Part 5. The Garden

Chaos. Everybody was running here and there. It is no wonder the stories got mixed up. Some thought they saw Peter and John go into the tomb, some thought they had not arrived yet. Some saw angels, or something that looked like angels. Some saw the guards lying facedown and scrambling up with worried looks and making hasty decisions of what to tell the authorities.

“Where is he?” You can hear the determination in her voice as Mary Magdalene confronts someone she thinks is the gardener. “Just tell me where he is and I WILL GO GET HIM!” This is not some weak woman speaking. She has come to the tomb prepared to roll away a heavy stone, but now all she sees is a gaping hole and the body of Jesus is gone. She is crying, yes, but these are tears of frustration and determination. She was going to make this right. Weak people say “help me” while strong people say “I will do it.”

“Tell me where he is! I will go get him!”

Chaos. So many different accounts of this one event. But there was one thing they all were clear on. It was a woman who Jesus first revealed himself to.

There were men around – the guards who were scared half to death – and possibly Peter and John. But they didn’t get the news. It was a woman. Like all of Jesus’ proclamations, male headship played no part in this resurrection story.

So we have finally arrived in the garden and the world has been turned upside down. Where do we go from here? Do we leave Mary and the other women beside an empty grave? Yes, we do. Not as Jesus did, but as pastors and preachers and other women have determined we should do. Mary Magdalene is mentioned 12 times in relation to Jesus’ death and resurrection. After that she is no longer mentioned. Why not? This woman to whom Jesus made a personal appearance – bypassing all the others around the tomb – is left there.

I was sitting in a doctor’s office while both men and women sat around me, using their iPhones or devices. Tears came into my eyes and I wanted to shout to all there “This is the 21st century for both men and women! Why does the church work so hard to keep women in the 1st Century?” Because the Bible says so? Where?

Where does Jesus say that women must submit to their husbands? Where does Jesus say that women cannot be in authority over a man? It is not there, my friends. We are called Christians because we follow Christ and not some 1st century societal customs that empowered men over women.

We have come to the garden by way of Mary of Bethany who was a Jewish woman welcomed to sit and learn from the Master himself. We have come to the garden by way of the Gentile woman who learned that Jesus was the Messiah for gentiles which included her. We have come to the garden by way of the Samaritan woman who believed that hers was the true religion, and here was the Messiah just as they expected. We have come to the garden by way of Mary Magdalene who declared she would go herself and find Jesus until he said her name and she knew he was the resurrected Christ.

We are at the garden. Who is going to stop you from going and telling?

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Part 4. Destination, the garden

If the first thing you think of when you remember the woman at the well is “the man you are living with now is not your husband,” then you have missed the whole point of Jesus’ visit to this Samaritan woman.

The Danvers Statement Affirmation #9 says: “With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.”

No matter what shape the world is in, the writers of The Danvers Statement would never have chosen the woman at the well to be the instrument God used to win lost people to Christ.

But Jesus did.

Everyone knows her story. In fact, hers is one of the longest detailed stories of an event in the New Testament. It was her story. She told it to everyone who would listen. This man she had just met at the well knew that she had had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband.

Jesus was not judging her for that. He was offering her something that no man could offer a woman. He was offering her living water—from a well that would never run dry. And he told her that he was the source of this living water.

This was a woman experienced in the ways of men, and she knew this conversation was different from any she had ever had. She was certainly not the one who would be expected to announce the news that prophecy had been fulfilled and that the long-awaited Messiah had finally arrived. No one would even listen to a woman proclaiming this momentous event, would they? But for some reason, Jesus chose her to reveal his true identity.

She took that message and ran with it.

It was Jesus who brought up the subject of living water. He told her that if she drank from the water he gave, she would never be thirsty again.

She wanted that. She said she did not want to keep coming to the well to draw water. She was probably teasing him at that point as she had no idea what he was talking about. Then Jesus did something surprising. He told her to go call her husband, and then to come back.

Aha! Finally Jesus brings male headship into the conversation! “Go, call your husband and come back,” Jesus said.

The woman answered, “I have no husband.”

Was Jesus was surprised at this? Did he ask her to go call her husband just to embarrass her?  No, its significance is greater than her confession that she was not married to the man with whom she was living. She was worthy in her own right, as a woman, to be told directly by him that he was the Messiah. They engaged in a theological discussion. This woman was not learning in silence. And Jesus did not rebuke her for it. She talked back and told him that she could see that he was a prophet. She declared “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

And he did explain—right then and there—to the woman at the well, a woman who did not have a husband to tell her if what she was hearing was right or wrong. She heard, she accepted, she told.

This story of the woman at the well is found in John 4:4-42 and begins by saying, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” It is best translated that “he purposed in his mind” to go through Samaria, because the Jews had found a way, even though it was inconvenient, to avoid Samaria. They thought they were better than these poor cousins, the Samaritans, and for a Jew to deliberately go through Samaria was unusual.

There was something in Samaria that Jesus needed to do in order to complete his earthly work.

With this story of the Woman at the Well, we see how the picture of Jesus is coming together.

  • The Jewish woman, Mary of Bethany, who Jesus permitted to sit at his feet right beside the men, and learn at a time when learning scripture was forbidden to women
  • The Gentile woman to whom Jesus revealed that he was not sent only to Israel, but to all people, which included her
  • The Samaritan woman to whom Jesus revealed that he was the Messiah, who the Samaritans were also expecting, since they claimed theirs was the true religion of the ancient Israelites.

These are pivotal stories because they show that Jesus gives the voice of the gospel to women just as he gives the voice of the gospel to men. These stories also set the stage for the empty tomb where it was women who first encountered the resurrected Jesus and where the full gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus would unfold. So, yes, Jesus purposed in his mind to go through Samaria, because he had something to complete in Samaria.

The completion of this mission was so satisfying to him that he told his disciples, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” The conversation he had with this woman had an effect on Jesus that was profoundly different from his other encounters with men or women. This is the only scripture passage in the Bible where Jesus said that what had just happened was so meaningful to him that he felt that he had been fed. In other words, mission accomplished.

Verse 42 says “…we no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” These men first heard the words of Jesus from a woman, and then they heard the same message from Jesus himself.

Jesus is headed to the garden tomb and the final meeting with a woman who steps into the Christian era with the news “He is risen!”

It is 2019. What will you do? 

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Part 3. Destination, the Garden

There are four women to whom Jesus tells that he is the Messiah, the Canaanite woman being one of them. Most often we hear of her great faith, but when we concentrate on the faith of this woman, we diminish the message Jesus gave her. She was given the news from Jesus himself that he not only came for the Jews, but for the Gentiles also – and that meant her. Her story is found in both Matthew and Mark.

She asked Jesus to heal her daughter, but for some reason, he was not going to do it.  Jesus told her “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” She was a Gentile, and Jesus was telling her that he was sent to save the Jews only. But if that was the case, I wouldn’t be here writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. So we see that while Jesus said that, it did not tell the whole story. And then by healing her daughter, he is showing her that he is also the Messiah of the Gentiles. That is Big News! We must never forget that this extraordinary news was told to a woman who had no husband nearby, or possibly not at all.

But right now, this woman did not need some idealistic prophecy of what was to happen in the future. Her daughter lay in bed very ill and she needed help now. So she argued with this man Jesus in whom she had placed her hope. ‘Help my daughter! Surely you have enough power within you to give a small portion to us Gentiles.’

 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”  He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.” Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed. (Common English Bible)

This story is very similar to the story of the first miracle when Jesus turned the water into wine. His mother (remember she had first argued with the angel Gabriel when told she was going to have a baby who would be the Messiah?) In the Wedding story Jesus says almost the same thing to his mother as he says to the Canaanite woman.

When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.” Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.” His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did.  The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. (Common English Bible)

Just as his mother had asked for a special favor “even though the time was not right,” Jesus did as she asked. He does the same with this Gentile woman, showing that his right time had no beginning or ending.

Jesus told women his Good News, and he did not tell any one of those women to go home and ask her husband, brother, or father what he meant. He did not tell any one of these women not to tell the Good News of the Messiah. If he had, we would have never heard these stories. The Gentile woman went home and found her daughter healed. The disciples didn’t see that ending. She told it to whoever would listen.

It is 2019. What stories are you telling about your relationship with Jesus?

This and other stories can be found in my book “Raising the Hood: A Christian Look at Manhood and Womanhood.”

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Part 2. Destination the Garden

Jesus is headed to the garden, this time to the garden tomb of Lazarus, where something very important is about to happen. There is to be a resurrection, a small demonstration of what is to come.

It is a familiar story. You know it well. You know Lazarus died, Jesus wept, Lazarus came forth from the tomb. And you know that Martha and Mary were at odds with each other because Martha needed help in the kitchen and Mary was sitting down and not helping.

“Just the facts, ma’am.” But every story has a back story and that story is most often ignored because the significance doesn’t fit with today’s male headship teaching.

Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus. Apparently they live together. But it is not Lazarus who appears to be the head of the household, it is Martha. The stories in the Gospels do not attribute one word spoken by Lazarus, either before his death or afterwards. He does nothing to indicate he is the “head” of this family. Jesus speaks and interacts with Mary and Martha, and even this resurrection of Lazarus is overshadowed by Jesus’ talking with Martha, and his special notice of Mary.

Most of the people Jesus comes into contact with have only one story recorded in the Gospels. But Mary and Martha have at least four stories about their encounter with Jesus. When we first find Mary and Martha, Mary is at the feet of Jesus and Martha is fussing in the kitchen.

Mary was learning from the Teacher himself which was an enormously big deal in that time. It was said that for women to be taught the scriptures from men was similar to teaching them about sex – it just was not done. But here Mary is sitting at the Master’s feet alongside the men.

She is also the same Mary who, six days after the resurrection of her brother Lazarus, pours expensive alabaster oil on Jesus’ feet and dries his feet with her hair. Jesus rebukes those who seek to stop her by saying she is wasting the oil that could be sold to help feed the poor. He tells them “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”(Matthew 26:11-13).

Mary and Martha send for Jesus, but he waits until Lazarus is completely dead (it was believed by some Jews that the spirit hung around for three to seven days after death). It is Martha who runs to Jesus when he arrives after Lazarus’ death. If he had only gotten there earlier, Lazarus would have been healed but here he was dead and in the tomb and stinking for four days.

The bible makes the point that “ when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house.” Mary remained at the house with the neighbors who came to comfort her. We know that Lazarus’ death and resurrection is one illustration Jesus wants to make, and we are going to see that there is one more connection to be made.

Here it is:

“After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” Jesus was headed to the tomb where Lazarus lay but it was important that Mary who had a hungering for the Scriptures and the things to come, be there when he brought Lazarus forth from the tomb. Thus, he said six days later, “she has prepared me for my burial.”

Just the facts, ma’am. Women had gone every step of the way with Jesus. They did not abandon him at the time of his trial; they did not deny him. Jesus is headed toward the tomb where at least two Marys will be the first to see him after his resurrection.

It is 2019. Jesus has been resurrected and the New Day dawned over 2,000 years ago. Are you still denying women equality in your church or in your home?

(reprinted from my post in 2016 Lent. Destination the Garden series)

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Part 1. Destination the Garden

You see, it began with the Garden of Eden and it culminated in the Garden of the Tomb and with the resurrection. That is no coincidence. And it is no coincidence that a woman was the one who was there when the Lord was revealed.

It was all leading up to that, of course, but they didn’t see it and I can bet your pastor doesn’t see it either. The scriptures pointing the way have been used for other illustrations if they are mentioned at all.  Rarely will you hear a sermon on the four women Jesus chose to lead the way.

But first, we must go back to that first Garden. This is a story the Jewish leaders and every household knew very well, just as we Christians know it and teach our children.

Man and woman were banned from the Garden. The man was to till the soil and the woman was to give life. Her name was now Eve which means “life” or “life-giving, or “mother of all who have life.”

Tears come into my eyes for all the Eves of the world. Eve wanted knowledge. She would be the one giving birth to future generations, but those same sons and daughters would curse her. God did not curse her. He cursed the snake and the ground that would be tilled, but he did not curse the man or the woman.

In this series “Destination, the Garden” we will see how Jesus, the “second Adam” demonstrates  redemption to the woman. And we will learn that yet, again, those sons and daughters still curse the woman who gave them life.

(this is a repost of my Lent February 12, 2016 Destination, the Garden series)

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Beyond the Grave: A Christian Dilemma

My latest book is now published on Amazon in print and ebook. I am not a biblical scholar and most people I know are not either. But we are all touched by death, and we all have some belief regarding what happens.

What happens to our bodies and souls when we die presents the biggest dilemma that Christians face. It would appear to be simple, but it is far from that. In addition to the Bible, Christians have incorporated theology, cultural beliefs, songs, movies and mysticism into what is believed about heaven and hell.

We are reading the same Bible, but what we accept as truth varies from one church to another, from one person to another, and from one generation to another.

This book is written in a conversational style by a church secretary. It has a little bit of humor, and a whole lot of scripture thrown in. You will discover 5 commonly held beliefs about death, and 5 distinct beliefs about hell. You will learn that Christian theology about what happens after death continues to change. You will be challenged to fire the devil.

Most of all, this book will give you hope and help you come to terms with death and dying. You will find God’s love spread throughout these pages.

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Book Review Redemption from Biblical Battering

Many years ago, I sat in my best friend’s home, and she said, “last night my husband got so mad because dinner wasn’t ready when he got home, that he threw the pot of chili against the wall.” I was horrified and could not imagine how someone could throw food and make such a mess and then walk away from it as if nothing had happened while she cleaned it up. My friend stayed with her husband and I am sure the chili incident was just one such event in their many years of marriage. Eventually he had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair and she had to take care of him for years.

In the 10 years I have been working for women’s equality, I have heard many such stories. It could just as easily be blood splattered against a wall. Christian families are as prone to these abuses as those who never attend church. The bible is quoted and used against the wife when she speaks up for herself. She is accused of not submitting to the husband. She lives on tenterhooks not knowing what the night will bring when he walks through the door.

Shirley Fessel writes about spousal abuse in her workbook Redemption from Biblical Battering (available on Amazon and on Kindle). You can find more on her website

Married to a minister who abused her while quoting scripture for over 10 years, Shirley writes of her experience and deliverance from the marriage and her personal journey to finding freedom. The book leads the reader in examining what is happening to her and how she feeds this emotional abuse.  I think of my friend with the chili against the wall. He knew she would clean the mess up and make him another pot. This book will show women how to change their reaction to such behavior.

This subject is hard to read about, but there is a pattern that abusers take, and there is a pattern that those who are abused follow. This book will help you recognize what is happening.  Understanding how the abuser works and your natural response to this abuse will lead you in your path toward wellness and eventual redemption from biblical battering.

While Shirley Fessel does not outright recommend leaving the abuser, I do. Children grow up and can leave an abusive home, and a wife should be able to do the same. This book will help her as she grows in wisdom and maturity.

I highly recommend this book Redemption from Biblical Battering. Those who are currently being abused should read this book (I recommend hiding the book and reading it in secret). Children who were raised in a home where their mother was abused should read this book as it will help them recognize what was happening. Those who have family members who are being abused should read this book as it will help them understand how a wife can stay with a husband who is abusing her.  Pastors should read this book and acknowledge what is happening in Christian homes and make every effort to help women who are being abused. Counselors should read this book and even though they know it already, they need to see a new perspective on it.

I am not a counselor and have no knowledge of the course women should take when being abused. What I do know is that the Bible was never intended to be a hammer over women’s heads.

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Book Review “Once an Insider”

In one of my books, I declared that if I were a Calvinist, I would be out fishing instead of working for Christians to get their act together and allow women the full equality God gave them. So I was intrigued when I received an email from an author asking me to review her book, Once an Insider, Now Without a Church Home.

She described the book as “One couple’s faith crisis due to the infiltration and spread of authoritarianism, Calvinism, complementarianism, and covenants in the American Evangelical Church.”

Amanda Farmer writes about her experience when her church in Minnesota began to change its original mission and vision to embrace Calvinism, and the pastor’s supreme authority over a congregation, which led to teaching that women were to be in submission to male leadership in the church.  Where women once had a voice in the direction of the church, they no longer did.

Amanda and her husband Gordon were both very involved in their respective faiths. Amanda was a Mennonite and Gordon was Lutheran when they met and married. They decided to find a different faith they could both feel comfortable in and devote their lives to by serving in all phases of a church life. The church started out small and these two were involved in all the ministries such as being on the Elder Board and the Administrative Council. Amanda was the church Treasurer for most of those years and Gordon served on the Elder Board. Gordon used his skills each year to design and make various Vacation Bible School props, even making a roller coaster one year. They loved their church pastor, the church family and their part in the church ministries.

For over 25 years of faithful church service, and with the service of several pastors, they served faithfully. That began to change when one of their pastors began to lead the church toward Calvinism. As is expected, most of the congregation had no idea what the change was all about and did not see it coming, but Amanda did, and began writing the Board and the pastor asking for clarification in what was being taught.

The book chronicles Amanda and Gordon’s service and what brought about their dissatisfaction and uneasiness in the theology change they saw taking place. In their minds (and I will admit, in my own mind) this church was going backward to a time of John Calvin and the cultural mores of the day, to a time when women were not respected or valued for their leadership or voice. Instead of moving forward they became cult-like in their restrictive covenants and methods.

I recommend this book. Amanda is honest in telling her story. She made mistakes in what she said and did, but she knew in her heart that something was wrong. I admire her and her tenacity.

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Read Matt 23 before saying anything

Einstein may have said it first and we have latched on to it: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” That is what came to mind this week as I read an article in the Baptist Standard.

They asked the same questions they always ask 1) What are the key issues – opportunities and/or challenges- facing Baptist churches?; 2) What are the key issues facing Baptists as a people or denomination?; 3) What would you change about the Baptist denomination – state, nation or local?

Fair questions and the answers are standard. Don’t rock the boat. Keep doing the same thing over and over again, and expect different results.

I would suggest that every Baptist who is asked these questions read Matthew 23 before answering. This chapter is probably the least preached chapter in the New Testament, in my experience of listening to sermons for 57 years.

Start at the beginning and pay particular attention to verse 23 and 24:

23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! (NRSV)

Digest that and finish the chapter with verses 37-38:

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Now go back to questions 1,2, and 3. How are you going to answer them? Declining churches, growth of non-denominational megachurches, a new generation of “nones” all demand something different than a generic stock answer.

Think carefully about your response as you remember what Jesus said in verse 30 “and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 

Then look at verse 34 and see that you are doing the same thing: “Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town…”

God is sending women – yes, women! – to preach, to pastor, to serve as deacons, yet you turn them away. You accept them into your seminaries and then you kill their spirit because you have led the congregation to believe that women cannot serve a church as a deacon, much less as a pastor!

You really want to answer these questions about Baptists! Read Matthew 23.

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Women are not prey

Women are not prey. Or, are they? Women seem to have a built-in fear response as if we were likely to be somebody’s dinner. Every time I get on an elevator, I am hoping that I will not be there alone with a male. I walk with my keys in my hand to my car. I am constantly looking around me to see if there is anyone nearby.

I don’t live in fear of men as these responses are normal to women. Just as normal as breathing and taking care of children. We look out for our children and for ourselves.

Because we may be prey.

If we let our guards down, we may get hurt. We may be pinned upon a bed with a strong male laughing and having fun at our expense. The fear will never leave us, but that same fear was never in the male who was just being who he is.

John Piper said “But this deeper meaning of manhood does not lose its significance when he walks out of the door of his home. Men, as men, everywhere, all the time, bear a burden, under God, to care for the well-being of women, which is not identical to the care women owe men.”

Piper makes this claim using Ephesians 5:25-30. “Modeling the peculiar summons to the man in marriage, Christ dies for his bride to save her, beautify her, nourish her, and cherish her.”

A claim that equates males with Christ, which Piper and his followers do.

So, if we as women have this God-given built-in fear of being prey, of protecting ourselves and protecting our children, how can we then look to males as being our protectors?

I am not sure what kind of care that Piper thinks women owe men (probably cooking and cleaning). What I do know is that in general women outlive men and are often left alone to take care of themselves. And we do this with the built-in God-given fear of being prey.

As usual, the secular world has led the way for social change. Many evangelicals are willing to blame the woman as we are taught to do because she is the instigator of sexual misbehavior. But these same women hold their keys in their hands when they go to their car, they watch out to see who is getting on the elevator with them.

We have to look back at history to see what made the great change. It is my hope that women have finally risen up and spoken up and declared “We are not prey. But we will never let our guard down, because the lamb cannot yet lie down with the lion.”

It is time. It is time to stand up. Speak up. 

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