Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blessed Alliance: Making Music Together

Fran & Marlo Cowan (married 62 years!) playing an impromptu recital together and having fun in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic shortly before his 90th birthday.

When men and women forge a Blessed Alliance—in marriage or any other realm—the result is mutual flourishing! This Blessed Alliance will make you smile.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ezer Story: Irena Sendler

Frank and I just got around to watching The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of the life of Irena Sendler (1910-2008) that aired in April.

Sendler was a heroic member of the Polish Underground during WWII. She worked for the Social Welfare Department, and her profession gained her access to the Warsaw Ghetto where, at enormous risk to herself, she conducted a covert operation to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto to safety. Through her courage and inventiveness she saved the lives of 2500 children.

In 1943, the Gestapo arrested and tortured her. But she refused to divulge any information. The beatings broke her feet and legs, and she barely escaped execution. By her own account, she never forgot the sound of the cries of children as they were separated from their parents and she grieved to her dying day that she was unable to save more.

We may think of Irena as an exception to the rule, but her actions are well within the scope of an ezer's calling and ought to expand our ideas of God's calling on women's lives. As image bearers, we have responsibility for what goes on in our world. As ezer's we don't have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines while our brothers are fighting kingdom battles without us.

Below is one of several video tributes to Irena.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

New Resource!

Christianity Today International just released a new resource in The Mentoring Series titled, What It Means to Be a Woman in Ministry. This downloadable resource contains several articles I wrote for Gifted for Leadership that focus on the Blessed Alliance.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mother Pratt and Cheering Men

Several years ago, Frank and I, with a group of thirty mostly Presbyterian pastors and their spouses, were privileged to meet The Honorable Cynthia Pratt, Deputy Prime Minister of The Bahamas. That meeting left the entire group in no doubt that we had just encountered a truly extraordinary person.

Known affectionately to Bahamians as “Mother Pratt,” this impressive woman didn’t come by the title “Mother” because of her five children, although that seems the most obvious explanation. She earned the title “Mother” through her wisdom when, as an athlete on Bahamas’ National Softball team, she wisely and skillfully diffused a volatile situation that threatened to turn ugly and embarrassing for her country.

During our meeting with her, we stood like a church choir on the steps of the capitol building in Nassau listening respectfully as she spoke with pride of her people, her country, and the privilege of serving in government. Suddenly, she shifted into high gear, boldly identifying herself as a follower of Jesus Christ and voicing openly her passion for His Kingdom.

I mean, this woman was preaching the gospel!

What caught me completely off guard (more than hearing a government official testify publicly and fearlessly to her faith in Christ) was the thunderous chorus of heartfelt amen’s that erupted from the men in our group. It isn’t every day that a woman is cheered on by her Christian brothers like that. It'll be a long time before I ever forget it. I can only imagine how much it must have meant to her.

This week, I attended the Florida Conference for Women, a gathering of several hundred women leaders in the Central Florida region, and I thought again of Mother Pratt. These women are remarkable, accomplished, high flyers in business, medicine, politics, finance, and education. Among those addressing the group were: Tory Johnson, Founder and CEO of Women for Hire and Good Morning America’s Career Guru, Kelly Corrigan, NY Times Bestselling author of The Middle Place, Florida’s CFO, Alex Sink (who subsequently announced her candidacy for Governor of Florida), and two local news anchors, Barbara West and Martie Salt. These strong, smart, gifted women have a lot in common with Mother Pratt.

By virtue of their obvious leadership skills and achievements, these women raise some important questions.

What happens when the Mother Pratt’s of this world show up on the church’s doorstep with their proven leadership skills and passion for the gospel, desiring to become part of the local body? Do we know what to do with them? Do they hear the cheering voices of their brothers, or does the cheering stop? And for that matter, what kind of cheering do the other women hear? Does the Bible’s message for women include today’s professional women? Does the church embrace these women or regard them with unease? Do we welcome, need, and make the most of the rich gifts these ezers bring, or should they check their gifts at the door of the church?

What do you think? And what do you see actually happening?

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Great Debate

Are you a complementarian or an egalitarian?

I cringe every time I hear that question. It feels like I am passing through an airport security checkpoint, and security guards are trying to determine if I pose a risk to the safety of the church.

Since the late 20th Century these two polarized groups have defined the evangelical landscape for women, and we are often pressured to declare where our loyalties lie. Taking a stand can be costly. Joining one side can cause estrangement from the other and friends to become foes.

Complementarians believe the Bible establishes male authority over women, making male leadership the biblical standard. Accordingly, God calls women to submit to male leadership and take up supportive roles to their husbands and to male leaders in the church. Egalitarians believe leadership is not determined by gender, but by the gifting of the Holy Spirit, and that God calls believers to submit to one another. At the heart of the debate is whether or not God has placed limits on what women can or cannot do in the home and in the church, although the discussion bleeds into other spheres of life.

What gives me heartburn about this debate is the fact that after years of careful study, highly respected evangelical scholars can’t agree. These are godly men and women who hold firmly to orthodox Christianity and staunchly defend the authority of Scripture. This stalemate alone ought to inject a strong measure of humility into the discussion. For many women it creates a boatload of uncertainty and anxiety: Are we over-using or under-using our gifts? Are we too independent, too competent, too strong?

Add to this the fact that personal circumstances often make it impossible to live consistently within one view or the other. What’s a woman to do if she doesn’t have a husband? What if a husband is unwilling or unable to lead? What about the single mom? Is she forced into a man’s role? Does a woman’s giftedness doom her to a perpetual state of frustration? Is she biblically obligated to challenge the local status quo or leave?

From a global perspective, Western women occupy a rather privileged social status. In many parts of the world, women are human property to be bought and sold in the sex trade. Islamic fundamentalists beat women in public when a gust of wind lifts the hem of their burka to expose ankles. They throw acid in the faces of young girls who dare to be educated. At the opposite extreme, radical feminists want to reorder society by redefining the concepts of femininity and masculinity. Males are viewed as oppressors, and abortion is a matter of civil rights.

Is the gospel message Christians are proclaiming nothing better than a “kinder, gentler” version of the way the world does things?

Not according to Jesus. His gospel takes men and women beyond these old debates to a radically new way of relating. He calls all of us away from grasping equality or authority to follow Him by pouring ourselves out for one another. He calls all of us to expend ourselves and our gifts in the global rescue effort He has launched. Our mission dwarfs our resources and demands a caliber of unity unlike anything the world has ever seen.

From the beginning, men and women have been God’s A-Team—a Blessed Alliance to advance His kingdom throughout the world. When He created male and female, Genesis says, “He blessed them.” Jesus’ deepest desire was for His followers to enjoy unparalleled oneness. Paul followed-up with the language of anatomy, describing us as one Body. What binds Jesus’ followers together is not our sameness, but our firm allegiance to Him and to His cause in the world.

Differences will always exist among Christians. But those very differences demonstrate the transforming power of the gospel—that Jesus is making a difference in our lives. How else can anyone explain how hopelessly diverse individuals can become one united Body?

So don’t expect a security checkpoint at Synergy conferences. We are not playing the debate game. Complementarians, egalitarians, and the undecided are all welcome. We have kingdom work to do, and we are forging strong relationships with each other and our brothers as we answer Jesus’ call on our lives.

Reprinted with permission. This article was originally published in the Synergy column for FullFill Magazine (Winter 2009). This edgy magazine takes women seriously with thoughtful articles by women leaders for "women of all seasons of life and leadership," but men too will benefit from reading it. There's even a "Male Box" column with contributors such as Dan Allender and Rob Bell. If you don't already subscribe, you should check it out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Ezer Day!

My earliest Mother’s Day memories were of my father purchasing flowers for the whole family. The tradition he taught us was that on Mother’s Day you wear a flower to honor your mother: red if she is living, white if you’ve lost her. So my three brothers and I, along with our mother, wore red. My dad wore a white boutonniere.

Over time Mother’s Day changed for me. My inability to conceive a child (which I felt every day) was annually highlighted on that one special Sunday. Mother’s Day was the one Sunday in the year I was tempted (and have been known) to play hooky from church.

I recall feeling it acutely one year, as mothers rose to be honored, and I remained seated alongside an incredible young wife who couldn’t have stood even if she had a child, which she didn’t and never would simply because a debilitating disease had overrun her body. That’s when I began to look beyond my own discomfort to realize how, for so many women Mother’s Day is one date on the calendar they’d just as soon skip.

Jesus had the opportunity to memorialize Mother’s Day. Twice He had golden opportunities to celebrate His own mother in public. Instead, He redefined our reasons to honor women and changed everything for all of us.

On one of those occasions, Jesus was preaching, when a woman in the crowed blurted out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Instead of celebrating motherhood, Jesus pointed to another reason to celebrate women.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).

In God’s gracious providence, He gave me a little girl and made me a mother. Looking into her blinking eyes the first day I met her, was the first of many glorious moments. But as much as I love being a mom, I cannot forget the women who share the heartache I felt for so many years.

Maybe instead of celebrating biology—and leaving out so many women—we should take Jesus’ advice on the subject (now there’s an interesting idea!) and celebrate ezers who follow Him and are fulfilling His mandate to be fruitful and multiply by advancing His kingdom in the lives of others. Maybe then, instead of giving young women examples to follow that may be physically beyond their reach or easily lost in this broken world, we’d be showcasing role models every woman can and should follow.

A Blessed Ezers Day to ALL my sisters!