"The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."
—When Life & Beliefs Collide                

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Synergy Challenge

I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was our second Synergy Conference. Zondervan had just released my second book, Lost Women of the Bible. I had spoken for the first time on Eve and God's vision for his image bearing daughters as ezer-warriors in a Blessed Alliance with his sons.

It was a pivotal moment for Synergy. The room was electric. It was clear, during the interaction that followed, that the women were energized by that vision as they expressed their passion to live into it. They embraced their identity as ezer-warriors and wanted to shout "ezer" from the rooftops. But as enthusiastic as these ezer-warriors were for their recovered birthright, more than anything they wanted to see that Blessed Alliance become a reality.

This year Synergy reached another pivotal moment.

By becoming part of Missio Alliance we not only have regained a national forum in which to continue supporting and learning from each other, we have joined a predominantly male organization as committed as we are to the Blessed Alliance God envisioned in the beginning. I've been to a couple of the Missio conferences, and already I've seen evidence of their dissatisfaction with the gender status quo in the church. They want to see things change.

Not to suggest the path before us will be easy, for the oneness Jesus calls us to faces many obstacles—gender is only one of them. And we already know from experience that the process of forging strong partnerships for the gospel can be messy and even painful. But this opportunity is truly golden and utterly worthwhile.

What ezer-warrior in her right mind would walk away from a challenging opportunity like this?!

Come Join us at the 2015 Mission Alliance this conference—those of you who are part of Synergy and those who are new to us and/or new to Missio Alliance.

The conference is May 7-9 in Alexandria, Virginia.
  • Friday morning Zondervan is sponsoring a special Synergy Breakfast Event where I'll be speaking.
  • Conference presenters include Synergy women: Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, Judy Douglass, Halee Gray Scott, Lesa Engelthaler, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, and yours truly.
  • To register go here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Call to Pray for the Persecuted Church

Christians in the Middle East are suffering. They are also leading the way by living out their Christian faith within the furnace of brutal persecution. Many believers—young and old—have suffered violent deaths with the love of Jesus on their lips.

The mass beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian men—the latest horror in a litany of barbaric ISIS executions of countless Christians—is prompting Christians in the West to rise up together in an urgent call to prayer. This call comes on the heels of a video published by HuffingtonPost/Religion where a grieving Beshir Kamel, elder brother of two of the martyred men, Bishoy Astafanus Kamel (25) and Samuel Astafanus Kamels (23), responds to his losses as a believer whose feet are planted firmly on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. He is unbending in his pride of two younger brothers who died for their faith, calling them "a pride to Christianity." Along with his grieving mother, he is forgiving of his enemies and extends a hand of grace and hospitality to his brothers' ISIS executioners.
"My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask [the killer] to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her sons entered the kingdom of heaven." 
"Dear God," Kamel prayed, "please open their eyes to be saved and to quit their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught."

Kamel's example is a call for the rest of us to join in praying for those who are persecuted as well as for those who persecute them. Jesus' Gospel is powerful and large and his Spirit easily penetrates behind enemy lines.

Last night, Gabe Lyons sent out this announcement and the video at the top of this post that can be downloaded from the 21martyrs.com website:
I know it's late on a Friday evening but this couldn't wait. Over the last 48 hours we have focused our creativity and resources on supporting an appropriate response to the 21 Egyptian Christian martyrs. In partnership with many other leaders and organizations, our team created 21martyrs.com as a simple place to call for action in two specific ways:
FIRST: Join thousands of churches for a 'Moment of Silence and Prayer' this SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 22nd and play this video before offering a prayer of reflection. 
Please invite other church leaders in your area to participate as well for a moment of unity.  
SECOND: Engage the growing PRAY 703 initiative created by Ann Voskamp to guide us towards repentance and renewal during this Season of Lent at 7:03 each day. Use #Pray703 on twitter to follow her posts and mobilize others to join in here.
I'm thankful for your participation.
Please join this rising tide of prayer and help spread the word to others.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Something to ponder . . .

"Jesus doesn’t give an explanation for the pain and sorrow of the world. He comes where the pain is most acute and takes it upon himself. Jesus doesn’t explain why there is suffering, illness, and death in the world. He brings healing and hope. He doesn’t allow the problem of evil to be the subject of a seminar. He allows evil to do its worst to him. He exhausts it, drains its power, and emerges with new life. The resurrection says, more clearly than anything else can, 'There is a God, and he is the creator of the world we know, and he is the father of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.' That is the first part of the good news about God."

                                    —N.T. Wright, Simply Good News:  
                                        Why The Gospel is Good News 
                                         and What Makes It Good

Read more on Scot McKnight's blog, Jesus Creed: Deconstructing the Bully God

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Orange is the New Pink

Kathy Woodward

"You have cancer."

Those three words still sound utterly alien to me. They came from the doctor who was explaining to Frank and me the meaning of the starburst-shaped intruder in my lung. But once those three words hit the airwaves, they cannot be retracted. And, as I was soon to learn, those are "fightin' words" even when, as in my case, the cancer is mercifully caught early.

Needless to say it was an unexpected encouragement to hear from Kathy Woodward who attended a conference in California where I spoke about the ezer last February just days before my diagnosis. She wanted me to know how that ezer message steeled her for the moment four months later when she would hear those same three fightin' words and she embraced her ezer-warrior self at a whole new level.

She gave me permission to publish the poem she wrote as she journaled her battle with cancer in the hope that it will encourage others who are engaged in this battle (as it does me) and the many other battles God calls his daughters and sons to engage. Her grandkids joined the battle with her by making the paper chain she is holding with words of encouragement and verses for her to read each week.

Orange Is the New Pink 
Don’t give me pink! Pink is soft, tender blooms in spring, baby’s skin. Pink is NOT me.
Breast Cancer is not pink,
                        not pretty,
               not girlie.
     And definitely not for WARRIORS!
Breast Cancer is walking on fire, step by step through smoldering flames. Hard to see across.
Each step painful, but with God, each step is a miracle and a necessity to arrive to the other side.

FIRE is orange, it is a bold color. BOLD is for WARRIORS and I AM a warrior!
Orange shouts from the mountaintop, or shocks the eye in a painted sunset.
Cancer requires one to be a bold warrior. (An “Ezer” —or warrior— was designed to reflect God’s own character.)
               Prepared for battle
     Armed with Him
NO FEAR. Ready to move forward into unknown territory, even if what awaits is not seen.
But trusting.
Give me ORANGE. In my weakness, help me be BOLD. I am a warrior when He is with me.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Think Fast and Act Quickly!

The WhitbyForum website has gone silent for several months. But as any parent of small children knows, silence doesn't necessarily mean nothing is happening. The past few months (actually all of 2014) may have slowed my blogging efforts, but this has been an intensely busy and productive time. At least I have plenty to show for it.

Frank and I have moved out of the Hobbit Hole and are now living above ground, albeit still with boxes to unpack and pictures to hang. We've enjoyed a wonderful holiday with our daughter and her family. I'm making steady progress on my recovery from surgery. And in May, (no small miracle) my next book—Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing Worldcomes out. I'm now an adjunct faculty member at BTS (Biblical Theological Seminary) and will be teaching a course on The Gospel of Ruth this Spring.

More about all of this shortly.

One of the biggest surprises of 2014 was the migration of Synergy from a stand-alone organization into our new home as part of the Missio Alliance. Here's the announcement: "Breaking Synergy News!"

I've already been to a couple Missio conferences, and I am convinced this is a marriage made in heaven. Here are just a few reasons why I'm excited about this development:
  • We are joining an organization where the men are firmly committed to women in ministry leadership. They've already demonstrated that commitment in a variety of significant ways, not the least of which has been their active pursuit of Synergy to become part of their organization. 
  • The Missio Alliance Conference—coming up in May 7-9 in Alexandra, Virginia—gives us a way to reunite and resume building the strategic relationships that have enabled us to do a better job of answering God's calling on our lives. Friendships with other Synergy women mean we are no longer alone, but are strengthened by the friendship, support, and wisdom of other women in ministry leadership.  
  • Missio Alliance leadership is eager/determined to explore and embody the Blessed Alliance between men and women that is part of Synergy's DNA. The partnership between Synergy and Missio Alliance gives us the opportunity to take this commitment to a whole new level as we work actively with our brothers to see the Blessed Alliance move from vision to reality. 

In my wildest dreams, I couldn't have imagined a more historic moment, a better outcome for Synergy, or a more promising development for women in ministry leadership than Missio Alliance's welcoming embrace of the Synergy Women's Network.

So here's what's happening next.

The May 7-9, 2015 Missio Alliance Conference in Alexandria, Virginia is our first conference together. The conference theme is "Being Truly Human: Re-imagining the Resurectional Life" #TrulyHuman. Here's the line-up of presenters. Friday morning, I'll be speaking at a special Zondervan sponsored Synergy breakfast as our entrée into the Missio Alliance community.

Already a bunch of us have signed up for the conference and would love to see you there. Whether you're a long-time member of Synergy, have wanted to join us, or simply have always known you are one of us—we want to see you there.

Today—Super Bowl Sunday, January 31—is the last day for the Early Bird rate, so if you want to catch that rate, you'll need to move fast! To register, go here.

The clock is ticking . . .    See you in May!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Gospel of Ruth—Kindle Sale!

Amazon is currently offering the Kindle version of The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules, for $3.79.

If haven't already read it, the reader comment from this past weekend just might encourage you to dive in.

Hi Carolyn!

Early this afternoon five women including myself finished discussing the last two chapters of The Gospel of Ruth.

Wow! I have to admit I didn't see that coming!

The sacrificial hesed extending from all involved for God's glorious plan. I will never think of this "little story" in the same way.

You packed so much into those final chaptersour discussion was deep, rich, at times quite personal. At other moments we asked questions and thought for awhile before anyone answered. I kept thinking, "I wish Carolyn was here to hear what these women are saying!"

 Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost For His Highest today (Sept. 6) writes,
"Rivers of living water." John 7:38. "A river touches places of which its source knows nothing, and Jesus says if we have received of His fulness, however small the visible measure of our lives, out of us will flow the rivers that will bless to the uttermost parts of the earth. We have nothing to do with the outflow - 'this is the work of God that ye believe...' God rarely allows a soul to see how great a blessing he is." 
God has used you to extend His great blessing from the writer of Ruth to five women in a living room in Eagle Idaho. We have been changed, and we have grown closer to Jesus and each other in the process. We kept marveling at the sacrificial love in the story, and the sacrificial love on the cross. The sadness and joy intermingled in both stories.

Not a Cinderella storymuch better, to be sure!

Laura Botimer
Cole Women's Ministry
Boise, Idaho

Friday, August 15, 2014


In my Internet meanderings, I came across a Huffington Post link to “Airbrushed Celebrities.” In all but a couple of cases, those before and after photos—flaws removed, waists and thighs shrunk—created an enviable image.

But there is another kind of airbrushing that happens in the church.

Some years ago I was asked to speak to a gathering of conservative Presbyterian clergy about the experiences of women. My hosts tripped over themselves to reassure those present that I wasn’t doing anything “official.” It felt like being airbrushed out of the room. In an effort to put a fine point on the matter, a couple of clergy turned their backs toward me while I was speaking (a gesture that seemed pointless to me, since they still heard every word I spoke). Instead of withering under their rudeness, I felt inspired to paint myself back into the moment.

My how times have changed!

I am heartened by the surge of serious female voices in evangelical circles. The publishing world, speaking circuit, academy, and the Internet are opening powerful new platforms for women. These are not just outlets for our creative energies and dreams, but strategic opportunities to participate in God’s mission for the world and for the female voice (so often missing) to engage the whole church on serious issues. This is no time for self-indulgence, but requires taking ourselves seriously and wisely stewarding these open doors.

Despite the claim that the writers of scripture were all men, the Bible hasn’t airbrushed the female voice off its pages. I still hang onto the theory that Priscilla wrote Hebrews. But that hope aside, some of the weightiest theological passages in the Bible were authored by women.

Miriam and Deborah were both prophetesses with high profile leadership roles in Israel. Hannah and Mary of Nazareth lived largely behind the scenes in the private domestic sphere. All four faced frightening David and Goliath crises. Their words shape the theology of God’s people.

Although we are not sure if Miriam helped compose the victory song about God’s defeat of the Egyptians (Exodus 15:1-18), Deborah, Hannah, and Mary deserve recognition as poets and writers.

Miriam belonged to the company of emancipated Israelite slaves whose freedom from Egypt was short-lived. With the Egyptian army bearing down on them and the Red Sea ahead, the Israelites walked into the perfect trap. Miriam led the celebration of God’s astonishing deliverance with, “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea!”

Deborah’s poetry (Judges 5), sung with Barak, puts God’s power on display for defeating a ruthless armed-to-the-teeth enemy with only Barak’s rag-tag volunteer army and a female civilian.

Hannah’s theology deepened during years of infertility and suffering the taunts of wife number two who was bearing sons for their husband. Her psalm (1 Samuel 2:1-10) is a theological masterpiece revealing profound insight into God’s sovereignty over the ups and downs of life—from the womb to the throne. God called Mary to a perilous out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Honor killings happen. She sings her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) recounting God’s power and faithfulness to his people before learning how Joseph will react.

These women were not writing fluff. They saw their lives in theological terms. They lived in a world where God is sovereign, stubbornly committed to his people, and powerfully advancing his purposes, even when things look their darkest. They owned their voices and spoke out of their stories. Their words stand as monuments to God’s power and faithfulness. They leave a legacy that raises the bar for all of us.

We need to airbrush these women back into our own stories and draw courage from their examples to airbrush ourselves into the work God is calling us to do.

[Originally published by FullFill in the Spring 2014 {Think} column and reprinted with permission here.]

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Red Sox Revelation

Frank was out of town, a Fenway Park Red Sox baseball game was just starting on TV, and I had the remote!

As many know, Red Sox baseball is my other (not so secret) love. I do love Frank, but he has limitations—he can’t launch one over the Green Monster at Fenway like Big Papi. So I put on my jammies, fluffed my pillow, moved the chocolates kisses within reach, and turned on the television to watch my Red Sox.

What was supposed to be a perfect evening ended in disaster with the Red Sox getting clobbered by Toronto. It was a humiliating 14-1 defeat which secured their uncontested spot at the bottom of the American League East!  

It was painful to watch—so painful that I almost put one of my post-surgery pain patches on the TV screen. But alas, nothing could relieve my pain or theirs.

I began to reflect deeply on this debacle. What was God trying to teach me?

Perhaps this was payback from the Red Sox recent 14-1 humiliation of Toronto. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that several 2014 World Series Champion players have been traded to other teams.

Neither of these quite satisfied my meditation. As I continued to reflect, I had an epiphany: I think God was teaching me that the real reason for the decline of the Red Sox is that their secret weapon has moved to Philly.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Patriarchy's Patron Saint or a Woman's Best Friend?

Rembrandt's Apostle Paul
If any New Testament writer was inclined to drop F-Bombs, the obvious candidate would be the Apostle Paul. After all, he is the patron saint of patriarchy—right?

Not so fast!

Recall that Paul was minding his own business, following his strategically mapped out second missionary trek in Asia Minor, when the Holy Spirit dramatically and abruptly changed Paul's GPS settings and diverted him to Europe (Acts 16:6-40).

In the aftermath of that remarkable vision, apostolic expectations must have been riding high when Paul arrived in the city of Philippi. And what did he find there?  Women! No men. Only women!

Is this not the quintessential "feminized" church? It was hardly a recovering Jewish Pharisee's comfort zone.

Perfect moment for an F-Bomb.

Perhaps we could find it in our hearts to forgive the great apostle if he had muttered an objecting F-Bomb under his breath. But he didn't. If this meeting was a shocking disappointment or an unpromisingly weak beginning for a church, Paul never let on. Instead, he proceeded to plant the first church in Europe with a team of believing women. Turns out, this church was strong from day one, becoming an indispensable source of solidarity and strength for Paul.

What is more, the Philippian church came to hold a special place in Paul's heart. Far from lamenting over the "lack of men," Paul later mused over that first meeting in a letter that is oozing with with deep affection for the Philippian church's Founding Mothers and their ministry with him.
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3–5, emphasis added).
My post, "Dropping F-Bombs," opened an issue that needs further discussion. Why do women tend to outnumber men in the Christian church? What is it about Christianity that tends to draw more women than men? Why do some men stay away?

Eliminating offensive language from the discussion (words like "feminized" and "feminization") is a step in the right direction that opens the way for deeper, more thoughtful conversation about real issues that concern us all.

So to continue the conversation and turn the discussion in a more constructive direction, let me make some observations regarding women in the church.

First, from the beginning of Christianity, indeed from the ministry of Jesus himself, the Christian gospel has had what Margaret Manning describes as an "ineluctable pull" on women. (See her article, "Good News for Women").

This goes contrary to the fact that religion in general is under increasing criticism as an oppressor of women. Unfortunately, there's a good deal of truth in this perception with respect to the Christian church which has been and is still complicit in marginalizing women. But this is not the way it was supposed to be and it wasn't this way in the beginning. Historically, women have often been the first to respond to the gospel in many places around the globe and tend to be enfolded into the church in higher numbers than men.

This speaks to the unique nature of Christianity and most especially to the pattern Jesus himself established by his radically counter-cultural inclusion of women at the highest levels in his ministry.

It all began with his mother, who was first to put her life on the line for Jesus. She was the first of many to follow him. Jesus included women among his disciples, even among those who traveled with him (Luke 8:1-3). Women sat at his feet (in mixed company) as rabbinical students, engaged publicly with Jesus in deep theological discussions (e.g., the Samaritan woman and Martha of Bethany), stood with him during his crucifixion, witnessed his burial, were the first to proclaim his resurrection, and were crucial eye-witness sources of details about the most important events of Jesus' life (birth, death, burial, and resurrection) that ultimately were recorded in the gospels.

Jesus could not have been more counter-cutural to the first century patriarchal culture.

The sound of shattering glass as women break through gender barriers is not a modern phenomenon. Jesus was known for empowering women to break through gender barriers in a culture significantly more restrictive than our 21st Century America.

Little wonder women were and are still drawn to him.  

Second, shouldn't we be asking what God is up to when women (as Paul experienced in Philippi) are often the first to respond to the gospel? Could this possibly be a kingdom strategy instead of a problem? It is a total mystery to me that some of the loudest lamenters over the "feminization of the church" are staunchly Reformed—men like John Piper and Mark Driscoll. These pastors will go to the mat with anyone who challenges their flagship belief in God's sovereignty in salvation. Their own theology points to the fact that God's sovereign method of invading cultures and homes with the gospel is often by beginning with women. The evidence is overwhelming. You'd think they'd be the first to notice this and get behind what God is doing instead of demeaning women with F-Bombs and mocking men in the church as "chickified."

Several years ago, I encountered the male/female ratio imbalance when I spoke at women's conferences in Japan. At the time, the Japanese church was a mere 3% of the population. Within the 3%, 90% were women. I get why this means more work needs to be done to reach the men of Japan. But instead of recognizing this pattern as a divine strategy and marveling at how God is advancing his work in Japan by beginning with women, missionaries I consulted were wringing their hands over the shortage of men.

What would happen if we recognized this subversive kingdom strategy at work and instead of asking women to hold back, challenged them to live courageously into God's calling?

Third, women long for a more robust Christianity that not only challenges our minds, but that calls us to kingdom action. This hunger is driven because we know an anorexic spiritual diet will not sustain us in the kinds of battles God is calling us to engage.

My entire ministry has been built on the premise that women want and need to know God in deeper ways and that knowing him comes with kingdom responsibility. We don't want to play at our Christianity when the gospel calls us to arm ourselves and to stand firm against the Enemy. God doesn't call his daughters to be spectators, but active participants in his mission for the world. We don't want to be ill-equipped and added burdens for others who need us to be strong alongside them.

Here's what blogger Bronwyn Lea says in her post, "What Women Want from the Church":
"I want to hear about the Jesus who demanded loyalty, who commanded authority from storms, sinners and satanic forces, who said vexing and frustrating and wild things. I want to hear preaching which is not just faithful to His words but to His TONE: of comfort but also of rebuke, of welcome but also of warning. I want to hear His dares, His call to come and die, His challenge to make hard choices. I want the Jesus of the gospels who does not just meet our needs, but who calls us to bold and courageous adventure, to self-sacrifice, to taking risks. I want the Jesus who promises huge rewards for huge sacrifices, who embraces feisty Peter and wayward Mary and touchy-feely John.

I want the Jesus who welcomed the little children, but also the Jesus with eyes like a flame of fire, with feet of burnished bronze and a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. Whatever that wild imagery means, I want to grapple with it. I want the Jesus who inspires my awe and calls forth my worship: a gospel from The Gospels. That's the Jesus I want. That's the Jesus I need: the one who is worthy of the honor, adoration and allegiance of men and women alike."
What are your thoughts?

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Not Where You Might Expect to Find Me

Inside a flowered book jacket ... on a LifeWay bookstore shelf ... tucked snuggly into the Women of Faith Bible study series?

Yup. That's me.

And despite what you might think, Understanding Purpose is not out of step with the four other books I've written (which, by the way LifeWay also carries), but is perfectly aligned with everything else I've written.

Here's the backstory.

Right in the middle of writing Lost Women of the Bible, I got a call from Mary Graham, President of Women of Faith. She had heard about my work through a mutual friend, Judy Nelson Lewis, and wondered if I'd write a volume on a woman's purpose for their Bible study series. Well aware that the WOF audience is wildly diverse, she wanted a study that was inclusive of every woman and young girl their ministry touched.

She said she hadn't read my book (only When Life and Beliefs Collide was out at the time), but her best friend had read it. Mary had browsed parts her friend had highlighted, and that prompted the phone call.

This would be a rush project and would mean temporarily suspending progress on Lost Women of the Bible. But it opened the door for me to gets the ezer message and the Genesis vision to a whole new audience of women.

It was an opportunity I couldn't resist.

The study is designed for use in small groups. But occasionally I hear from someone who is using it differently.

For example, a mom wanted me to know that she and her teenage daughter who was away at college—just the two of them—were doing the study together long distance. The study was generating some very interesting phone conversations between them on topics they otherwise might not have discussed.

Then, just recently, I received the encouraging note below from a friend who is working through the study by herself after reading my four other books.  She wrote,

"I am going through your Understanding Purpose book right now. It is BRILLIANT! I feel like I’ve been able to learn and absorb in three different ways these ideas you’re communicating:
   1) reading your books
   2) hearing you speak
   3) and now as a personal Bible study through this book
I'm enjoying this time with the Lord as I reflect on all these verses in my time with Him and think about his purposes for me! And talk with him about it!! And the outline in the book is brilliantly helpful to me in sort of visualizing a framework of the whole idea of purpose.

So I am LOVING that. And what a fantastic study this book would be for a small group!"

—Libby Cannizzaro
Women's Ministry Coordinator
The Falls Church Anglican
Falls Church, Virginia

So if you're looking for a Bible study to do on your own, with a friend, or in a study group, I hope you'll consider Understanding Purpose.  The Table of Contents is below.

Introduction—Does One Size Really Fit All?

Finding My Purpose . . . 
     Chapter 1     In a Broken World
     Chapter 2     With a Little Help from Oprah
     Chapter 3     As A Daughter of Eve
     Chapter 4     On God’s A-Team

Pursuing My Purpose . . . 
     Chapter 5     At the Feet of Rabbi Jesus
     Chapter 6     In the Trenches
     Chapter 7     On the Frontlines
     Chapter 8     Behind the Scenes

Living My Purpose . . . 
     Chapter 9     In the Home
     Chapter 10   In the Church
     Chapter 11   In the World
     Chapter 12   Awakening the Warrior in Me