Tag Archives: Bible Study

Why Did the Women Disciple the Men?

Back when it was “a different time” – in this case, just 1992 – the pastor warmed up our mens’ Bible study with, “Why did the woman cross the road…What’s she doing out of the kitchen in the first place?” Before the chuckling died down, he continued his opening act: “How do you fix a broken dishwasher…Kick her in the butt.” 

Twenty-five years later, my oldest of three daughters says, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a boy.” She’s helping me set up the Communion table for worship in an hour, because the advantage of being a pastor with three daughters is every Sunday is “take your daughter to work day.” 

“Why?” I ask, unprepared for this conversation when my brain is tangled with mic cables and my upcoming sermon. 

“So I can be a pastor like you,” she says, pouring Welch’s grape juice into a chalice.

I wince. “Who says you can’t be a pastor when you grow up?” Answer her question with a question. Make her think about it, I tell myself.

“Because aren’t all the preachers in the Bible men?” she says.

It’s the season of Advent, so we talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus. About how she’s the first disciple, because she was the first to lay down her life for Jesus. And how before she delivered the baby, she delivered the first sermon in the New Testament:

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

      and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

    and he has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:46-49)

We don’t often look to Mary as disciple or preacher. We take our cues from Moses, David, Peter, Paul; we only look at Mary once a year at Christmas, and even then to reduce her and her womb to a utilitarian role. 

Opening Scripture, my daughters find a world where prophets and leaders from the home to the throne were determined by bloodline, gender, and birth-order (a.k.a. the firstborn male of the right tribe). All because of the dreaded word, patriarchy: when women were property of their fathers and dowry-ed off to be the property of their husbands, their children and legal rights belonged to him. He could divorce her with a word, so she kept her head covered and mouth shut. 

But – in those same Scriptures, my daughters read stories of women encountering God and leading God’s people. Like Hagar, the slave woman whose womb was also reduced to a utilitarian role. She is the only person in the Old Testament to directly give God a name, and she names him, “The God Who Sees Me.”

Or Deborah. When Israel was under oppression because of their corruption and dysfunction, they cried out to God for help. God gave them a woman. Before they had kings, Israel was led by judges known for either their legal or military leadership. Deborah was a prophet who happened to be a judge, and she had both – so much so that when Barak, the leader of the Israelite militia, was sent into battle, he said, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”

And Ruth, who is described by the Hebrew word meaning “warrior.” Oh, and she was an illegal immigrant who saved Bethlehem with integrity and courage. Or Esther, who did the unthinkable and went public before the king, saving her people not with looks, but devotion to God. 

How about Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin and the first human to prophecy the coming of Jesus while her husband doubted, and so an angel shut him up. Or the five-time divorced Samaritan Woman, who encountered Jesus at the well. She went back to testify and lead others to him, and a lot of folks in her village were saved. 

And my favorite, Mary and the other Mary. Just as two women were the first to preach about Jesus’ birth, these two women were the first to preach about his resurrection. They went to the tomb while the men were scattered. 

Daughter, look at these women who, like Moses, David, Peter, and Paul, are used by God to preach the good news and disciple your dad. And not just in the Bible.

My grandmother, who when I asked why some of the words in the Bible were in red, took that Bible and told me who Jesus was; Cindy, the pastor who led my confirmation class; Jeanine, a mother who called me out on some sin my freshman year of college and set some boundaries; Peg, who led me through inner healing and warned me numerous times of hang-ups in my life; Jo Anne, who’s preaching challenged me to not compromise the call on my life; Miriam, who’s preaching taught me what holiness really is and how to pursue it; Amanda, my co-pastor in college ministry who called out my weak points in ministry and stood up to fraternity boys dehumanizing women. 

Most importantly, there’s Jennifer, my wife and our kids’ mother. She’s in the garage using her tools and air compressor to repair a car engine or refinish furniture while I’m cooking dinner or cleaning the toilet. But she also leads our house, makes the rules, and assigns the tasks. We both do, and so in our mutuality I can be led and submit to her because we submit to each other.

Daughter, someday you can preach and disciple me too.. You already are.

So I stand my daughter in the pulpit, where she is pretending to preach like her dad, and tell her about Peter’s sermon on Pentecost when he drops the words of the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…’” (Acts 2:17)

Did you catch that, daughter? 

Prophets are the preachers who declare, “This is what the Lord says.” And now the prophets are your sons and daughters, no longer determined by bloodline, gender, and birth-order. There is only one manner of leadership in the church, and it isn’t gender or even credentials. The qualifications are to be called by God, anointed by Jesus, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit

This is no joke, but the story of good news for women. And as Dr. Sandy Richter, the woman pastor-professor who taught me reminds us: we need to tell that story, and tell it well. 

Featured image courtesy Joshua Hanson via Unsplash.

Edgar Bazan ~ Blessed in Any Season: God’s Sustaining Word

Life can be a battle, can’t it? No one is exempt from seasons of battle. No matter how much or little faith you have, everyone faces disappointments and challenges. These can cause you to wonder if this is what it looks like to be blessed. We may have disarray in our families or be treated unfairly in our jobs. You may be misjudged by others or let down by the people you trusted most. In all of this, one thing I believe we all can agree on is that we live in a very unstable world.

Is there a place to turn for stability, where you can look toward your future with hope? Perhaps you are asking this question, looking to be comforted in your battles and unstable times. Perhaps you see the fragility of your situation and the world around you, and you are looking for a place of refuge in which to find hope, peace, and happiness.

I am certain that you will find such hope, peace, and happiness – if you look for them in God. And not just that, I also believe that God wants to bless and prosper you.

Are you looking for stability? For blessings and prosperity? If so, this message is for you this morning. I know it is for me.

The Scripture for today is Psalms 1:1-3:

Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the [Word] of the Lord, and on his Word they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

Every time I read Psalm 1, I am reminded that it is possible to live a blessed and happy life in spite of the troubles I face in this life.

The image used in this text to speak about this blessedness is: “they are like a tree planted by a stream of water, which yield their fruit in season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”

This is the kind of life that I want for me and my children: fruitful and prosperous.

Now, it is important to know that this sort of blessedness or happiness is not contingent upon our circumstances. It can’t be manufactured or purchased, and it does not happen overnight. Instead, the Scripture states simply and clearly, “blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, they meditate day and night.”

According to this text, to be blessed is not about getting everything we want but to be rightly related to God so that our lives are fulfilled, and we experience deep personal satisfaction.

Interestingly, this blessedness begins with the negative, not the positive.

Blessedness, the Psalmist says, results from not following the advice of the wicked, from not taking the path that sinners take, and from not sitting in the seat of scoffers. By all measures, these are those who afflict the vulnerable, accuse the innocent, undermine the trust of the faithful, don’t listen for God, and threaten the good of the community. In other words, as there are ways of living, attitudes, and behaviors that tend towards wellness, kindness, compassion, and righteousness, there are also others that tend toward oppression, injustice, abuse, and wickedness. The latter are the ones we are being warned against.

What this means is that blessings come not only from what we do but also from what we don’t do. Blessed people avoid certain behaviors, situations, and unhealthy relationships. To be blessed is not only about having more of the “good” but also having less of the “bad” or “unhealthy” in our lives.

When we pray for blessings, it ought to sound something like this: “God, remove anything that stands between you and me, and then do as you please with my life. Give me the wisdom to do what is right, and wisdom to stop doing what is wrong.”

As we can see, blessings come to us as a side benefit of the choices we make as we follow the counsel of God. Thus, it says, “delight in the word of God,” which implies that we know the word and do the word, and “you will be prospered.” This promise of blessedness comes from building our lives on the Word of God, from delighting in its teachings and wisdom.

This is an interesting word – “delight.” What does it mean to “delight” in the Word of God? Think about it this way: to delight is to be so excited about something that you just can’t wait for it.

For example, watch a young couple in love and you will know what “delight” means. Or take a young man who has fallen in love for the first time. Ask his friends, and they’ll say, “he is not the same guy he used to be.” They mean he has radically changed. He doesn’t want to hang around with them anymore. All he does is talk about “that girl.” “Just look at him. He’s got this goofy grin on his face.” He’s in love.

Now, apply that same principle to the Word of God. We are to delight in God’s Word as a lover delights in a letter from his or her beloved. We are to delight with such a passion and expectation in God’s Word that every decision we make is faithful to our relationship with God, meaning that we don’t cheat God in the way we live. This is how God’s blessings come our way.

The last point I want to make is in relation to the image of, “trees planted by streams of waters which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.”

The Psalmist says that a person who builds his or her life on the Word of God is like a tree planted by streams of water, which basically means that their lives are deeply rooted and healthy. Their lives are nourished, marked by lasting stability and fruitfulness.

This is an amazing statement. It basically says that when we live our lives faithfully committed to God, we will never lack vitality and fruit.

Furthermore, look at the image of a tree that never withers. It means that even in the toughest seasons (the winters in life), even when there seems to be no evidence of fruit, the tree is fully alive and growing. The roots are so strong and well-fed, that, at the right time, it will produce the fruit of the season.

Here is the key: for a tree to produce fruit, it requires time and processes. So it is in our lives too. It takes time for us to learn, experience, reflect, and even believe everything that God wants to give us and do in us and for us. Even in the toughest times, we are not withered; we are regenerating, growing, renewing, and getting ready for the next fruit-producing season.

For us, this means that with every season that comes and goes, if we are rooted in the Word of God, we will grow, mature, and be blessed. If we need love, from the Word of God will come the strength to produce the fruit of love. If we need a forgiving spirit, from the Word of God will come the strength to forgive. If we need courage, we will produce the fruit of courage. If we need patience and perseverance, the Word of God will produce it in us.

This is the kind of prosperity Psalms 1 refers to when the Psalmist says, “In all that they do, they prosper.”

They prosper in the sense that no matter what season they may find themselves in, as long as their roots keep feeding on the source of life (the Word of God), they will have strength for the day. They will have hope in the midst of the hardest seasons and difficulties—even in the most unstable and shaking times.

This thought is similar to what Paul explains in Romans 8:37-39 when he says,

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In this world, we may face sorrow, abandonment, failure, disappointment, sickness, rejection, and discouragement.

Even then, we are not defeated.

But we will be prospered because we have kept the Word in our hearts. And when the time comes, we will flourish and overcome, and our fruit will burst out, for it has been said that, “the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:20)

The happiest, the blessed people in the world are those whose lives are built on the Word of God.

What are you living for? Who are you living for? Where are you planted?

Suzanne Nicholson ~ Checking Your Blind Spots: Preaching in the Gaps

I recently started the long overdue chore of cleaning my home office, including organizing old sermon files. As I sifted through these folders, I discovered certain patterns in my preaching. Despite writing my Ph.D. dissertation on Paul, I much prefer preaching from the Gospels. I discovered that I visit Matthew and Luke far more frequently than Mark or John. I surprised myself by the number of times I had preached from Isaiah and the Psalms, with fewer than expected sermons coming from the Old Testament narratives.

Preachers do tend to have favorite passages and topics for preaching and teaching. If you don’t preach from the Revised Common Lectionary each week, it can be easy to fall into predictable patterns that limit your congregation’s exposure to the full range of God’s Word. We all have blind spots, and it’s worth asking where we might be missing the opportunity to address a pressing need. Not only do we have personal blind spots, but we often have cultural blind spots as well. I’ve compiled a list below of sermon topics that churches sorely need to hear today. (Admittedly, these come from an American cultural context; those in other cultures may have vastly different needs.) Perhaps you’ve preached on these recently; if not, I encourage you to consider their merit:

  • Wealth: American consumer culture constantly tells people they aren’t good enough until they have the fastest car, the most stylish clothes, or the latest cell phone. From toothpaste to hair gel to laundry detergent, Americans are told they need more and better products. But Scripture regularly critiques the love of money and the misuse of wealth. Luke, in both his gospel and Acts, is particularly well-known for critiquing wealth. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31), for example, is only found in Luke’s gospel, and it offers a stinging rebuke of the self-centered rich man who even in death thinks that the impoverished Lazarus should do his bidding (“…send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue”). American Christians, especially, need to be reminded regularly that our priorities must be focused on a life of other-centered service, not self-centered gain.
  • Suffering/ the way of the cross: This closely related topic reminds disciples that the path of Christ was the way of suffering (e.g., Mk. 8:34-38). The Gospel message is offensive to many, and we should be realistic about the hardships involved in proclaiming God’s truth. In prosperous countries like the U.S., where creature comforts are advertised non-stop, it can be difficult to develop a willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ.
  • Conflict management/ speaking the truth in love: Very few people are good at conflict management. It’s easier to gossip about someone who wronged you (especially online!) than to have a conversation with that person to try to repair a broken relationship. But Matt. 18:15-17 prescribes a pattern for approaching others to right a wrong. It’s one thing to preach on the topic, but how many of us actually practice this?
  • Forgiveness: The road to reconciliation must involve forgiveness. But this can be a tricky concept. On the one hand, we are called to forgive repeatedly: 70 times seven in Matt 18:21-22. But that passage follows the teaching about confronting someone who has sinned against you. Forgiveness does not mean allowing yourself to be a doormat for someone to repeatedly abuse you. Our congregations need to hear sermons about repentance, forgiveness, and healthy boundaries.
  • Domestic violence: Statistics suggest that 1 in 3 women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking from an intimate partner during their lifetime.[1] This means that many couples in your church are dealing with this issue. Abusers sometimes twist Scripture to coerce their victims to forgive the violence and “bear the cross of Christ.” Pastors would do well to instruct the men in their congregations that a husband is called to love his wife as he loves himself, just as Christ laid down his life for the church (see Eph. 5:25-33; note that “submit to one another” in v. 21 is the theme for the entire section).
  • Theology of human sexuality: Although lately many memes, articles, and comments have been posted on social media regarding the debate over sexuality and gender identity, perhaps the reason some denominations are having such strenuous debate is because so few churches teach about healthy sexuality. God forbid that the only teachings about sex our church members receive are the lurid and deviant portrayals in modern media! Gen. 2:15-25, Song of Songs, 1 Cor. 7, and Eph. 5:21-33 provide good starting points for discussion.
  • Spiritual disciplines: In his sermon on “Means of Grace,” John Wesley described reading the Bible, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper as key ways in which we receive the grace of God and become more fully formed in our faith. Consider the ways in which your church encourages these behaviors, both in public and in private. Is prayer a routine box to be checked on the Sunday liturgy list? Or does it provide an invitation to develop a deeper relationship with Christ?
  • Sabbath keeping: I confess I struggle with practicing what I preach in this area. Although Jesus corrected an overly rigid observance of the Sabbath when he declared that “Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27), he never said not to observe the Sabbath. Rather, he allowed compassionate care of others (see also Matt. 12:1-14 and Lk. 13:10-17). Nonetheless, the design of observing a holy day once a week derives from the creation narrative (Gen. 2:2-3). God modeled rest for a creation that needs rest. We should not feel guilty when we say “no” to working non-stop.   
  • Holiness: God’s salvation from sin is a salvation to holiness. We are called to imitate Christ in every area of our lives (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:1, Rom. 6:1-14, Rom. 8:29). For Wesleyans, sanctifying grace is a key component of relationship with Christ. We have the hope of transformation because the Holy Spirit lives in us. If the Spirit lives in us, then our actions must look different from the world (Gal 5:13-26). 
  • Racial reconciliation: Jesus made it very clear that ethnocentric marginalization of minorities does not belong in the kingdom of God. When he preached the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37), his choice of a Samaritan as the hero of the story demonstrated to Jews that your neighbor is anyone who is in need – or anyone who offers assistance – regardless of racial or cultural differences. After all, eternity with God will celebrate believers from all nations (Rev. 7:9-10). Let’s prepare for eternity by worshiping with each other now!
  • Gender equality: In so many ways, Jesus gave women status in a world that did not recognize women’s worth. He allowed Mary to sit at his feet and learn (Lk. 10:38-42), he allowed women to travel with him (Lk. 8:1-3), and women were the first to preach about his resurrection (Lk 24:1-12). Paul had many female co-workers in Christ, and he referred to Phoebe as a deacon (Rom. 16:1-2) and Junia as an apostle (Rom. 16:7). How often have you preached about the faithful women of the Gospel? Which women in your church have you lifted up to positions of leadership?
  • Persecution of churches overseas: As conversation in the public square becomes more vitriolic, sometimes Christians experience increased bullying for their faith. But many churches overseas daily face the prospect of dying for their faith. We should regularly be in prayer for churches in Nigeria, China, Sri Lanka, and other areas of the world who are experiencing trouble (James 5:13-16). American churches should consider how to use their wealth to aid tormented congregations and fellowships. Our brothers and sisters need our help.
  • Lament: Too often Christians feel like they have to have it all together and need to be happy in order to be a good Christian. Unfortunately, much of pop Christian culture reinforces this notion with upbeat songs and sales of Blessed! coffee cups and t-shirts. But even the great King David cried out to God on a regular basis, proclaiming how awful life felt at times (e.g., Psalms 12, 13, 22, 86). God can handle these powerful emotions. And we can’t come to a place of peace unless we deal with the tragedies of this broken world.
  • Preaching through a book of Scripture: Recent surveys suggest that many Christians in the U.S. do not know basic facts about the content of the Bible; for example, only half of American Christians can name the four gospels.[2] Clearly, we need to offer better teaching to our congregations about the scriptural narrative. A sermon series that preaches through a book of the Bible not only helps believers know the content better, but also models the importance of studying Scripture in depth.

What other blind spots would you add to this list? What does your congregation desperately need to hear in order to have a fuller picture of life in Christ as a body of believers?

[1] The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010. https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf

[2] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/14/5-facts-on-how-americans-view-the-bible-and-other-religious-texts/ft_17-04-12_scripture_bible_knowledge1/

Michelle Bauer ~ When You Need the Strength to Stand

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5

So many times we hear this familiar verse as a command – something to be obeyed. But what if we heard it as an invitation?  God, who loves you with all of his heart, soul and strength, is inviting you to love him back. That changes everything!

On some days and in some seasons of our lives, standing is hard. Perhaps you are in one of those seasons now. Maybe you are supporting a friend or family member who is walking through a difficult season. Whatever your circumstances, be encouraged that God stands with you today and always.

God promises to never leave us, to provide refuge and to strengthen us. He also gives us his promise that he knows and cares about us.  Regardless of how it seems sometimes, God is not distant. He is near and working in your life to restore and guide.

May these promises provide the strength you need to stand firm in every season of life.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:1-9

Three times the Lord challenges Joshua to be “strong and courageous.” God is giving Joshua a big job to do! He is tasked with leading “all these people” into hostile territory for a direct confrontation with their enemies.  “I will never leave you nor forsake you” must have given Joshua great comfort. What big job has the Lord given you to do? Ask God today to comfort you with the promise that he will never leave nor forsake you.

“The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Where will you go this week that you will be grateful to have God’s presence with you? What difference will it make to have God with you in that place or situation? When you are discouraged or terrified, how easy is it to make the choice to be strong and courageous? In what situations is it most difficult for you to be strong and courageous? Talk to God about the feelings or questions you may have about this challenge.

 What would it look like for you to be strong and courageous in the most difficult places of your life? Ask God to give you a reminder of his presence with you in those moments. Take a moment now to imagine him with you. What is God communicating to you through his words, posture, or proximity to you?

With God’s promise come a few reminders. We are to be obedient to his Word and careful to follow his instructions. How does his presence offer you the strength that obedience requires?

Is there a time in your life when you felt like God had abandoned you? Talk to God about that experience as honestly as you can. What question would you like to ask God about that time? How has that experience affected your ability to believe God’s promise?

Leave this time trusting that the Lord will never leave you.

Wesleyan Accent ~ Love God with All Your Mind


This weekend we feature a sermon on loving God with all your mind. Enjoy this teaching from guest preacher Sue Sweeney on grace, lectio divina, and neuroplasticity at Catalyst Community Church in Rowlett, Texas.

This sermon begins around minute mark 23:00.




Note: the Featured Image is from WikiMedia and is titled “Pensare.”

Suzanne Nicholson ~ Preach What You Practice: The Importance of Expository Preaching

It has become cliché to tell people to practice what they preach—that is, to live according to their words. But increasingly we may need to think about preaching what we practice.

In most activities we practice, a structure must be followed, even when creativity is involved. For example, the best cooks can add a pinch of this and a teaspoon of that to any recipe in order to add their own creative flair. But certain parts of the recipe simply cannot be changed without destroying the recipe itself. When making chocolate chip cookies, you have to mix all the ingredients before putting dough balls into the oven. If you only mixed chocolate chips, flour, and butter and put the mix in the oven, you would have an awful mess when you cracked the eggs and stirred in the sugar after the dough came out!

Yet how often do preachers jump around from topic to topic or scripture to scripture without seeking to understand the main passage itself? Preachers must take care not to crack the eggs after the dough has come out of the oven.

The power of the Gospel message derives from connecting people with God’s story. This entails explaining what the passage meant in its original setting so that we can better understand how to translate it into today’s culture.

It can be tempting for preachers to focus on quick principles for self-help instead of explaining the ways in which God has been faithful to God’s people throughout the generations.

Here are just a few of the ways that pastors sometimes stray from the power of God’s story when preaching:

1) Reading Scripture only to identify a topic within the passage, then preaching entirely on that topic without interpreting the passage itself. This teaches the congregation that the Word doesn’t really matter—it only serves as an introduction for what the preacher really wants to talk about. We wouldn’t follow this practice in other areas of our lives, but somehow this has become acceptable in sermons. For example, it would be insensitive to ask your friend to tell you all about their recent vacation to Florida, only for you to dominate the conversation by describing your own trip to France. When we engage in conversation with others, we must pay attention to the details of their lives and care about their perspective. The same is true with Scripture. We need to preach what we practice.

2) Skipping from passage to passage to prove a point. When this happens, the message never becomes grounded in the Word itself, but only in the preacher’s external vantage point. Prooftexting is like skipping stones across a pond: you cover a great distance but never really go very deep. In order to make sense of Scripture, a preacher needs to stay focused on the passage and remain faithful to the direction of the text. When we play a sport, for example, we have to follow the rules while making strategic choices. A baseball player might decide to bunt, hit a single to advance the runner, or swing for the fence. (There is creativity in the game, just like in preaching.) But if the player initially ran to third base, then to first and then to second before heading to home plate, no run would be scored – not to mention the fans would be confused and upset. Jumping around from passage to passage entails a similar chaos. We need to preach what we practice.

3) Ignoring how the passage fits with the surrounding material. A single story about Jesus can be compelling and profound, but it is only one part of the larger story. If you’ve ever put together a 500-piece puzzle, for example, you might find that a single piece can contain a clear image. But we’re not supposed to be content with one piece of the puzzle. The image becomes all the more poignant and understandable when fit together with the surrounding pieces. The same is true with the Bible: characters and themes develop throughout each book, and the overall story develops from Genesis to Revelation. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, the angel’s pronouncement in the first chapter that the child born to Mary will be called Emmanuel—“God with us”—comes full circle at the end of the book. There the risen Christ promises the disciples, “I am with you always.” Matthew emphatically declares that the promises of God prophesied long ago have finally come true in Jesus. But we only recognize this key theme when we explore how the individual passage connects to Matthew’s overall story. If we don’t think a 500-piece puzzle is complete with just a few pieces, then why do we do this with Scripture? We need to preach what we practice.

4) Jumping straight to application. This often results in a highly individualistic interpretation, because the constraints of the passage never come into view. Preachers of health-and-wealth gospels make this error when they twist passages about God’s spiritual blessings into specific promises about financial wealth. It is important for preachers to investigate the author’s purpose and historical context in order to make appropriate application. For example, we would never use a wedding dress for a work outfit on a farm, because the material is simply too pristine and delicate for such a tough job. It wasn’t designed for that purpose. When we ignore the original context of Scripture, we do similar violence to the text. We need to preach what we practice.

5) Missing application. This is the opposite problem of the previous point. Occasionally a pastor spends so much time on the ancient context that church members never hear what this message means for believers today. We wouldn’t go to a job training seminar only to hear a history lesson about the company but not receive any actual training. We need to preach what we practice.

The Word of God is rich and powerful, God’s message of faithfulness and grace that compels believers to draw near to God. In other areas of our lives we practice common sense; we need to make sure we preach in the same way.

Suzanne Nicholson ~ Leaders in the Bible (Who Happened to Be Women)

I recently spoke with a young woman who was thinking about leaving the Christian university she was attending. She was on fire for God and wanted to preach the gospel, but had been told that she couldn’t preach because she was a woman. Although the university where I teach affirms women in all areas of ministry, it’s striking to me how many Christian universities and denominations still maintain a culture of hierarchy. Even though The United Methodist Church has been ordaining women for 60 years (and John Wesley himself licensed Sarah Crosby to preach as far back as 1761), many of the people sitting in our congregations come from different denominations, and some may never have heard a female preacher or seen a woman in a key leadership role. It’s important to help our congregations remember the long history of faithful women who have preached the gospel. For that reason, I offer the following list of just a few of the influential female leaders in biblical literature.

The Daughters of Zelophehad (Num 26:33; 27:1-11; 36:1-12; Josh 17:3-6). Although this story provides one of the more obscure testimonies in Scripture, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah left their mark on the people of Israel. When their father died without a son, the family inheritance was endangered, since women did not have inheritance rights in ancient Hebrew culture. These women boldly appeared before Moses and the leaders of Israel and asked to keep their father’s inheritance. God decreed that “the daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying,” and thus they were responsible for changing inheritance laws in Israel. They saw an injustice and boldly stepped forward to correct it.

Deborah (Judg 4:4-5:31). Both a prophet and a judge — which in this time period meant a charismatic ruler and military leader — Deborah regularly arbitrated disputes among the Israelites. Her role as a leader in Israel is stated as a matter of fact before the story even takes us into the battle that she leads with Barak to defeat the army of the Canaanites. The mighty Barak knows that it will be a difficult battle to face Sisera and his armed chariots, so he refuses to go unless the woman of God comes with him, assuring him that God goes into battle for the Israelites.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42). Jesus’s conversation with this woman is the longest dialogue recorded in the Gospels. She picks a theological fight with Jesus about Samaritan and Jewish understandings of the Messiah, but ultimately she recognizes who Jesus is. She then preaches to her whole village that Messiah has arrived — and they believe.

Rahab (Josh 2:1-24; 6:17-25; Matt 1:5; Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). This crafty, fearless, resourceful woman is willing to betray her own people because she knows that the Israelite God “is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below” (Josh 2:11). She hides the Israelite spies and as a result, saves her family from destruction. Despite her unsavory profession, she is commended on three separate occasions in the NT as a paradigm of faith.

Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2). Paul calls Phoebe a deacon, the same term he uses for himself and others (including Apollos and Epaphras) who preach and teach in the church. She was a wealthy benefactor who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans. As a leader in the church, affirmed by Paul, she had the authority to speak on Paul’s behalf to answer any questions the Romans had in response to his letter.

Priscilla/Prisca (Acts 18:2-3, 18-19, 24-26; Rom 16:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19). She and her husband, Aquila, served churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. The two were tentmakers like Paul, and so they worked together on their trade and in the church. Paul calls them coworkers with him in the gospel. Priscilla likely had a higher status in the church than her husband, since her name is listed first more often than her husband’s. They knew the gospel well — so well, in fact, that when the intelligent and persuasive Apollos came to Corinth with an excellent but limited understanding of the gospel, Priscilla and Aquila “explained the way of God to him more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

Ruth (Ruth; Matt 1:5). This foreigner provides a shining example of God’s loving-kindness. After her Judean husband dies, Ruth leaves her home in Moab and travels back to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, despite the prospects of poverty and insecurity that lay ahead of her. Ruth pledges loyalty to Naomi and her God. She works hard gleaning in the field to provide for herself and Naomi (potentially dangerous work, since she has no male protector), and boldly approaches Boaz with a marriage proposal. He also models integrity and loyalty, addressing the proper customs so that he can redeem this unusual family. Each of the key characters in this story (Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz) place the interests of the other ahead of their own, and thus they model Christ-like faith centuries before their descendant, Jesus, enters the scene.

Since Scripture presents so many shining examples of female leadership, I will continue this list in my next post. Even then, I won’t be able to include all of the stories. The bravery, chutzpah, faithfulness, love, and kindness of these women remind us that leadership in the kingdom of God comes in many forms, if only we have eyes to see.


Reprinted with permission from www.catalystresources.org.


Servant Paul, Not Apostle Paul, in Philippians

I’ve been studying Philippians recently, both because I continue to find myself attracted to the book for my own edification and because I intend to preach through it this summer. When I study like this I like to go segment-by-segment, studying each line in detail, in the original languages, and in the context of the larger segment and the whole of the book. It’s part my Inductive Bible Study training and part just that I’m a nerd.

When you look closely at the first few verses of Philippians, something quite unique stands out fairly quickly:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.

You’ll notice that Paul does not refer to himself as an apostle.

This is strange by its absence because his apostolic credentials are a prominent part how Paul identifies himself nearly everywhere else:

  • Romans 1: Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…
  • I Corinthians 1: Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes…
  • II Corinthians 1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…
  • Galatians 1: Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…
  • Ephesians 1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…
  • Colossians 1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…
  • I Timothy 1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope…
  • II Timothy 1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus…
  • Titus 1: Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ…

The only other of his letters where he doesn’t claim apostleship is I and II Thessalonians and his brief letter to Philemon.

Many commentators suggest the reason Paul doesn’t appeal to his apostleship in Philippians is because he was on such good terms with them. He didn’t have to “pull rank” by appealing to his apostleship to get them to obey him or recognize his authority. This answer seems to have some merit, especially when you consider that in Galatians and I Corinthians, Paul is arguing against persons who are distorting the gospel he has preached or people who are questioning his apostolic credentials.

But should those controversies be read in a reverse sort of way onto Philippians? Should we assume the lack of defensiveness is the primary reason Paul doesn’t appeal to his apostleship? I don’t think so. After all, Paul has some major eschatological issues to set right with the Thessalonians – a setting in which it would be perfect to wield his apostolic title – yet he doesn’t refer to his apostleship. The same goes for his letter to Philemon – Paul could have appealed to his apostolic authority to get Philemon to welcome Onesimus back home and treat him like a brother, but he doesn’t (indeed, he even goes out of his way to note to Philemon that he doesn’t appeal to him in an authoritative way: vs. 18). Further, if Paul does not appeal to his apostolic credentials merely because he’s on friendly terms with the local church, then why does he need to remind Timothy twice of his apostleship? Timothy is Paul’s closest companion we’re aware of.

Of course, none of this denies that Paul’s friendship with the Philippians is a factor. Of course it is! But I don’t think it’s the only thing to consider. It seems to be the relational context of his reason for not appealing to his apostleship, but there are other immediate and book-as-whole contextual factors to consider as well.

Overseers and Deacons

The first reason Paul may not appeal to his apostolic credentials (in the context of a friendly, supporting church) is because Paul is deferring to the authority and leadership of the “overseers and deacons” within the church. He doesn’t have to appeal to his authority or his credentials with this church because the faithfulness of the church (as shown in their continued financial support of him while in prison) is the product of good leadership. He can defer to their authority, thus further giving credence to their pastoral leadership. Again, the context of this is his friendship, but the reason for it goes beyond friendship to the fact that this is a healthy church led by healthy leaders. He’s not writing to set anything right, but to thank them for their righteous conduct. On some level, I imagine Paul knows people are enamored with him and his authority, so by showing himself to be a servant, and by supporting the existing leadership of the church, he shows that the overseers and deacons – those who live life with them on a daily basis – are the true leaders of the local church, not a guy who just shows up every few years to encourage them.

Incarnating the Christ Hymn

The context of the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2:1-11 calls the Philippians to follow the example of Christ, who did not cling to his own privilege and status, but rather, laid those things down to die on the cross. This laying aside of privilege and status for the cross turns out to be the precursor to lordship and resurrection.

The point of Paul’s quotation of this ancient hymn is not purely theological, but practical – that they may regard each other as better than themselves as they see in the hymn, Paul’s own example, and the example of Timothy and Epaphroditus (the rest of chapter 2). In the end, these multiple examples, particularly that of Christ, ask the Philippians to consider a new kind of authority, leadership, and power – an authority, leadership, and power that does not cling to its privilege and status, but is willing to lay down all of its credentials in order to die and resurrect.

By calling himself a “servant of Christ” he’s making a direct thematic connection with the “servant Christ” he references in Philippians 2. By not appealing, then, to his apostolic authority or credentials and referring, instead, to his servant status, Paul models the very heart of his letter to the Philippians. If Christ did not cling to his credentials and privilege, why should Paul? Why should the Philippians?

Yes, of course, none of this can be separated from his friendship with the Philippians and his long history with them, all of which comes into play in the larger context of Philippians. But you also cannot disregard the immediate context and the explicit things repeated throughout the letter.

For those reasons I think Paul has no need to cite his apostolic credentials, but rather lays them aside to promote and encourage the leadership of the “overseers and deacons” and also incarnate that which Christ incarnated when he laid aside his glory and took on a human body, dying a human death, and resurrecting to glory.

Featured image by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash