Giants in the Promised Land

She stared at the monumental task before her. Its completion seemed impossible. She understood how David must have felt with only a sling and a stone to take down a giant. Her mind raced. Her heart jumped. How would she get through this moment? Wasn’t she in the center of God’s Will? Didn’t she go where the Lord had called? Why was each step such an enormous effort? Did the Lord intend for her to fail?

I can think of countless times I’ve experienced that exact distressing scenario, wondering if maybe I heard God incorrectly or somehow removed myself from His Will and protection over my life. It’s not a fun place to be. Sometimes, we further confuse ourselves when we agree Arrivingwith well-meaning but uninformed clichés, suggesting God will always remove every obstacle and open every door when we’re on the right path.

It can feel distressing when you reach a new chapter, a momentary “promised land” in life and quickly discover it’s not going to be easy due to “giants” (obstacles, challenges, struggles, problems or seemingly impossible situations) in the land before you, threatening to spoil your victory and ruin you at every turn.

One evening a few months ago during my prayer time with God, I was particularly upset and confused about a giant in my life. I complained to my Abba Father for thirty minutes, asking Him why my mission field was enormously difficult and expressing how discontent it made me feel. I can almost imagine as I whined that God was calmly listening with an “are-you-done-throwing-your-pity-party-yet-so-I-can-talk” type of look on His face.

“Please speak to me through your Scripture, Lord,” I asked piously after concluding my rant (I understand if you’re snickering at me, dear reader). Little did I know how much God would use that request to teach me about how He felt my journey was going.

Soon after I voiced my request, the reference Acts 20:19-21 came to mind. As I wrote it down, another reference, Zechariah 4:10, popped in my head. I quickly wrote it below the first reference.

I was curious to know what the verses said as they were not immediately familiar references to me. I opened my Amplified Bible and leafed through until I found the first passage from Acts:

“Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials which came on me because of the plots of the Jews [against me]; [you know] how I did not shrink back in fear from telling you anything that was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public meetings, and from house to house, solemnly [and wholeheartedly] testifying to both Jews and Greeks, urging them to turn in repentance to God and [to have] faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [for salvation].”

The verse and section in context was Paul explaining that his ministry was difficult from the first day he entered his mission field in Asia and often accompanied by tears and trials. However, he concluded the end result was worth the struggle because it furthered the Gospel and glorified God.

I was floored. Did I just read that right? Did I not just complain to God about the giants in my mission field being too tall and the road too hard and too long from the first day I began this journey?

“Okay,” I mused aloud. “You’ve got my attention.”

I flipped eagerly to the other verse, now acutely aware the Lord was speaking clearly about that which I was groaning:

“Who [with reason] despises the day of small things (beginnings)? For these seven [eyes] shall rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord which roam throughout the earth.”

The second piece of Scripture was a bit more difficult to figure out because of the metaphors, but with some simple research, I eventually understood. The passage was about the construction of the Temple and God’s pleasure as He oversaw the building process. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see, but the message was clear in my mind: The Father saw the construction within me, His Temple, growing pains and all, and was pleased.

I sat in my chair for several minutes, staring at the verses I just read.  I was speechless. The words were not easy to read.  God was delighted with how my journey was going. But was I? Not so much.

I wanted God to simplify my mission and agree with me to take away the obstacles, but He didn’t. Instead, I found myself having to face my giant head on. But I never fought the battle alone.

God often shows up in the most incredible ways in those dark moments when we find ourselves in Goliath’s shadow. Defeating such a giant requires faith and trust, even when the current circumstances look a lot like failure. It often means we keep fighting until we’ve reached the end. Only then do we realize God is always for us (Romans 8:28) and He’s always with us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He uses our weaknesses as His strength. Our victories over the giants in our lives grow us and prepare us to fight bigger battles. It witnesses to those who don’t know our loving God about His reality. Our testimonies of overcoming adversity teach others and build their faith to believe that they can do the same with God by their side.

Wandering in the Wilderness

“Everyone wants the promise, but no one wants to be pruned.” – Kris Vallotton

The journey of life is full of new beginnings, unexpected turns and course resetting. Often times, when we feel like we’ve arrived, a new change shakes us or grows us. Many times, this process is painful, but necessary for maturity.sand_sm

I have experienced many of my own twists and turns throughout my life journey; but through it all, God has been with me, guiding my steps and whispering reassurance to my heart along the way. You can read about my testimony and God’s goodness through my life struggles on my About Me page.

Earlier this year, I found myself at an unexpected crossroad in my career and life in general. I call it “unexpected” because I had known for years that God’s will for my life was to remain within my place of employment where I had been for the last 15 years in different positions. He confirmed His will for me to remain where I was many times by providing opportunities for me to minister to others through love and encouragement. He gave me moments to share His love and His nature with the lost, hurting and broken. He gave me lifelong friendships for encouragement, correction and growth. He even used my workplace to bless me with a husband who is the love of my life.

Amid the blessings were also job struggles and pains associated with maturing and disappointments along the way. In many ways, I believed my place of employment was my long-term “Promised Land” because it was where God had sent me. But then it happened — change.

Sometimes, the change in course is obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. In many previous crossroad situations, the choice was often not obvious; but in this particular case, there was no mistaking it.

Months earlier, I began to feel a deep stirring of the Spirit, nudging me and telling me it was a season of change. It was time to move. To be honest, I wasn’t excited. I know I should say I was giddy with anticipation about the prospect of moving on to a new adventure, but I wasn’t. I was finally feeling settled and comfortable in the position which I had been placed. It certainly had its challenges and issues. In fact, there was a storm going on in that area of my life; however, I assumed it was one of those issues that would eventually get better. Plus, I knew I would give up many blessings to change careers — daily interactions with amazing friends, a position that gave me direct access to the organization’s decision makers and knowing how my role fit into the organization. But my heart became restless and many nights were sleepless.

I realized the first day I felt tug of the Spirit on my soul that God was also giving me a choice. Although He told me it was time to change course, I also felt Him telling me I could remain where I was and He would bless me and others for His Kingdom’s purposes. However, I knew if I moved, it was the best choice that He had for my life. Even so it was not an easy decision.

I asked God, “Where will you move me? Where do you want me to go?” When I didn’t receive an answer, I prayed and waited.

Although I really hate change and my stomach was quite unsettled, I answered one morning, “I am willing to go wherever you called me.” In that moment of submission, I felt like God was saying to me through unspoken words to my heart, “Understand there will be a sacrifice; but if you lean on me and relinquish control, I will give you new coordinates for your life and career. I know you’ve dreamed for many years about a specific type of job. If you go where I’m asking you to go, your dream will be realized. But it won’t be without a cost. Spiritual growth and trust in me will be necessary to see it through to the end.”

When I asked God what the path ahead would look like, desperately wanting a roadmap to make the process less intimidating, I felt like He was telling me it would look nothing like what I could anticipate, and I wouldn’t know all the answers until the end. But He knew. I just had to trust Him. As I considered the terms, I took a deep breath and watched as my season of change was set in motion.

The trust aspect became my greatest trial I faced. There were plenty of twists and turns and lots of confusion like a complex maze, just as God had warned. The process of moving took much longer than I thought it would. Patience is still an area in which God is constantly teaching and correcting me. Several days, weeks and months passed before the process was complete. Also, there were multiple interviews at different places. When something appeared to be working out, it suddenly fell through, and I really didn’t know what or where to go until the last minute. Even after I arrived in my new workplace, I was in constant transition and helping in a couple different areas for several weeks. Although I struggled and change was hard, God was faithful and kept His promises, and I suddenly found myself with options to go into the field I love.

“Almost there! Just keep going!” I would tell myself. Some days, I said it to myself through tears. Did I mention change is hard? Sometimes, I wondered if I’d be in the Wilderness forever. For a restless heart, sometimes the waiting period can feel that way. It can be easy to lose your way and lose hope if you take your eyes off of Christ and focus on all the uncertainties. But God kept every word of the promises He gave me.

People often think of the Wilderness as punishment. They think of the Israelites wandering in the desolation for 40 years. Instead, it is usually a time of testing and trials intended to grow and strengthen us. It is a time of preparation for our next life chapter which requires more than previous situations had demanded. Wilderness moments, although sometimes extremely lonely and discouraging, is never without God’s grace (Mark 1:13). For me, the greatest experiences and often the closest I have felt to God occurred during my Wilderness moments. It makes the life struggles worth the perseverance when we see God move miraculous ways.

If you find yourself in your own Wilderness experience, take heart! You are not forgotten. God is preparing you for your next adventure. He’s giving you an opportunity to see Him move and to mature spiritually. You will see He is faithful, and you will eventually reach the end and discover your Promised Land.

May God’s peace, love and joy accompany you along your life’s journey.

The Covert Christian: How Transformed Lives can Secretly Transform the World

In a world that’s becoming increasingly hostile to the Gospel, how do we fulfill the Great Commission to share our faith and make disciples, especially in places where it may be cropped-cropped-cropped-joyinchrist1.jpgrestricted?  For some Christians, this task may seem daunting, paralyzing or impossible.  What do we do?  Do we give up?  Do we defiantly disregard the rules placed upon us and share anyway?

As Believers, we are called to follow God’s laws over man’s laws even at great cost; however, we are also given the responsibility to exercise wisdom and good judgment when facing scenarios in which sharing our faith is restricted (Acts 5:29; Ephesians 5:15-16).  You could disregard the rules; but in many instances, this may not be the wisest option.  In some instances, disobedience may be necessary, and should be used as a last resort (Acts 5:29).  In other situations, you must weigh the degree and necessity of actions which may cause you to lose access to the people to whom God called you to minister.  We must always do what is right, but we must also ask who will reach the lost if we’re not there as His testimony and witness.

The Power of a Transformed Life

One key way to share the Gospel in our workplaces or other places where we may face restrictions is through transformed lives.  Actions almost always impact people more strongly than words.  The words we speak may tell people who we are and what we think, but our actions tell people what we believe and Who’s we are.  When others see how we live, it should cause them to wonder why we live that way and for whom we live.

A Changed Heart Begins with a Renewed Mind

Before we can live in a way that reflects Jesus, our lives must be transformed from the inside-out.  This means our minds must be renewed, and Jesus must drive our new motives and mindsets (Romans 12:2).  A renewed mind means we change our ways of thinking, hoping, believing, and trusting.  We have new perspectives, new motives, and allow His will to become ours.  It means we choose to let go of the attitudes that once controlled our thought life and drove our motives without God (Romans 6:6).  As with salvation, once we have renewed minds, we act out what we believe in our hearts (Romans 10:9-10).  What we act out should be evidence of the motives of our hearts and what we believe.

Evidence of a Transformed Life

The Scriptures place a high emphasis on our lives as a powerful witnessing tool and declaration of what we believe (James 2:17-18):

  • Our thoughts and attitudes change to reflect His Spirit within us. – 1 John 3:5-6
  • We produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. – Galatians 5:22-23
  • People will know we are Jesus’s followers because of our great love for each other. – John 13:35
  • Our eyes reflect His light of purity and righteousness within us. – Luke 11:34
  • We chose mercy over judgment even when the world claims we have a right to be justly unmerciful. – James 2:13
  • We speak the truth and mean what we say. – 1 John 3:18-19
  • We “do what is right” when faced with tough moral choices. – 1 John 2:29
  • We keep God’s commandments. – 1 John 2:3-5

I’ve often found that when you exhibit facets of the character of God through the fruit of the Spirit, other people notice.  I don’t say this pridefully.  After all, it’s not me whom they see.  It’s Him.  If we live our lives in a way that reflects who He is, other people will be drawn to His attractive nature within us.  Questions like: “Why is there something different about you?”, “Why do you live that way?”, and “How can you forgive when I never could in your situation?” are open doors to share the Gospel with others.

May God use your life as such a powerful testimony of His love, mercy and grace that people are drawn to the Light you carry.  May they also see the radiance and genuine expression of grace and mercy that clearly reflects the evidence of a transformed life.  In many ways, this is the call of the In-Place Missionary — which is you!

An Encounter with God through Prophetic Ministry

I hear His voice again — it’s the familiar, gentle nudge to speak a specific word of encouragement into a person’s life. The word fills my ears, although my natural ears never hear it. It becomes my breath, permeating the air around me. It floods my mind and soul. The word He gives is specific and deep yet simple.friends

I glance over to the woman for whom the word will be given. My introverted, shy heart races; and doubt suddenly clouds my mind. What if I heard wrong? What if she isn’t receptive? What if she rejects me?

“Faith requires risk,” I remind myself.

A second gentle nudge shakes away the confusion. His tender voice repeats the same word. Peace accompanies it and anchors within my heart. As new courage builds within me, I walk over to deliver the word. Now, it’s time to speak.

The person before me stares for a long moment with curiosity as the word flows from my mouth like a living spring. As it touches the woman, her eyes well with tears. The word ministers to her in ways I can only imagine.

“How did you know?” she asks. “I’ve prayed about that issue for months.” It takes her mind a moment to realize God just encountered her for something her heart was desperately seeking. Her shocked expression shifts to a broad smile.

For a moment, I see through His eyes, staring upon her with unfathomable love, grace, and mercy. I feel His immense compassion; my heart is full of uncontainable joy. The emotions are overwhelming. My eyes also fill with tears.

Recent strangers quickly become sisters. The woman hugs me. The Presence of God always carries relationship from which life and love flow. We celebrate God’s revelation for her, and we pray together. The woman is forever changed by her God encounter. Honestly, I won’t be the same either.

This story is from another “ordinary” day as a follower of our amazingly loving and personal God. Like you, I am a simple conduit of His love. The story above is true and an illustration of how God can use anyone to minister to people. We just have to be willing to wait, listen, and respond when He calls to us.

Love and peace to you, friends. I pray this story encourages you to seek His Presence and share His love boldly when the opportunity arises. It’s time to be His hands and feet to this broken world.

Female Leaders, Apostles, Disciples, Prophets and Other Women of Influence in the Bible and Early Church History

The more I spend time in the Scripture and study the Greek and Hebrew lexicons, the more I believe many of our disagreements over the roles of women in church leadership are frequently based on misunderstandings of the original languages and a loss of cultural context.  The intended audiences would have easily understood the depth and breadth of the meanings of the words used.  However, our English translations often fail to sufficiently explain the authors’ intended messages and grammatical nuances.

This is not to say the Word of God contains errors.  For example, in the English language we use the word “love” to describe a wide range of feelings or actions.  It may be used to describe a deep affection for a spouse, child or close friend.  The emotions may be complex and shift in meaning depending on what, whom, how or why I love.  However, the word “love” may also be used to describe a favorite food or song on the radio, which are obviously shallow expressions of the same word.  These examples may be oversimplified, but they were my starting point for researching and understanding this topic.  After all, God’s Word never changes but my understanding should as I read the Scripture, spend time in study and commune with Him.

I humbly pray the summaries of the influential Old Testament and New Testament women below will inspire you to perform your own research. After all, our most powerful tool as Christians is knowledge. Our most destructive weapon is ignorance.

“God never violates His Word. But He’s quite comfortable violating our understanding of His Word.” – Bill Johnson

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Ancient inscriptions upon the walls of early church tombs and catacombs indicate many women were leaders within Gentile churches between the first and sixth centuries. Women were recorded as apostles, synagogue leaders (archisynagōgos or archisynagōgissa), elders (presbytera), deacons (diákonos), church mothers, bishops and other prominent roles.  Many of these inscriptions were found in Tripolitania (former province of Libya), throughout Italy, Malta (European island country in the Mediterranean Sea), Turkey and Kissamos (Greece).

Examples of a few historically recorded female deacons include Sophia he diakonoshe deutera Phoibe (the second Phoebe) and Maria of he deacons whose name and title is etched into a stele of grey marble inside a Byzantine church.  More evidence of female leaders can be found in the historical records of the reign of Trajan (98-117 C.E.).

Although some early church leadership titles were honorary or given by inheritance or marriage, many titles of these women differ from their fathers and husbands, if they were married at all. This indicates these leaders were likely given these roles for their level of importance, influence and dedication at their local churches.  Based on the root of Greek words like arch (meaning “ruler”) used to describe many of these leaders, a person with these roles would have overseen the organization of the church or synagogue, taught, preached, collected money from congregants and performed other administrative duties (Brooten, Bernadette).

PRISCILLA – AN EARLY CHURCH MISSIONARY, CO-PASTOR AND THEOLOGIAN

Acts 18:24-27 – Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately. Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. They wrote to the believers in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived there, he proved to be of great benefit to those who, by God’s grace, had believed.

Romans 16:3-4 – Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers (“collaborators” or “fellow-workers”) in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home.

I love the picture Paul paints of the powerhouse couple named Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila. They were pastors, traveling missionaries through Asia Minor (Acts 18), church planters and theology teachers. According to Romans 16, they were well known in the Gentile churches and preached the Gospel courageously, risking their own lives for Paul’s ministry.  Together, Priscilla and Aquila taught and encouraged Apollos who was already a passionate man of God with a gift for preaching and teaching. As spiritual parents to Apollos, they, along with the encouragement of other believers, launched Apollos’s pastoral ministry in Achaia (Acts 18:24-26).

PHOEBE THE DEACONESS AND LEADER OF THE CHURCH AT CENCHREAE

Romans 16:1-2 – I commend to you our sister Phoebe (Phebe), who is a deacon (diákonos) in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been especially helpful (prostatis) to many, and especially to me.

As the first recorded deacon in the history of Christianity and someone who was given the titles “deacon” and “prostatis”, Phoebe was a notable woman within her church. Many scholars believe the church met in her home, she was Paul’s courier for the Book of Romans and a wealthy financier for Paul and others (McKnight, Scot).

The Importance of a Courier: The role of courier was not usually given to women because the roads used to deliver letters were dangerous and full of bandits. Paul must have trusted Phoebe greatly to give her such a responsibility.  As a courier, coworker and emissary of Paul’s ministry, Phoebe likely would have read the Book of Romans aloud to congregations as a normal duty of a courier for that time period.

It’s All Greek to Me: Paul used the masculine Greek work diákonos (meaning “minister” or “servant” depending on the English translation) to describe the ministries of Phoebe, Paul, Stephen and Philip (compare Romans 16:1-21 Corinthians 3:52 Corinthians 3:6,6:411:23Ephesians 3:76:21Colossians 1:723251 Timothy 34:6 and the Greek Lexicon). The term “deacon” has various meanings to different denominations today; therefore, when looking at an New Testament character like Phoebe in relation to her role in early church leadership, it is important to understand the original Greek terms and context compared to similar Scripture passages.

The Greek word prostatis means “female guardian”, “protector/protectress”, “patroness” and “caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources” (see “Strong’s Greek: 4368”, Bible Hub). When reviewing the meaning of this word, it may be helpful to review its context through the lens of epigraphical evidence to understand the complete Biblical implications of this statement (McCabe, Elizabeth).

MARY MAGDALENE THE APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLES

Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47, 16:9; Luke 23:49, 55; John 19:25; John 20:1, 11, 16, 18; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1-5

St. Thomas Aquinas famously said, “Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words of life.” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Mary of Magdala (The Magdalene) is famously known as the severely afflicted and demon possessed woman that Jesus miraculously healed. After He removed the demons, she became a devoted disciple, traveled with Him and the Twelve, and she became one of Jesus’s closest friends.

Mary is well known for her devotion to Jesus. The depth of her commitment to Him is best exemplified through her presence during His crucifixion and burial. Unlike most of the other disciples who fled or denied their association with Jesus during crucifixion for fear of being arrested or killed, she never abandoned or denied Him.

True to Jesus’s cultural taboo-crushing nature, He bestowed the high honor of heralding His resurrection to a woman — Mary Magdalene — earning her the title “Apostle to the Apostles” in early church history (Biblical Archaeology Society). This may not seem like an extraordinary event to us in our modern times; but in those days, a woman’s word was often discredited.  Women were typically not well-educated; and it was not considered socially appropriate for women to learn or debate spiritual truth with men.

According to scholars and based on Luke’s references to the women in his Gospel account, Mary was also likely present with the Twelve and the other female disciples in the upper room as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit’s pouring upon all flesh (Elliot, Paul).

MARY OF BETHANY SITS AT A PLACE OF HONOR

Luke 8:35, Luke 10:38-32; John 11:1-44; John 12:1-8

Jesus exalted women as worthy friends and disciples in a society that considered such behavior inappropriate. Like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany was one of Jesus’s closest friends, a disciple, a financial supporter of Jesus’s ministry and present at Jesus’s crucifixion and tomb.  She is famously known as the sister of Martha and Lazarus and the woman who anointed Jesus with extravagant nard perfume.

Jesus exalted women as worthy disciples and broke several cultural norms when He and the Twelve went to Martha’s home for fellowship and discipleship. The act of visiting the house of a woman was not considered culturally appropriate. In addition, although Martha was fulfilling the female cultural expectation of preparing dinner for a guest’s visit, Jesus commended Mary for sitting at His feet to learn.

To Sit at the Feet of a Rabbi: The idiom to “sit at someone’s feet” is used to describe a student being formally trained as a disciple by a respected rabbi. This story illustrates Jesus’s respect for Mary because He gave her permission to sit at His feet. Women were considered to be a lower class of citizen than men and her primary role was to work in the home. As a student, Mary would have likely been actively engaged in learning and asking questions along with the male disciples (Attenberry, Shawna).

MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS

Luke 1-8; John 2:5; Acts 1:13

Mary is one of the most intriguing women in the Bible because we know so much about her.  In fact, we know more about her than any other disciple. Her name mean’s “wise woman”, and the Biblical accounts of her certainly appear to justify her name.  Through the New Testament, we are taught her life story.  God chose and entrusted Mary to bring salvation to the world. She was familiar with the Scripture and had prophetic gifting for what it meant. We are also told Mary was at Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection; and she was present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. She is sometimes referred to as Jesus’s first disciple. Through the development of Christian traditions over the centuries, she is regarded as a saint and an intercessor within the Catholic Church.  (Women in the Bible).

TABITHA THE RESURRECTED DISCIPLE

Acts 9:36 – There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (original Greek: Dorcus, meaning “gazelle”). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor. About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room. But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”

Tabitha is one of only two people recorded in the Book of Acts as being resurrected. She is the only woman in the New Testament identified with the female version of the word “disciple” (mathetria).

PROPHETESS ANNA

Luke 2:36-38 – Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Anna, the only named prophetess of the New Testament, was present at the Temple for the purification ceremony for the baby Jesus. Anna recognized Jesus and prophesied about His significance to everyone who was “waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem” (v. 38).

LYDIA FROM THYATIRA

Acts 16:13-15 – On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart and she accepted what Paul was saying. She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged until we agreed.

Paul met Lydia, a merchant of expensive indigo cloth, from Thyatira (modern day Turkey) on his second missionary journey through Philippi. She holds the distinction as the first person to convert to Christianity in Europe.

An Indication of Her Wealth: The Scripture specifically states that she bought and sold expensive materials which would mean she had the money necessary to purchase expensive wares.

An Indication She was the Sole/Primary Leader of Her Household: She is never mentioned as being married, but she has a household is responsible for making decisions on their behalf. She decided to follow Christ and had her family baptized along with her. She invited Paul and others into her home.

EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE CHURCH LEADERS IN PHILIPPI

Philippians 4:2-3 – Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner (“companion” or “yokefellow”), to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers (sunergoi), whose names are written in the Book of Life.

Paul’s public letter to Euodia (her name means “prosperous journey” or “fragrant”) and Syntyche (her name means “fortunate”) serves as reminder to the Church about how to resolve disagreements and build unity within the body of Christ. Some scholars believe these two women were deacons or held some other significant leadership role in their church. They are mainly remembered for their dispute; however, Paul’s interest in their quarrel speaks to their role in the church’s leadership according to antiquity scholars (New Life).

Early church bishop John Chrysostom, who was in no way a champion of women, made this statement about Euodia and Syntyche: “These women seem to me to be the chief of the Church which was there, and he commendeth them to some notable man whom he calls his ‘yokefellow,’ to whom perchance he was wont to commend them, as to a fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier, and brother, and companion, as he doth in the Epistle to the Romans, when he saith, ‘I commend unto you Phebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church that is at Cenchrea.’ (Romans 16:1)” You can read Bishop Chrysostom’s homilies at Bible Hub.

THE “OTHER” FEMALE DISCIPLES OF JESUS

Matthew 12:48-50; 20:20-28; 27:56; Mark 10:35-40 15:40-41; 16:1-2; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then He pointed to His disciples and said, “look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

Jesus referred to His disciples as his mother, brother and sister. Jesus chose twelve men as disciples, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Scripture also references an unspecified number of women who followed Jesus as disciples in addition to Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Martha who were close friends of Jesus. The other named female disciples are Susanna, Joanna, Mary Salome, and Mary of Clopas known as “the other Mary.” Some scholars also include the “sinful woman”, the “bleeding woman” who traveled 30 miles to receive healing and the mother of the demon possessed child; however, the Bible does not directly call them disciples or specifically talk about them following His ministry. Many of the women became Jesus’s followers after they were healed from demons and infirmities. Some of these women were wealthy and supported Jesus’s ministry financially out of their own private means and were frequent traveling companions (Bible Gateway).

JUNIA THE APOSTLE

Romans 16:7 – Greet Andronicus and Junia (Iounian), my fellow Jews (“compatriots”, “kinsmen” or “relatives”) who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles (episemoi en tois apostolis meaning “regarded as apostles” or “outstanding among the apostles”) and became followers of Christ before I did.

Bishop John Chrysostom (345-407 A.D.) famously stated this about Junia: “To be an apostle is something great! But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”

Junia/Junias Lost in Translation: Some translations of Scripture call Junia (Julia) the uncommon masculine name “Junias.” As a result, the enigmatic Junia is fiercely debated among modern theologians because if she was indeed a she, it would mean a woman was directly acknowledged by Paul as an apostle. The oldest ancient manuscripts use the common feminine name “Junia” while newer manuscripts (the masculine form of Iounian first appeared during the Medieval period) use the less common “Junias.” In fact, there are no known ancient manuscripts or literature that mention the name “Junias” in Latin or Greek (Preato, Dennis).

NYMPHA OF LAODICEA

Colossians 4:15 – Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha (Nymphas) and the church that meets in her house.

Nympha led the church in Laodicea that met in her house. The passage indicates Nympha was likely a female pastor of a church that met at her home. Like Junia, the gender of Nympha is greatly debated and was altered to a masculine name and pronoun in the Middle Ages. This was likely not done intentionally to purposefully corrupt the Scripture, but instead was corrected because it was thought to be a mistake. By the Middle Ages (several hundreds of years after Christ walked the earth), the traditions of men leading the church had become well established, and it was assumed women were not allowed in church leadership roles (New Life).

Was Nympha accidentally written into the original Greek as a woman, therefore, justifying the correction by the scribes in the Middle Ages centuries later? At this point, the gender identities of Junia and Nympha are impossible to know with all certainty and will likely be debated by theologians until Christ returns, yet another reason why we as Christian brothers and sisters should be careful not judge each other’s opposing convictions.

TRYPHENA, TRYPHOSA, PERSIS, MARY, JULIA, NEREUS’S SISTER, AND PHILIP’S PROPHESYING DAUGHTERS

Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:13a, 14; 2:17-18; Romans 16:6, 12, 15

Philip the Evangelist had four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s will and truth (Acts 21:7-9). They have been added to this list of influencial women because God appeared to use these women to fulfill the prophecies in Joel and Acts of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon men and women after the resurrection of the Messiah.

Some scholars think Typhena and Tryphosa (Greek pagan names meaning “delicate” or “dainty”) were likely twin sisters or close relatives who were likely missionaries or deaconesses. Paul asks the congregation in Rome to greet them as two of many friends or co-laborers in the Lord. Bible Gateway has an interesting commentary about their names and their prominence and influence in the early church.

Persis, Julia and Nereus’s sister are also listed as women “who worked hard in the Lord” or supported home churches. I have included these women on this list because, when compared to early church history outside of the Scriptures, it seems evident these ladies, along with others mentioned on this list, were the first of many women who led or co-led home churches or at the very least were prominent figures within their churches.

SAMARITAN WOMAN FROM SYCHAR

John 4:1-30

It would be easy to pass over the story of the Samaritan woman at the well who speaks with Jesus. For those of us in the West, our society see the verbal exchange between the woman and Jesus as trivial because we don’t tend to see how violating the woman’s behavior would have been of social norms of that day. I find it intriguing that she was at the well by herself as it was uncommon for woman to go out in public alone. Also, she openly held a discussion with a controversial Jewish rabbi named Jesus. After her encounter with Jesus, she shared her testimony with her community. Women in the Bible has a great article on the Samaritan woman.

 

INFLUENTIAL WOMEN OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

DEBORAH A “MOTHER OF ISRAEL”, JUDGE AND PROPHETESS

Judges 4:4-5 – Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.

Judges 5:7, 31 – (v. 7) There were few people left in the villages of Israel — until Deborah arose as a mother for Israel. (v. 31) “Lord, may all your enemies die like Sisera! But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!” Then there was peace in the land for forty years.

Deborah, who was considered a major judge in the Old Testament, acted as a commander-in-chief for ancient Israel. In addition to her powerful leadership role over the ancient nation, she was a gifted prophet. She prophesied the ruthless and oppressive Canaanite King Jabin would fall at the hands of the Israelites. When her commander, Barak, failed to have faith in God’s provision, Deborah foretold King Jabin’s armies would fall at the hands of a woman instead of him. In his fear and disbelief, Barak refused to go into battle without Deborah. As a result, she went with him and oversaw the battles against King Jabin’s commander Sisera and his armies, and led the Israelites into forty years of peace.

What’s a Judge: Judges were used by God to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of foreign oppressors. Judges served as reminders of God’s promise of mercy and grace to deliver and restore Israel from their enemies.

JAEL THE BRAVE

Judges 4:9 – “Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.”

Judges 4:21 – But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.

Jael bravely used her husband’s friendship with King Jabin’s family to lure his commander Sisera into her tent to rest.  As he slept, she drove a tent peg through the commander’s skull. As Deborah had prophesied, Jael, a woman, is credited with delivering Israel’s victory over King Jabin’s armies.

ESTHER THE HEROINE OF THE JEWS IN PERSIA

Esther 1-8

After King Xerxes (Hebrew name: “Ahasuerus”) of Persia banished Queen Vashti for disobeying him, he gathered beautiful women from his kingdom in search of the “most beautiful woman.” He formed a haram from his selections and eventually chose Esther to be his new bride.

Some theologians don’t consider Esther a leader because Xerxes held the position of authority; however, God placed her in a strategic position of influence, and she interceded on the behalf of Israel and saved them from certain genocide. Plus, she gets extra bravery points in my mind because she spoke to King Xerxes without being summoned which was a crime punishable by death (Womeninthebible.net: Clever Queen, Foolish King).

MIRIAM THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETESS AND LEADER

Exodus 15:20 – Then Miriam the Prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced.

Micah 6:4 – For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to help you.

Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron. She bravely saved Moses by sending him down the Nile in a basket to spare his life from certain slaughter. She was also considered a prophetess, worship leader and considered part of the core leadership tetrad that led Israel out of Egypt. She was specifically acknowledged for leading the Hebrew women from Egypt (Women in the Bible, “Mariam: Her Story”).

HULDAH THE EXCEPTIONAL PROPHETESS

2 Kings 22:8 – Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the court secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” Then Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it.

2 Kings 22:14 – She [Huldah] said to them, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken! Go back and tell the man who sent you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true.'”

After the Book of the Law (Torah) was found during the restoration of the Temple, Huldah interpreted and confirmed the Book of the Law’s (Torah) authenticity. She must have had an exceptional reputation for her gift as a prophet since she was consulted instead of the famous Prophet Jeremiah.

Huldah’s prophetic words of impending judgment over Israel’s evil and unrepentant acts and the discovery of the Torah assisted King Josiah with leading the nation into revival.

THE SHUNAMMITE WOMAN

1 Kings 1:3; 2 Kings 4:8-37; 1 Samuel 25:2; 2 Samuel 19:33

Although the Shunammite woman’s name is shrouded in mystery, the Scriptures refer to her as someone in her community who was of high rank and wealth within her community. She is known for her hospitality and care for God’s people who were travelers through the Jazreel plain. There is lots more about the Great Woman of Shunem at Bible Gateway.

RESOURCES:

Heart Matters and the Idolatry of Religion

Here’s a provocative statement that may offend some fellow believers: love and our relationships with God and other people are more important than obeying rules and laws. If this statement is true, howBible then do we reconcile Jesus’s statement, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15)? First, we must love, then we can demonstrate that love through obeying His laws.

The Shema (Jewish prayer) from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 emphasizes love/faith over law through this statement, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” The Shema is a filter to be applied to the laws that follow it. Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain in his article Why is the Shema so significant? explains this sentiment beautifully: “The Shema stands out as a cry of belief, something that cannot be simply carried out or avoided but has to be personally taken to heart.”

Religion without Relationship is Idolatry

If idolatry is the act of worshipping something other than God, than it seems fair to state religion without a personal relationship/love of God is essentially idolatry (Colossians 2:23, Acts 17:22). James A. Fowler in his article God Hates Religion puts it this way, “The English word “religion” is etymologically derived from the Latin word religo, meaning to ‘bind up.’ Religion binds people up in rules and regulations or in ritualistic patterns of devotion.” The religious spirit controls its followers through fear and guilt by demanding perfection through works to better one’s stance with God and man (Matthew 6:1-8, Philippians 2:3, and 2 Corinthians 12:7, and 1 John 4:18). In this scenario, God is viewed as a demanding boss; and His followers are underperforming employees with whom He’s frequently angry and dissatisfied.

A sacrifice given out of pride or apathy is another religious idol. It is performed out of self-exalting piety, without thought or thankfulness to God. Prideful giving is often haughty and flaunts how well one is able to meet such requirements compared to others. However, it’s the not quantity of what we give or the awe of others that makes us right with God but the quality of our motivations and the thankfulness of our hearts for all that God has given us. Isaiah 1:10-15 and Amos 5:21-24 illustrate this idea through God’s repeated rejection of “meaningless offerings.”

Cain’s Offering – An Example of Religion, Wrong Motives and Why it Matters

In Genesis 4, we see religion and love’s stark contrast. Abel was a shepherd who offered God the best of his flock which God accepted. Cain was a farmer who offered God some of his crops, but his offering was not accepted. Why? The words “best” and “some” provide clues. Abel gave God his best; Cain only gave God some of his crops, indicating he kept the best for himself. When Cain was angered by his offering’s rejection, God told him that he must first “do what is right.” Instead, jealousy over his brother’s offering lead him to kill Abel. Cain’s jealous was birthed from wrong motivations, giving from an ungrateful heart, instead of thanks. Even if Cain had given the best of his crops to God, the offering would have still been rejected due to the state of his heart.

Other Scriptures Confirming the Importance of Love/Heart over Law

  • Desiring mercy not sacrifice – “But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.’ Then he added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-14).
  • Food restrictions – In Romans 14, Paul instructed early church believers not to judge each other over what food should or shouldn’t be eaten. Christians in the early church were Messianic Jews (Jewish converts to Christianity) and gentiles. Jewish laws prohibited the Jewish people from eating certain foods; gentiles were not required to follow the same laws. Therefore, some believers felt convicted to not eat certain foods while others did not. Interestingly, the Bible says a believer who feels convicted that he should not eat the food in question but does it anyway has sinned; the person who did not feel the same conviction did not sin by eating the same food.
  • Giving, prayer and fasting with the wrong motives – “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.” (Matthew 6:5-7).
  • Condition of the heart when approaching God with prayer – Before we approach the throne for prayer, God requires that we come to Him with faith and trust that He will do what we ask of Him and that we will pray with the right motives. See Why Won’t God Answer My Prayers? for a deeper study of this topic.
  • The wicked hearts of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah – these towns were destroyed for their willful disregard for others who were suffering and their depth of depravity (Ezekiel 16:49, Jeremiah 23, and Isaiah 1). See the Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols and Ponderings Series Part 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah for an in-depth study of the people who lived there.
  • Worshipping God with modesty not out of showy materialism (1 Timothy 2:9-10) – See Relevant Magazine‘s article Yoga Pants and What the Bible Really Says about Modesty about this topic.
  • Measuring gluttony  How much of something is too much? Who determines the measurement? Could it be the answer lies in the conviction of the heart about what is just enough and what is too much? (Proverbs 23:20-21)

Jesus is Our Perfection

Doesn’t God demand perfection from us? Yes, He does, and we should do the best we can to live righteously because we love the God who gave His Son for us (Matthew 5:20, Matthew 5:48). However, it’s important to remember, our measuring stick is not how well we’re able to keep the laws because we all have fallen short of the glory of God (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23). Perfection is something we can never attain. Instead of focusing on our lack of perfection, we should fix our eyes on Jesus’s grace (Galatians 2:20). His blood sufficiently covers what we’ll never attain on our own (Romans 3:21-24, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

A Christian Response to Social Issues

I am humbly reminded each day when I read the news and interact with my fellow man that the highest calling in my life is to love God and love people. Sometimes, neither call is obvious or easy. I confess, when I read the headlines day after day, I’m perplexed and torn about how to obey God and yet not cause my friends, family and neighbors that don’t share my views such division that it keeps them from exploring a relationship with the Father. hands-compassionWhat do we do? Do we bend and cave on our convictions? Do we sit back and watch? Do we become outspoken activists?

 

The issues and injustices I am confronted with may force me to respond. We don’t always have the luxury to be a passive observer. However, the basis for the response should always be the same — I am compelled to love above all else. Love is my only option. I must consider all aspects of the debate. I must weigh the outcomes of my actions and the actions of my brothers and sisters in response to an issue or injustice. I must consider whether or not such an action will close doors for people to hear the Gospel. I must always remember the difference between the message of primary importance (God’s love and compassion and the power of the Gospel) versus lesser, but still important social issues of the day. I must look for common ground with those who stand on the opposite side of the dividing issue. In the end, although we differ in our methods, most people want the same things ultimately — to be loved and accepted for who they are and for someone to understand even a fraction of the mile trod in their shoes.

 

The world often doesn’t look the way I want it to look. I should not be surprised or upset or allow myself to appear arrogant or finger wagging. We should carefully pick our battles, always in love and without agenda except to further the message of the love and hope in our Lord. What we say and do affects people. Our tongues, as provocative and powerful weapons, have power to divide nations. Will we wield it for good?