not just the young.  It would seem the fastest growing segment of our population suffering from sexually transmitted diseases are the old.  Whether the logic is there is little time left, or based on a history of not having to pay the consequences up to now, disease is finding a home in the population you might least expect.
This brings up the question … what do you want?  When you are healthy, the answer might be widely different than when you are sick.  Everyone would want to avoid the fatal car crash, but suffering from a condition for which there is no quick remedy, colors your response.  While the desire for wealth may be strong in us, when we suffer, we look for relief.  Finding that relief becomes more important than nearly anything else.  Therefore perhaps it is understanding what we suffer from that might surprise us.  Matthew records for us an incident in the life and gospel ministry of Jesus Christ that may provide some context on this topic.  Picking up in the ninth chapter beginning in verse one it says … “And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.”
This text has more meaning than might first appear.  Our encounters with Jesus must always be voluntary.  Jesus does not force Himself upon us.  The prior passages outline the story of Jesus healing 2 demoniacs on the far coast of the Sea of Galilee.  The demons entered the pigs, the pigs ran into the sea and died.  The villagers came to see Jesus, and promptly asked Him to leave their coasts.  It is hard to know why.  Maybe they were afraid more pigs would die, or that they would lose further wealth with Him being there.  At the end of the day, their motives do not matter, the outcome does.  They asked Jesus to leave, and leave He did.  Going back to His “own city” could imply Capernaum as He spent much time there, or Bethlehem as that was the town of His birth.  But most likely it was Nazareth where He was raised.
The story continues in verse 2 saying … “And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”  This portion of the story may have hidden meaning.  From a what is more important perspective; we suffer from our sins, more than we suffer from poor health.  Jesus attacks the more important problem with the blessing He offers.  But there may be more to it than that.  In the time of Christ, it is widely believed that disease only comes to those who “deserve it”.  Only sinners of unusual evil proclivity are attached with diseases to match their crimes.  This belief further states that it is not Satan who is allowed to torment them this way, but God Himself who punishes them for their evil.
The long-held view of a punishing God has yet to be extinguished even in our time.  Many Christians still hold to the idea that God is just waiting to “judge” the wicked and send them to hell for all the evil they have committed.  Many Christians further believe that the bad things that happen here, are just a taste of the punishment God has in mind for those who refuse to believe as they do.  In effect, we still believe AIDs attacks those who have sexually sinned.  Ebola attacks those who commit sins with animals (or at least that is how it started).  There is a whole host of misinformation to which the typical Christian mind looks for the punishing finger of God upon the wicked He is just waiting to kill in the flames.  And this with modern minds, and a complete Bible that should dispel this kind of thinking.  But it does not.  Negative interpretations, completely absent of the lens of Jesus Christ and what His life was to give witness to, support in the deceived mind, the continued idea of a punishing God.
So when Jesus says to be of good cheer, and forgives the sins of this victim of palsy, He is undoing the source of why a man would suffer from disease in the first place.  The man is not healed.  But the man is no longer guilty either.  Jesus is destroying the link between the guilt of sin, and the condition of suffering we often find ourselves in.  It is not our sins that cause lung cancer, it is our continual smoking that does.  It is not our sins that cause liver disease, it is the tons of alcohol we consume.  It is not our sins that produce someone else as a bad driver and cause us harm.  They are simply careless, even if only for a moment.  Satan would punish us all.  God would provide us with relief from our suffering.  But there is a distinction.  Sin itself is a punishment.  You do not need additional harm, the harm is buried right in the sin itself.
When we gossip, we hurt people.  When we lie, we hurt people.  When we betray our spouses and our marriages we hurt them, hurting the people we claim to love most, and who do love us the most.  When we dishonor our parents, we cause them grief.  They are flawed, but they have loved us since we were so small we could barely lift our own heads.  Their motives have never been in doubt, but now our actions of rebellion sometimes are.  We treat our God much the same, when we dishonor Him as well.  There is no need for additional punishment for our crimes, our crimes are punishment enough.  When we come to realize this, it is often behind the pain of knowing who we hurt, how much, and why it was so unnecessary.  Our God would provide us relief from this suffering by changing us, and acting as a preventative from sin entirely.
Jesus having broken the connection in the minds of those present between poor health, and guilt over sins, has undone a central tenet of local Sanhedrin doctrine.  The Rabbi’s present immediately jump to the idea of blasphemy, but they dare not utter the words, or the local crowd might stone them.  Jesus is popular after all.  Matthew continues in verse 3 saying … “And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. [verse 4] And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?”  Only our God can read our minds and thoughts.  Only our maker has this insight, is this omnipresent, and omnipotent.  Satan is a created being.  Satan can read our body language, and he is pretty good at guessing what we think.  But he is no mind reader.  Our God is.  Our God reads our very motives, and knows what we are going to say even before we say it.  This act of reading them should have convinced them of who He was.  But it didn’t.
So Jesus addresses the concern.  Matthew continues in verse 5 saying … “For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? [verse 6] But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”  Jesus is sad, that anyone would look at the forgiveness of sins as being something evil.  Forgiveness of sins, gives us a fresh start, a ground zero from which to renew a relationship with our God.  And yet preachers of the organized religion, use that event as a basis to accuse of blasphemy.  So Jesus, adds the miracle of healing to this man, to show all in attendance, that forgiveness is as real as healing is.  From a priority perspective, the most important thing this man suffered from was the burden of guilt, and the burden of improper doctrine that exacerbated that guilt.  When Jesus broke that burden, the health of this man was not even in palsy stricken man’s mind.  He was free from the burden of his sins.  Made free by Jesus Christ.
His physical healing was only to be a symbol of his spiritual healing.  The short term, as well as the long term, priorities.  Matthew continues in verse 7 saying … “And he arose, and departed to his house. [verse 8] But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.”  The witnesses to this event understood, what apparently, we have yet to grasp.  They marveled.  They glorified God.  That is worth considering.  They glorified God.  For the forgiveness of sins, our hearts respond by glorifying God.  For the relief that comes from being unburdened from our guilt, and reformed to be likeminded with our God, we give glory.  Not just for the start of our salvation, but for the finishing of it.  For the relief God brings us, not just for sins past, but for sinning no more.  No more do we ever wish to do, that which brings harm to so many.  That is the relief our God wishes to bring us all.  He looks to punish none, but to redeem all.  Everyone.  From Adolph Hitler, to Saddam Hussein, to you to me; our God loves each of us, and wishes to redeem each of us.
If we can rid God of the false attribute of punishment and guilt, perhaps we can embrace God as the healing of what is wrong with us.  Perhaps we can finally understand that we suffer from our sins, not because of what God does, but because of what our sins do.  We suffer more from the disease in our minds that would actually have us crave sin, than we do from standing on the deck of the Titanic, or being hit by the car, or having our smoking habits finally catch up with us in our health records and lives.  Our sins are worse than all of these.  And the relief from each and every sin comes offered to us as a gift from Jesus Christ, just as He did for the man brought to Him on a bed unable to carry himself there.  That man would have gone home, still sick, but no longer suffering.  What was important to heal, was done at the forgiveness of sins, and the changing of his mind about the nature of God.  Healing his palsy then was only after effect.  The man knew it.  The crowd knew it.  And now the religious leadership knew it.
But their response would not be so positive …

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Castaway's ...

Are we so dull we just don’t see it anymore?  Perhaps so over-exposed that our senses just do not even detect the warnings anymore?  For many in the world, the Bible is just anecdotes and fairytales.  For those folks, the central characters in the Bible are no more real than Mickey Mouse or the Easter Bunny.  And that is the level of comparison that is often made … something harmless compared to the Bible.  But if good comprises the descriptions of God, then evil comprises the description of His enemy.  Satan is not Mickey Mouse, nothing like what Mickey represents.  Satan earned a name change, after destroying the Lucifer he was, and becoming the evil incarnate he chose to embrace and now is powerless to be changed from.  Satan does not want a change.  Satan wants to hurt, destroy, cause death, and control everything he touches before he kills it.  Satan and his now demonic hoard were not cast out of heaven because of a few parking infractions.  They invented war there.  They invented pain there.  They invented lies there.  These castaways were forced out of perfection, away from the love of God, because their evil would have killed every living thing in proximity if it were allowed to remain.
And most modern Christians are content to ascribe red skin, a forked tail, hooves, and a pitch fork to how they consider what Satan is … this, while intently watching episodes of Lucifer on Fox.  And this is hardly a rant against a single show.  Our media is full of the fantastic, all rooted in stories of good and evil, where evil spans a gamut of things intended to scare us, or entertain us, or make us somewhat sympathetic to it.  The word castaways itself is hardly something that strikes fear into the hearts of readers, it is innocuous enough, subtle enough, but it represents a horror that is unrivaled, and a danger we have become so blunted to, that we invite it into our lives and make it dinner, as if it were just an estranged friend with a harmless agenda.  It’s not.  And demon possession is not just something that makes up good horror stories in the movies, with awesome special effects applied.  It is something intended to ruin your life, estrange those you love, disintegrate your family, and indulge lusts within you that would turn you from mild-mannered-you, into the mindset of a serial killer with no remorse or regret; not instantly, but slowly and imperceptibly over time, where there is little defense made, or request for defense.
Modern Christians hardly look for defense against it.  It is easier to comprehend why those who lack a real faith in the Bible, would pick up a Ouija board and dabble.  They are looking to experiment with the supernatural and see if something more truly exists.  Interesting to me, they do not try prayer to the God who represents love and good.  Instead they pick up the tool of evil and invite it to interact with them.  Seems like the answers of a God who loves them deeply would be better for them, than the answers of an entity who would wish to destroy them from within.  Yet Ouija boards are not burned today, they are manufactured today.  The castaways that answer are not harmless, they represent a picture of evil your mind has yet to imagine.  And instead of running from it, too often, it is opened up in the living room and treated as if it were no different than the game of Monopoly or Chess.  It is different.  It has consequence, whether you perceive it or not.  For in this method, as well as a host of others, we take down the “not welcome” signs, and invite demonic castaways to find their homes in our homes, and our hearts.  Even if the special effects we envision never actually materialize in front of us.
I imagine everyone misses those they have lost.  I imagine the idea of continuing to communicate with a dear departed one, who surely exists in heaven (no one we know ever goes to hell in our minds, that is unthinkable); would be great to talk to just one more time.  So because the devil convinces us of the immortality of the soul, that we cannot be truly killed, as he told Eve way back in the Garden of Eden.  We buy his lie.  We begin to believe we are never truly killed, that we simply pass on to the next dimension.  Hell for those other enemies we have.  Heaven for literally everyone we know (and love).  Since their disembodied souls live there, why is it so hard to believe that they may wish to travel back to earth, in some ghostly or spirit-y form to talk to us, perhaps give us advice.  King Saul of Old Testament times believed this, and consulted a witch to get his answers.  But it was not Samuel he raised, only a demon that resembled Samuel.
The departed love one you seek to converse with, may come, but in truth you are now only conversing with a demon who knew your lost one, as well as you do.  They can imitate expressions, gestures, sayings, and looks.  They understand how to mimic us down to the DNA level (why would we think we are the only ones to begin to understand DNA).  So the show is spectacular.  That is if you like watching a horror movie in 4D, that is bent on destroying you, while it portrays the villain as the hero.  And because Christians, let alone atheists, do not believe in the “sleep” of death.  They invite this horror movie into their lives, and do not even ask for a defense.  But this idea is not new.  I imagine two men of long ago, tried this same thing around the campfire.  I imagine at first it was a great experience, getting lots of advice from the long departed they admired, even perhaps loved.  But then something went sideways.  Instead of just talking to them, the demons entered them, and refused to leave.  This would make the men slaves to the will and strength of demons, that up to that point, they did nothing to deter.  And voila, demon possession of the type in the time of Christ.  While it may be more subtle in our day, it is no less effective, brought about by the same ideology, and methods.
Matthew records the story of what had happened to two men who had invited castaways to find a home within themselves, and now were powerless against that earlier decision.  Picking up in chapter eight, and verse 28 he begins … “And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.”  Jesus had moved locations from Capernaum (Peters house) across the lake.  The devil had already brought out a great storm on the sea intending to kill the entourage before it could make the far shoreline.  But Jesus simply quieted it with a word, and distance was negated.  Getting out of the boats however, they had landed in demon territory.  These two men, possessed of many many demons, were so fierce, and so superhumanly strong, that no one tried to pass by this way.  Interesting that they lived in a graveyard, a foretelling of what was to become of them, and a perfect metaphor of those who stand without Christ, and in the arms of His enemy.  But what is the strength of mortal men against the fury of thousands of demons?  The word castaways now hardly does the terror justice.  Fear rules this land.  And none of the Rabbi’s or Sanhedrin rulers have any kind of solution.  It would appear the organized religion of God stood powerless against the might of the Satanic kingdom established in these two men.
Matthew continues in verse 29 saying … “And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?”  The demons make the argument that they did nothing to seek out Christ.  They remained in their home territory.  So why was Jesus here?  Being next to the Son of God, the source of all love and life, now reminds them of the beings they once were, and the proximity they once held near the throne of the Father.  Their former lives and existence are now pure torture to remember.  They cannot bear to be so close.  They must get away.  They must get away from the presence of Jesus.  They ask if Jesus is here to torment them with memories of what it is to love so purely, or stand so close to love, or to be who they once were?  It is torment to them.  It is anguish to them.  There are no fires present, except the fire of love.  But the torment remains.
Matthew continues in verse 30 saying … “And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. [verse 31] So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.”  The devils, the demons, had planned to kill their hosts over time.  The hosts of this hoard would not benefit in any way.  They would be slaves, until they would be killed.  The methods are no different today, even if the fury is less evident.  Entering your home and sowing discord and fury between husband and wife, or parent and child, is no less effective at destroying relationships, and the love that would normally accompany them.  After all we invite them in.  They come through our habits, our choice of what we focus upon, our sins that we indulge over and over and over again without abandon, or remorse.  And somehow we are surprised that the enemy of the Lord still exists?  The demons knew they were to be cast away, they only wished to move from one target to another.  Have we presented them with a current one?
Matthew continues in verse 32 saying … “And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.”  What the demonic legion had in mind for their original hosts, was now accelerated in the herd of swine.  Destruction, death, frenzy.  Note, that the demons would not be destroyed in this action, only the hosts.  The demons were free to find a new host, in a new time, perhaps in every time.  Only the hosts suffer, are enslaved, and eventually die.  The demon is free to move on.  They hate the love of Christ, but crave the destruction of mankind.  The math is easy.  Since they cannot hurt God directly, they hurt what God loves, and in so doing, they torture the God of love and life.  They will do this as much as they can, until the appointed time comes, and they can do it no more.
Matthew continues in verse 33 saying … “And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told everything, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. [verse 34] And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts.”  Here is where the story goes sideways.  You would think that the town’s people would want a savior to cast away every demon in that area, to free them from the fear of it.  You would think the liberation would be welcomed, even if at the loss of the material possessions of the pigs.  What is the price of a herd of swine to have every demon cast away from this region?  But whether they feared an even greater loss of wealth, or whether they feared they were meeting the boss of all demons, or whether they just refused to believe the Son of God would ever come to see them because they did not deserve it.  The results were all the same, they asked Jesus to leave their region.  How do you ask the one who would liberate you to leave you alone?  How do you choose to be a castaway, or make God one?
Perhaps the same way we do it today.  Perhaps we choose to cling to our habits, our entertainment, our sins of the flesh; until we would rather have Jesus give us some space, than see these attributes about our lives change into something else.  You see only Jesus can drive away the demons of our lives, and out of our homes, and away from us.  But then, Jesus does exactly that.  When we invite Jesus into our homes, the sins we treasure tend to leave.  So the struggle in the human mind begins.  Do I really want change, or do I like my slavery to self?  Do I enjoy the sins I commit, thinking them to be the fun in my life, the spice of my life, believing self-less-love to be boring or too demanding?  And too many of us, like the people of that region, would rather have Jesus a little distant from our real lives, a little ways outside of our hearts.  We will claim to be His followers, but in real life, we only follow a little.  And the demons we entertain instead will allow us to feel as though we are doing “ a good job”.  Demons love us to think we are “good people”.  After all, none of the folks we know and love ever go to hell when they die, always only to heaven, right?  God’s mercy, and all that.  But while we live, we entertain that which would destroy us, even if we do not perceive it.
It is an old saying that “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled off, was making us think he does not exist”.  There is truth to that.  Modern Christians have seemed to have all but forgotten it.  None of us even consider we face the same demonic hoards, those two men succumbed to so long ago.  None of us even consider that tinkering with Ouija board might actually have permanent consequences.  How could watching the show Lucifer ever present any real kind of problem, it is only a show right?  And for that matter, how could watching any show that presents the ideas of good vs evil, as something man gets to choose, present a risk.  It is only entertainment right?  Nobody believes it is real.  Nobody believes that what we focus on might actually change how we think, or what we believe.  Nobody that is, except a huge group of castaways that intend to dominate our lives, imperceptibly, so that we never even know they are there.  Jesus acts just like demon repellent.  But then, do you have Jesus?  Have you made Jesus a permanent part of your home, or is He just a periodic guest, from time to time, when it is “convenient”? 
Man cannot defeat these castaways.  Jesus can.  The math is simple.  What will you do about it?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Who Leads, Who Follows ...

Speaking from the side of a mountain, offers the ability to have many listeners in the venue.  Speaking from a modest home in the time of Christ does not.  As crowds began to gather at the home of Peter in Capernaum, before things got out of hand, Jesus decides it would be better to move locations across the Sea of Galilee on to distant shores.  This will offer both a better venue for handling large crowds, as well as the change in locale for new local residents to hear firsthand what they may not have been able to travel to hear thus far.  It is solid and logical reasoning.  It is a good plan.  But does that matter?
In America today, we like the idea of having teams solve problems.  We are enamored with the concept, that where applying one mind to a problem may be OK, applying several minds is bound to make the solution better.  But does it?  When the mechanics of teamwork actually takes place, nearly all such gatherings produce (or identify) a leader.  Round tables of ideas are facilitated.  Brain storming is coached and guided.  Voting on suggestions is often requested at the behest of a natural leader who tends to call these meetings, guide them, and often create the first straw man idea from which the other team members will edit and critique.  If nature hates a vacuum, then so do I.  But I am not afraid to speak in groups, to share my opinion, and to listen to truly hear what someone else is saying.  Stick me in a team setting however that has no leader, and I will become one; or sit in my chair tortured, akin to listening to nails on a chalk board, for the waste of energy that occurs in a team setting with no direction.  I can follow.  But if there is no one to follow, I will lead.  I just cannot sit still and shut up, and do nothing.  I have learned this about myself.
This personality trait follows me into the church.  Put me in a group study situation, let the teacher pose a question, if there is silence, I will fill it.  It is not the silence I hate, it is the lack of participation from others.  It is seeing the teacher worried that no one is really listening or cares, or has a clue.  So I speak.  And then temptation begins.  It is all too easy for me to quietly take leadership of the class from the teacher, and begin posing my own questions, directing the conversation, and making a series of points.  This is a bridge too far.  It is not my place to teach where I have not been invited to do so.  Because I have opinions does not make them right, or dominant.  Because I can speak, does not mean that I should.  Perhaps my silence is exactly what was needed.  Wresting control from a struggling teacher is not my place, nor should it have ever entered my mind or lips.  Being the student is the place I should have maintained in the body of Christ, at least during the time I describe above.
It would seem though, that the temptation I struggle with in the church, is not isolated to me alone.  Speakers over time begin to think of themselves as the defacto leaders of any situation they enter in.  How many pastors are able to remain silent in someone else’s group study?  This problem is made worse, because the believers begin to look to the pastor for answers more than they look to the leader of the class to keep them on point, and arrive at the conclusion they were intended to study to reach.  It is easier to simply ask the pastor for the answer.  He is bound to know, right?  Why study if you can jump right there.  And in the mind of the pastor, they begin to think of themselves in this light.  As if it is their perpetual place to be, because of the role they have embraced.  At all times, in all situations.  Evangelists so much the more.  Evangelists have the added burden of passion (trying to get attention), and brevity (they are not here long and need to make their points before they depart).  So the mindset of leaders in ministry is that they should become perpetual leaders, almost never the follower.
This is human folly.  In the body of Christ, we are each enriched by the perspectives of others in the body.  No perspective should ever be considered dominant, or needed at the exclusion of others.  Each perspective is equally important, and should be equally treasured.  When attempting to learn more about our Lord and Savior, we should realize that each holds only one point of view.  All the other points of view, outside of our own, are what give us all a better perspective on Jesus, and how He interacts with His church.  In the church that Jesus owns, He is the only true leader.  Everyone of us is intended to follow Him, not each other, no matter what role we may play in His overall ministry.  This is a very flat organizational model.  It is also not one of consensus, but one of autocratic benevolence.  Jesus did not ask the disciples for ideas about what to do next, He consulted His Father in heaven, then took action.  Jesus did not need a team to support His ideas or plans.  He expressed His intention to move, it was now up to others how they responded, but no matter what they did, Jesus was moving.
Matthew records how this story progresses in his gospel in chapter eight, picking up in verse 18 saying … “Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.”  You will notice Jesus gave “commandment” to depart.  This was not a suggestion.  This was not a question.  This was a directive.  It was time to move.  But extending this notion a bit further.  When Jesus gives us direction, it is never a suggestion, or a request to vote by committee to determine what to do. If Jesus says it, it is a “commandment”.  Most of us think the only commandments in the Bible are back in Exodus limited to Ten items that form the basis of how to love.  But in fact, commandments are given all through scripture, every time there is a record of what Jesus asks, and where that might be applied to more than just the person He was speaking to.  Jesus does not manage His church through suggestions, or by committee, those are human constructs.  Jesus is the leader of His church, there are no other leaders, just Him.
Matthew continues in verse 19 saying … “And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. [verse 20] And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”  Looking at this interchange, our first inclination is that what Jesus said would have discouraged this scribe from following Him.  But in truth we don’t know that.  What we may be doing when we read this, is transferring our own fears about being homeless, and without possessions, on to the scribe who was pledging to follow Jesus.  In similar circumstances it is likely we who would have retreated from being a “full time” disciple.  And instead followed Jesus, only when He was in our area, you know, like a part time disciple, when it was convenient.  Just like it is today with all too many of us.  But it is possible, that this scribe was not like us, and was undeterred by Jesus’s truth in advertising.  It is possible the scribe was willing to be homeless, to be with Jesus full time, undeterred by setting aside his possessions to be with Jesus up close and personal.
Matthew continues in verse 21 saying … “And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. [verse 22] But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.”  This one stings quite a bit more, but it is no less true than the other warning Jesus offered.  This one is beyond homelessness.  This one states a fundamental truth.  If you are not connected to Jesus, you are already dead.  Your body may still have spark in it.  But you have no life, only slavery to self and sin.  While you may claim a religion, without a direct connection to Jesus, you are as spiritually dead as any atheist would choose to be.  Following Jesus brings life.  The condition of your body is not the indicator of that.  Because the spark of life has gone out, does not mean you are truly dead, any more than being “alive” without a direct connection to Jesus means you have life.  Those who sleep in Jesus will one day experience resurrection in Jesus, with eternal life to follow.  Those who believe themselves to be alive today, without Jesus, face only pain and death to come.  A direct connection makes all the difference.
Then there is the family thing.  This request to delay the plans of Christ to cross the Sea of Galilee until after this man’s father could be buried were denied.  There was no exception made for family.  There was no “consideration” made.  Jesus needed to move, and He was going to.  The man could either follow Jesus, or turn away to tend to the cares of this world, even the sensitive concerns of burying a loved one like a parent.  Jesus was moving.  There was no time for distraction, even for concerns of the heart for family.  The connection to Jesus was more important than that.  More important than anything.  We do not know if this potential disciple got into the boat with Jesus to move, or chose to delay.  There is no indication of that.  The plan to move was made by Jesus.  The timing was immediate.  And so the plan moved forward.
Matthew continues in verse 23 saying … “And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. [verse 24] And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.”  Now comes an assessment of the plan of Jesus.  What was logical before seems utterly ill timed at present.  Getting into that boat, and leaving when they did, resulted in a full-blown storm strong enough to sink the ship (and the other ships that were attempting to follow, perhaps with these other two newly minted disciples in tow).  This plan was poorly timed at best.  Thinking in retrospect, we would criticize this plan, and blame the leader who forced it upon us (though He did no such thing).  This is how we react in the business world today.  It is the price of leadership, to be blamed for when things in life do not go smoothly.  It does not matter that conditions change beyond the control of the person who created the plan, it only matters that they did, and therefore someone must take the blame.  It was no different on those boats.  And what was worse, Jesus was taking a nap, as if there was not a care in the world.
Matthew continues in verse 25 saying … “And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. [verse 26] And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. [verse 27] But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!”  The plans of God rarely make “sense” to humans, or from a human perspective.  We are finite.  God is not.  We see things through the lens of what is in our own best interest, God sees our greater interests.  The question boils down to who leads, who follows.  Too much of our religions are often subtly based on the idea that we get God to do what we want, throwing out scriptures to prove our points and demands.  But in truth, a direct connection to Jesus may lead us in completely other directions, with other methods, for reasons we fail to comprehend. 
These disciples were all led into boats.  Satan caused the storm.  Jesus repealed it.  Faith in God’s plan does not lead to our eternal disaster, even if this story had another outcome.  But trust in a leader who loves you with a passion you cannot even comprehend, may lead you to do what does not make sense, because He asks you to.  Imagine Abraham, being asked by God to sacrifice the only son he has.  This request is completely out of line from a Biblical perspective - case closed.  No scripture could have ever proved the validity of this request.  Abraham was being asked to murder, and by God.  He obeyed.  And his faith is memorialized because of it.  That does not change the request, or the nature of it.  It did not make sense.  But it has stood as an example of faith for thousands of years.  What God did to intervene for Abraham, He did not do for Himself.  He gave His Son for us, and held back His hand from intervention.  That plan makes even less sense.  But it is the plan He constructed to redeem you and I.  It reveals a love that is infinite in proportion.
Those of us, who believe it is our role to lead in ministry, must re-examine what that means.  We are not truly leaders, we are only servants with a bigger constituency.  We follow, not lead.  Our peers follow not lead.  There are no teams or committees.  Just bodies of believers who dedicate themselves to Jesus, and to a direct connection with Him.  He leads, We follow.  There is nothing more to it than that …

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Woman's Place ...

Most sentences in conversation that begin with the words “a woman’s place is in …” don’t end well; at least for the person speaking.  There are in fact few ways to end that sentence that will not be found offensive.  The problem is not the “where” so much as it is “the edict” of where by the person speaking.  Many women work.  Many women do it for no wages, nearly zero recognition, and often time despite ridicule from the teenagers they are trying to raise, in the houses they make homes from their labors.  To say a woman works is simply a statement of fact … it is the “where” again that conjures up the prejudices of value derived from a commercial enterprise as somehow having more value than the value that comes from turning a building into a home.  Perhaps then the best way to end that sentence “a woman’s place is … is wherever she wants it to be.”  That will at least save the person speaking, and perhaps offer more truth than the chauvinist mind is ready to grasp.
Men like to measure themselves.  We like to compare and use yardsticks to do it.  In sports, there is a winning team and a losing one.  Children may all be “winners” for having competed; men like the idea of only one team being a winner, and the other losers.  In life, men tend to gravitate to their careers as another yardstick to measure each other by.  If my job title sounds more professional than yours, guess who wins that battle.  If you make more money than I do, we are back to a draw.  If my wife is the most beautiful woman in the room, then I will have done my job appropriately (as determined by my wife), and I will be permitted to sleep in our bed this evening. 😊  But again, if my wife is more beautiful than every other wife, I win.  This is a competition women are not so disparaging of, as long as their husband always wins.  The problem with all of this thinking is where value is derived from.  Possessions should not define our value, service should.
In that context, I may be the biggest loser.  How much I serve, even how much I serve my wife, is not up to a standard I would set for myself.  It is easier to define value in possessions, and in commercial accomplishments, than it is in humble service (where credit does not exist, nor should it).  It would seem I need a re-wire of my thinking to begin to appreciate humble service for the value that should be derived from it.  If I appreciated it properly, then the service done in the home would become of vastly more value than anything done in an office, for mere compensation.  Careers like garbage collector would be esteemed not ridiculed.  And the waitress who fills your coffee cup, would be appreciated (not just in your mind, but reflected in the tips you leave).  Appreciating humble service changes where you think value comes from, and what services people do, to achieve it.
But shouldn’t that apply in the church as well?  We have our estimation of importance as upside down in church as we do in the world.  We esteem conference leaders, the pope, the bishops, or people holding roles over the organization of the body.  Evangelists or people with great speaking abilities are esteemed over simple believers.  The folks in the pews are seen almost like cattle.  We attend events, fill up the pews, sing when directed to, kneel, fill up offering coffers, and then go home.  Next week, the same routine.  But some simple believers are also prayer warriors.  Warriors not because “they” are special, but because their “belief” is so strong it is as if they sit in the living room with the Lord, every time they bring up His name.  Their prayers are answered because their expectations are so high.  And most of us hardly know their names.
In the church, we begin to assume we know who should take up a particular role based upon the profile we set for that role in our minds.  Tradition colors our thoughts.  Where we would not dare utter the sentence “a woman’s place” in our personal lives, when it comes to church we happily utter the same phrase and do not end it with open possibilities.  We end it with predefined notions of where a woman’s value should be derived from a traditional perspective.  In like manner, we expect men to fill other roles, our only differentiation based on competence, never gender.  However, it does seem like men are allowed to fulfill nearly every role, but women only a few.  Forward thinking churches have gotten past this traditional view point most often because they view chauvinism as bad history.  But that is not perhaps the best reasoning.
Everyone uses the Bible to prove their own perspectives.  Everyone uses the Bible to prove their own pre-dispositions.  We do not ask our God, we tell others what He has to say, through us.  But if we were open enough to ask, are we ready to accept the answer, whatever that might be?  For my liberal friends on this topic, I offer the simple story Matthew relayed in his gospel in chapter eight picking up in verse 14 saying … “And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever.”  The story begins with Jesus entering Peter’s house (in Capernaum) as we learn in the previous texts.  If we paid better attention we might realize that Peter has a wife, a home, and a mother-in-law.  The idea that ministers of the gospel should in some way be celibate goes out the window.  Peter has his priority on Jesus, but it does not negate that he has a family.  It is his family home he has invited Jesus and the crew to visit.
Matthew continues in verse 15 saying … “ And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.”  Here is the tricky part.  Jesus heals her not because of what she will do.  Jesus is not purchasing her healing for service.  Jesus does not save you, because he wants something from you.  What you offer and how you respond is up to you.  How you love is up to you.  How much you submit is up to you.  How much you allow Him to change you, is ultimately how much you submit to Him.  But what He offers is a pure gift, that can never be repaid, nor does He ever ask for repayment.  That means that what the mother-in-law of Peter does in response to a touch from Jesus, is the “choice” Peter’s mother-in-law makes.  She serves Jesus and the disciples in humble service, because this is what she chooses or wants to do.  She could have left the home, went into the streets, and danced and celebrated the fact that she was just very sick, and now she is made well by Jesus.  She could have shouted what the Lord did for her to anyone who would have listened.  Other women did this.  The woman of Samaria was probably the most successful evangelist in all of scripture.  That was her response to Jesus.  Peter’s mother-in-law did something far more quiet, with far less recognition.  She just acted our humble service.
You can imagine that mother-in-law jokes did not begin in this century.  The tension between husband and wife when dealing with in-laws is nothing new.  I am certain that tension dates back nearly to Adam and Eve, or at least to Seth’s grandsons and daughters.  The jokes that stem from the tension as probably equally as old, and just as circulated as they are today.  Now even though Peter may not have told his share (or at least after he encountered Jesus), a mother-in-law may know they are not the most welcome person in the household.  This does not deter her at all.  She rises from her illness, and immediately does what she chooses to do.  She serves in humility, without a second thought.  She could have been a prophet.  She could have become a disciple (perhaps she did both of these after the gaze of Matthew had long since departed from her company).  What she chose to do later would be up to her, and more importantly up to the Holy Spirit.  But her choice that night was no less important, or appropriate, or of value.
Her service would be needed as the needs multiplied.  Matthew concludes this snippet picking up in verse 16 saying … “When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: [verse 17] That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”  Those people who were sick and waiting in line to be healed might have needed refreshments.  They might have needed help to get to Jesus.  The needs they had in the conditions they were in before they met Jesus might have been substantial.  Are not ours?  So how she served when the multitudes arrived we do not know, nor was she credited, nor did she want to be credited.  But she served, in the manner she chose to serve.  No one dictated to her what to do.  No one told her where her place was.  She filled a place she wanted to fill and was honored to do so.
Too many of my liberal brothers and sisters spend so much time fighting for the rights of women in the church, they forget that the right to choose what she chose, is equally important.  Perhaps more important, as she was honored to serve the Lord of our Universe in what she did.  The choice to be humble, to seek no recognition, to “not” be a public speaker or minister, is of equal value to any other choice made.  Perhaps within the church “a woman’s place” is anywhere she is willing to serve, and anywhere the Holy Spirit makes her fit to serve.  And if the Holy Spirit decides, who are we to criticize His choice or hers …