Author Archive

From ERLC Parenting Panel: Prayers Drawn from Scripture for Your Children

Blessed to serve you, parents. I hope these selections put a little extra iron in your blood as you persist in prayer for your children. Not one moment spent in prayer is ever wasted. We will not always get what we ask but we are always heard by our gracious and merciful God as we voice our petitions in the name of Christ, His Son. And this we know: He loves our children.
Beth
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Parent-Prayers Armed With Scripture

 

 

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Introducing…The Sisters Series!

 

Share your questions with us here! https://bit.ly/SistersSeriesForm

Hey, Everybody!

God has been so gracious to keep us caught up in Him at Living Proof and inspired to do – or at least try to do! – new things. He’s added some of our very favorite things to LPM this year like Tuesday Prayer Hour, for instance, where we open our ministry doors and pray for anybody who walks through them every Tuesday at noon and like Invited, our monthly worship gathering for women. He’s also added incredibly gifted women to our staff who bring all sorts of new elements and opportunities to serve you. All of our staff members are so gifted and serve women actively and tirelessly in ways you may never see up front but they are part of every event and every opportunity we have. Not one is dispensable. We don’t have extra staff around LPM. Every employee plays a critical part in the ministry. In recent years it’s been impossible for me to miss that God is increasingly bringing us staff members who are gifted not only behind the scenes but also, I believe, in front of the screen. You’ll be meeting them more and more over the coming months.

Nothing excites me more than seeing women develop as communicators of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have been very reluctant in past years to throw employees up in front of the screen or on the blog for several reasons. First, the more out front we are, the more of a target we become for criticism and ridicule and it’s just not fun to watch people I employ get subjected to that.  It’s flat-out unavoidable in our current culture. Second, I have enough trouble just answering for myself. Being responsible for every syllable that comes out of another mouth publicly at LPM seemed daunting to me. But I’m over that now and I’ll tell you why. Nobody gets it right all the time. Everybody has to have space to grow. Everybody at times says more than he or she knows. Our mouths inevitably overshoot our knowledge. If we’re only allowed to put people out there who can keep everybody pleased, then we need to close the doors at LPM and vacate the building because we’ve got no one to offer.

But what we DO have to offer is a team of women who really, really love Jesus, who have lots of joy amid lots of legit troubles, who have active prayer lives and believe with all our hearts that the primary way to get to know God is through the study of His Word. What we DO have is a team of women who are willing to step out there into the unknown and serve you at the risk of missing it at times. What we DO have is a team of women willing to do just about anything to serve you well and absolutely anything to be obedient to the leadership of the Spirit.

Today it is my tremendous honor to introduce you to one of our very willing team members. Please meet Selena Schorken. She’s been at LPM for almost a year and I was captivated by her the first time I met her. If I recall correctly, she’d only been with us a couple of months when I pulled her aside and asked her if she’d ever consider coming on screen with me. It’s not often that I have a fellow ham at LPM (I don’t know if “ham” translates to all of you but think the reverse of spotlight-shy) but these days, I have a few of them, and you can bet sooner or later you’re going to meet them.

Selena and I are teaming up together to bring you a new little element that we hope will serve you even if occasionally all it serves you is some clean ridiculousness. We are calling it “Sisters Series” where we talk about what you want to talk about. These will be 15 minute (or less) videos where we take questions or subjects you’ve suggested and Selena and I take them on. Our ages are separated by nearly 4 solid decades and that’s one of the things that we think might make it extra fun when it’s more lighthearted and give it more dimension and complexity when the subject is a little heavier.

So, what kinds of questions and subjects? You tell us! That’s where YOU come in. Think more in terms of conversations between sisters than teaching segments because of the time restriction but that doesn’t mean there will be nothing taught. We’ll let it go where God takes it. Just think in terms of entries that lean more toward mentoring questions or sister-like questions or very specific Bible questions or meaningless-but-fun personal questions that could be answered in a fifteen minute or less time frame.

You’ll find your link for entering questions right under the intro video above and, if you’re willing, we’d love to be able to say your first name and what city you’re from and your basic age group so that you become part of that segment, too. If you are entering a question that you want to be kept anonymous, be sure and tell us!

We love serving you guys. We hope this will be some edification and encouragement in a social media world where manure is constantly flying. To duck it for just a few minutes seems like a respite to us. That’s what we’re hoping for our new Sisters Series.

With much affection,

Beth

 

 

 

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In Response to the SWBTS Board of Trustees Decision

Like many of you, I was taken by surprise by the May 30th release of the statement by the SWBTS Board of Trustees Executive Committee concerning the termination of Dr. Paige Patterson in its dramatic contrast to their previous decision. I do not know what the new allegations were or what added information brought them to this decision. What is clearly stated, however, is that they came to their decision unanimously and took action immediately and did so in order to be consistent with the biblically informed core values of SWBTS. They did so in order to make crystal clear that the Seminary stands and will stand against all forms of abuse. And they did so to grieve for individuals wounded by abuse. For these reasons, I deeply respect their decision and applaud their tremendous courage in what has surely been a brutal process. The committee members, too, should be in our prayers.

 

These are sobering days. These are days for each of us to go on our faces before God, searching our own sin-prone hearts, repenting for our own transgressions and asking God to dislodge planks out of our own eyes. We can and often do hold to attitudes so long that are so wrong, so skewed, but shared by so many people with tattered Bibles, marked by highlighters and sketched with margin notes that how could we be wrong? Especially after we were right about so many other things?

 

These things ought to scare us to death. These things are presently scaring me to death. Only a fool gloats when others fail. He or she is surely next. The mighty arm of God is swinging. He is so patient, merciful and kind. I do not doubt that He has urged and urged these matters to repentance and transformation only to be resisted and now, no less out of His mercy, grace and love for the church, He is coming swiftly. All those standing, beating their chests, are at a dangerous altitude for getting hit. The only safe place for any of us right now is down low. From there God will set us back on our feet in due time, freshly humbled and, therefore, ready for greater works to come as we carry the torch of the gospel in an increasingly dark world.

 

I without hesitation fully support the Trustees’ removal of Dr. Patterson but without pleasure or personal satisfaction. I only have sorrow for the excruciating pain the Patterson family is surely enduring. They will be in my prayers for a long time. So will those who have suffered the double heap of pain in having been hurt then unheard, particularly by those who were in positions to be protectors. There are many matters outside my realm of experience but, having served women for thirty-five years, this is not one of them. I am very familiar with the ravages of sexual molestation, harassment, abuse, assault and rape. I am very familiar with the demoralizing numbers of victims within our church culture silenced by fear, intimidation, shame, bullying and such manipulation of biblical submission as to border on pathological. These are acts of second-wave abuse, beyond civil action in court perhaps, but not beyond the court of the Ancient of Days. May He have mercy on us all.

 

Here is what I also know. I know how much healing can come when those who added to the hurt and did not act faithfully – or rightly repent when confronted with such – ultimately repent then, rather than shrinking back in shame, become an active part of restoration. My deep hope is that Dr. Patterson will take the necessary time to heal, reflect, seek counsel, as so many of us have, to determine what went wrong and why, then become active in helping create a healthier culture for both men and women marked by Christlikeness. What full redemption that would be. What honor and dignity.

 

What outshines this present darkness is the stunning number of courageous people who gleam like stars in the sky, holding firmly to the word of life in a warped and crooked generation.

 

*People like Megan Lively, who valiantly came forward, giving the Seminary the gift of opportunity to act rightly in the surfacing knowledge of woefully long-wrongs. There are others whose names are not public who also showed tremendous courage in telling their stories to those in positions to affect much needed change.

 

*People like the SWBTS Trustees who worked tirelessly and prayerfully to come to the right decision under terribly difficult circumstances.

 

*The burgeoning number of pastors, ministers and brothers in Christ who have spoken up and are presently speaking out against the abuse and misuse of women and girls and calling for the dignity and honor to be given them that Christlikeness demands. I have no words big enough to express my gratitude to God for the brothers who were simply never part of the disesteem in the first place.

 

*The countless women who have simply hung in there and served God through their churches. Also, the women who have been called into the ring at significant personal expense to fight lovingly and brilliantly for change. Karen Swallow Prior cannot go without mention among these. She is too good for this world but, Dear Lord in Heaven, how grateful we are that she is still in it.

 

The winds of change have been blowing for a while. But these winds have been upgraded to a hurricane. A holy hurricane. And what you do after a hurricane – I know this for a fact – is roll up your sleeves, love like you’ve never loved before, prepare for a long haul of healing, run first to the aid of those with the most destruction then to the larger community hurting, survey the damage, clean out the mud and debris and start rebuilding on solid rock.

 

“and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18

 

 

 

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A Letter to My Brothers

Dear Brothers in Christ,

A few years ago I told my friend, Ed Stetzer, that, whenever he hears the news that I’m on my deathbed, he’s to elbow his way through my family members to interview me about what it’s been like to be a female leader in the conservative Evangelical world. He responded, “Why can’t we do it before then?”

“Because you know good and well what will happen,” I answered. “I’ll get fried like a chicken.” After recent events following on the heels of a harrowing eighteen months, I’ve decided fried chicken doesn’t sound so bad.

I have been a professing Evangelical for decades and, at least in my sliver of that world, a conservative one. I was a cradle role Southern Baptist by denomination with an interdenominational ministry. I walked the aisle to receive Christ as my Savior at 9 years old in an SBC church and exactly nine years later walked the aisle in another SBC church to surrender to a vocational calling. Being a woman called to leadership within and simultaneously beyond those walls was complicated to say the least but I worked within the system. After all, I had no personal aspirations to preach nor was it my aim to teach men. If men showed up in my class, I did not throw them out. I taught. But my unwavering passion was to teach and to serve women.

I lack adequate words for my gratitude to God for the pastors and male staff members in my local churches for six decades who have shown me such love, support, grace, respect, opportunity and often out right favor. They alongside key leaders at LifeWay and numerous brothers elsewhere have no place in a larger picture I’m about to paint for you. They have brought me joy and kept me from derailing into cynicism and chronic discouragement amid the more challenging dynamics.

As a woman leader in the conservative Evangelical world, I learned early to show constant pronounced deference – not just proper respect which I was glad to show – to male leaders and, when placed in situations to serve alongside them, to do so apologetically. I issued disclaimers ad nauseam. I wore flats instead of heels when I knew I’d be serving alongside a man of shorter stature so I wouldn’t be taller than he. I’ve ridden elevators in hotels packed with fellow leaders who were serving at the same event and not been spoken to and, even more awkwardly, in the same vehicles where I was never acknowledged. I’ve been in team meetings where I was either ignored or made fun of, the latter of which I was expected to understand was all in good fun. I am a laugher. I can take jokes and make jokes. I know good fun when I’m having it and I also know when I’m being dismissed and ridiculed. I was the elephant in the room with a skirt on. I’ve been talked down to by male seminary students and held my tongue when I wanted to say, “Brother, I was getting up before dawn to pray and to pore over the Scriptures when you were still in your pull ups.”

Some will inevitably argue that the disrespect was not over gender but over my lack of formal education but that, too, largely goes back to issues of gender. Where was a woman in my generation and denomination to get seminary training to actually teach the Scriptures? I hoped it would be an avenue for me and applied and was accepted to Southwestern Seminary in 1988. After a short time of making the trek across Houston while my kids were in school, of reading the environment and coming to the realization of what my opportunities would and would not be, I took a different route. I turned to doctrine classes and tutors, read stacks of books and did my best to learn how to use commentaries and other Bible research tools. My road was messy but it was the only reasonable avenue open to me.

Anyone out in the public eye gets pelted with criticism. It’s to be expected, especially in our social media culture, and those who can’t stand the heat need to get out of the kitchen. What is relevant to this discussion is that, several years ago when I got publically maligned for being a false teacher by a segment of hyper-fundamentalists based on snippets taken out of context and tied together, I inquired whether or not they’d researched any of my Bible studies to reach those conclusions over my doctrine, especially the studies in recent years. The answer was no. Why? They refused to study what a woman had taught. Meanwhile no few emails circulated calling pastors to disallow their women to do my “heretical” studies. Exhausting. God was and is and will always be faithful. He is sovereign and all is grace. He can put us out there and pull us back as He pleases. Ours is to keep our heads down and seek Him earnestly and serve Him humbly

I have accepted these kinds of challenges for all of these years because they were simply part of it and because opposition and difficulties are norms for servants of Christ. I’ve accepted them because I love Jesus with my whole heart and will serve Him to the death. God has worked all the challenges for good as He promises us He will and, even amid the frustrations and turmoil, I would not trade lives with a soul on earth. Even criticism, as much as we all hate it, is used by God to bring correction, endurance and humility and to curb our deadly addictions to the approval of man.

I accepted the peculiarities accompanying female leadership in a conservative Christian world because I chose to believe that, whether or not some of the actions and attitudes seemed godly to me, they were rooted in deep convictions based on passages from 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.

Then early October 2016 surfaced attitudes among some key Christian leaders that smacked of misogyny, objectification and astonishing disesteem of women and it spread like wildfire. It was just the beginning. I came face to face with one of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life: Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women among many of these men. It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.

This is where I cry foul and not for my own sake. Most of my life is behind me. I do so for sake of my gender, for the sake of our sisters in Christ and for the sake of other female leaders who will be faced with similar challenges. I do so for the sake of my brothers because Christlikeness is at stake and many of you are in positions to foster Christlikeness in your sons and in the men under your influence. The dignity with which Christ treated women in the Gospels is fiercely beautiful and it was not conditional upon their understanding their place.

About a year ago I had an opportunity to meet a theologian I’d long respected. I’d read virtually every book he’d written. I’d looked so forward to getting to share a meal with him and talk theology. The instant I met him, he looked me up and down, smiled approvingly and said, “You are better looking than _________________________________.” He didn’t leave it blank. He filled it in with the name of another woman Bible teacher.

These examples may seem fairly benign in light of recent scandals of sexual abuse and assault coming to light but the attitudes are growing from the same dangerously malignant root. Many women have experienced horrific abuses within the power structures of our Christian world. Being any part of shaping misogynistic attitudes, whether or not they result in criminal behaviors, is sinful and harmful and produces terrible fruit. It also paints us continually as weak-willed women and seductresses. I think I can speak for many of us when I say we are neither interested in reducing or seducing our brothers.

The irony is that many of the men who will give consideration to my concerns do not possess a whit of the misogyny coming under the spotlight. For all the times you’ve spoken up on our behalf and for the compassion you’ve shown in response to “Me too,” please know you have won our love and gratitude and respect.

John Bisagno, my pastor for almost thirty years, regularly said these words: “I have most often seen that, when the people of God are presented with the facts, they do the right thing.” I was raised in ministry under his optimism and, despite many challenges, have not yet recovered from it. For this reason I write this letter with hope.

I’m asking for your increased awareness of some of the skewed attitudes many of your sisters encounter. Many churches quick to teach submission are often slow to point out that women were also among the followers of Christ (Luke 8), that the first recorded word out of His resurrected mouth was “woman” (John 20:15) and that same woman was the first evangelist. Many churches wholly devoted to teaching the household codes are slow to also point out the numerous women with whom the Apostle Paul served and for whom he possessed obvious esteem. We are fully capable of grappling with the tension the two spectrums create and we must if we’re truly devoted to the whole counsel of God’s Word.

Finally, I’m asking that you would simply have no tolerance for misogyny and dismissiveness toward women in your spheres of influence. I’m asking for your deliberate and clearly conveyed influence toward the imitation of Christ in His attitude and actions toward women. I’m also asking for forgiveness both from my sisters and my brothers. My acquiescence and silence made me complicit in perpetuating an atmosphere in which a damaging relational dynamic has flourished. I want to be a good sister to both genders. Every paragraph in this letter is toward that goal.

I am grateful for the privilege to be heard. I long for the day – have asked for the day – when we can sit in roundtable discussions to consider ways we might best serve and glorify Christ as the family of God, deeply committed to the authority of the Word of God and to the imitation of Christ. I am honored to call many of you friends and deeply thankful to you for your devotion to Christ. I see Him so often in many of you.

In His great name,

Beth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s a Good Good Friday: My Own Billy Graham Story

A number of years ago, fifteen or more I think, I was invited for the first time to speak at The Cove, the Billy Graham Conference Center. I was honored to be asked and had looked tremendously forward to it and prepared diligently, prayerfully. I’m also a mountain girl and I never met a Blue Ridge Mountain I wouldn’t have married. It was the first weekend of November. I remember the time of year distinctly because it holds a significant place in this story. I almost always travel alone to conferences to minimize any distraction to a sense of Christ’s presence as I prepare but my wonderful hosts at The Cove had set aside a two-bedroom cabin for me that was perched, I was told, in a spectacular spot on the mountain, just above the conference center.

 

My friend, Jan Silvious, was within driving distance of it and I knew she’d be the perfect cabin companion for those three days because she also travels and speaks and teaches and knows what it takes. And she’s refreshingly low maintenance. We rarely get to be in the same place so it couldn’t have been a better time to pull off a reunion.

 

When I arrived at the conference center, I was taken aback by its beauty. It remains, to date, one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever served. It was late Fall but Fall nonetheless and girlfriend’s a sucker for Autumn. I recall it being a pleasant kind of chilly. I’m not even sure I wore a coat. A sweater and a jacket was more like it, I recall. The young man hosting me asked if I’d like a tour of the building and the grounds. Yes, yes, of course, I would.

 

It happened almost immediately. This is the wretched side of having a rough and sinful background. You supply the enemy with so much material for condemnation and your self-destructive human nature is more than happy to double-team with him. I say this is the wretched side but, make no mistake, there is a good side. God’s grace to me is not in vain. I never, not for one minute, forget what Jesus pulled me out of. I never walk toward a microphone that I do not remember my past. I am not remotely tempted to believe any hyped-up press. I don’t know how leaders with a more righteous track record handle all of that but God is faithful to guard us and uses other means I’m sure. These are the means He uses very effectively with me.

 

How I have learned through the years to recognize the difference between God making the best use of my sinful past and Satan capitalizing on it is, of course, the result. The outcome of the Holy Spirit whispering, “No matter where I send you, never forget from where I saved you,” is humility. The outcome the enemy whispering, “No matter where he sends you, never forget what all you’ve done,” is misery. You’d think after a while I wouldn’t fall for it but sometimes it still rolls over me like an avalanche. That afternoon was one of those times.

 

No thinking person imagines Billy Graham was a perfect man. We all recognize there is no such thing. We are all weak in our natural selves. Christ alone was utter perfection wrapped in bruisable flesh. But, touring those grounds, it is absolutely impossible to miss how much the man did right. There’s also just this sense of sacredness there that I can’t explain. Perhaps even righteousness. Whatever it was, I suddenly felt woefully out of place. Jan arrived and we settled in our delightful, cozy cabin. I never said a word about what I felt. I spoke that evening for the first of what would be three times over the next 24 hours. The group was warm and welcoming and God seemed present. When we got back to the cabin that night, Jan looked at me and said in the plainspoken way that makes her one of the most fabulous people on earth, “What is wrong with you?”

 

When you are trying to hide how you really feel about something, never invite a Christian counselor to join you. They’re onto you. And they don’t mind confronting you.

 

“Nothing’s wrong with me!” I smiled my happiest. “I think I’m just tired. The time change and all.”

 

“It’s a one hour time change,” Jan quipped, deadpan expression. “Beth Moore, I know you. Something’s wrong and I want you to tell me this minute what it is.”

 

I mean, what was I going to say? “I feel bad about myself.” Oh, brother. Get a grip. Have a little cheese with that whine. I knew she’d roll her eyes and should. I wasn’t new to this thing. I teach the power of the cross continually and pound heavily on the difference between Holy Spirit conviction and self-condemnation. But, for the life of me, I could not pull myself out of this one. It was not that I felt guilty. It was that I felt heartbroken. Even the recollection causes tears to sting in my eyes.

 

I hugged my friend, told her how happy I was that she’d come, assured her I was OK, which she, of course, knew was bull, and we each headed to our rooms and went to bed.

 

The only person in the universe I wanted to talk to was Jesus. I lay in that bed and sobbed and sobbed with a wide-open Bible on my heaving chest. I suppose it was open to the Psalms. I’m not sure. I couldn’t have seen through my tears to have read a single word. Sometimes you just hold the Scriptures. I said in whispers between sobs, “You were worthy of that.” “I wish so much I’d done it that way.” “You were so so worthy of that.” “I wish I could do it all again.” “I am so sorry.” “I am so, so sorry.” My past relationship with defeat was complicated. I covet those with backstories filmed in black and white. “I was in terrible sin. Then I met Jesus. Then I never terribly sinned again.” If that’s your story, you are so blessed. Depart from me, I never knew you.

 

I was a little girl when I came to know Jesus. A very troubled little girl who would cycle in and out of the pit for years and years. My darkest time of sin and defeat did not occur out of rebellion. I was not looking for trouble. I was awakening to the brilliance of Scripture and was becoming increasingly enraptured by Jesus. I’d already surrendered my life to ministry at 18 and pledged to be faithful to Him all my days. I wasn’t. I have no explanation for the darkest season except that Satan placed a bet on my well-hidden brokenness wrought by victimization and unrelenting instability in my childhood home. At the time I fell into the deepest abyss that would ever swallow me, I was a young adult who genuinely loved Jesus and never let the sun come up without meeting with him. The devil’s mean. The flesh is stupid. And together, they team up for a trainwreck.

 

That dark time was years behind me as I lay in bed and sobbed that night in the cabin above The Cove. I’d long since had counseling over it. Long since, by the grace of God, broken out of the pattern that had dogged my young years. Long since lived in the light. I’d truly repented and never returned to that pit. Still, the regret at times was almost more than I could bear. Every wave of fresh love I’d have for Jesus would be followed sooner or later by a fresh wave of heartbrokenness over old sin.

 

Jesus was strangely quiet that night as I wept. Often in a wave of despair like that one, His Spirit will remind me of certain verses or I’ll sense His comfort. I didn’t feel like He wasn’t with me. I just felt no response at all. Not even a good, swift kick in the pajama pants like, “Oh, get over it.” Nothing, just quiet. Just despair. I cried until I was empty, my hair sopping wet at the temples. I fell asleep with that Bible wide open on my chest.

 

The next morning I awakened well before dawn and crept quietly, so as not to awaken Jan, into the small den between our two bedrooms to turn on the coffee maker. I looked out of the picture window of our cabin and saw a strange and unfamiliar sight. I squinted my eyes and looked as hard as I could. I walked over to it and tried to make out what I was seeing. I hurried over to the door and opened it and everywhere I looked, it was the same sight.

 

I ran into Jan’s room and said, “Get up! I have to show you something!”

 

“What on earth?”

 

“Jan, get up! I need you to see something! I need to ask you something!”

 

I got her by the hand, dragged her onto the porch of that little cabin, both of us in our pajamas, and I turned her toward me, held her by the shoulders and said, as seriously as I have ever said a word in my entire life, “Jan Silvious, I have a question to ask you and I need you to think about it and be very sure about your answer before you give it to me.”

 

“OK,” she said, looking completely confused and coffeeless.

 

I pointed toward the limbs of the trees right in front of us. “Jan, is that frost? Or is that snow? I need to know.”

 

“This is what you got me up for?”

 

“Jan. Frost? Or snow?”

 

She shook her head and laughed at her friend from the hotlands of the Texas Gulf Coast and said, “Beth, that is not frost. That is snow. Frost does not heap up on the branch.”

 

And I began to jump up and down right there in my pajamas and I yelled from the top of my lungs for that Blue Ridge Mountain and every soul on it to hear, “Whiter than snow! Whiter than snow! Jan, Jan, Jan! I’m whiter than snow!” Got her by the arms. Made her jump with me.

 

“We’re whiter than snow!”

 

That morning when our host greeted us, he said, “How about this snow? We weren’t expecting it this weekend. It’s pretty early for these parts around here.”

 

Oh, no no no, Brother. It was right on time.

 

It was one of the best days of my life.

 

Today, on this day, we remember the best day of our lives.

Christ’s worst day. Christ’s best day. The day toward which the first day dawned. The day heaven and hell crashed violently in the skies and the devil who’d shown up for his big triumph was put to open shame.

 

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:13-15

 

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:

       though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow;

       though they are red like crimson,

they shall become like wool. Isaiah 1:18

 

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Psalm 51:7-8

 

 

Whiter than snow, loved one in Christ. The nightmare is over. You’re clean.

 

Whiter than snow.

 

 

 

 

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Sorting Through the Church’s Silence

The choirs of outcries from Hollywood over the Harvey Weinstein scandal concerning crimes against women and those echoing globe-wide over the atrocities of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar against children drop a question of epic proportions into the lap of the church:

Why are we who preach and teach “the truth will set you free” largely bound by silence regarding sexual assault and abuse?

Rachael Denhollander’s cogent courtroom testimony, masterfully articulating both the grace and justice of Jesus Christ, made her identification as a Christian beautifully clear. We were immensely proud to be her sisters and brothers and to stand with her in the public square. Then came the irony of discovering that her advocacy for sexual assault victims had cost Rachael her church. What’s more, most of us suspect her congregation wouldn’t have been the only one. What are we to do with this disparity? Why would followers of Jesus be among the least vocal and the slowest to respond when Christ, whom we are called to imitate, was a relentless defender of the powerless, misused, victimized and abused? In specific regard to children, why do we – activists in numerous other streams of concern – choose reserve about wrongs for which Jesus reserved a titanic threat?

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Mt 18:6–7 NIV). 

A few of the most obvious reasons have been discussed and cussed in recent months. Protecting powerful people (which can include ourselves), institutions and systems from shame, accusation, desertion and defunding are a few major contributors. Throw alongside those a nobler rationalization: the preservation of the “greater good.” This, of course, is an absurdity since hiding abuse will ultimately and absolutely be the institution’s (and the person’s) undoing. God just really doesn’t let us get away with that kind of thing forever. He’s too faithful. Christ’s own theology of secrecy can be summed up in two simple words: secrets manifest. Thankfully, the assurance is true in regard to good secrets as well as bad. (Matt.6; Mark 4) The faster we uncover the toxic ones before God (Ps.32:5) and before proper authorities, the better. Lastly, what we’ve proved willing to overlook for political gain has rendered us mute lest our hypocrisy know no bounds and, although that matters to me, that’s not the fish I care to fry today. My purpose in this article is to throw another possible explanation on the table for consideration.

I wonder if much of our silence, our squirming and palpable discomfort, regarding the exposure of sexual abuses is wrapped up in our guilt, shame or brokenness over our own sexual sins. After all, who among us hasn’t committed sexual sin whether in imagination or action? I will leave room for perhaps three of you out there somewhere who are now officially excused from this discussion. Please go reward yourselves with a half gallon of Ben and Jerry’s which we ask you to consume in one sitting just to make the rest of us feel some level of comfort over your gluttony or go covet your coworker’s car or at the very least be visibly proud of your purity over all aforementioned transgressions so we can be consoled by your sinful pride. Maybe the rest of us could sit around here for a second and give this theory some mild consideration. Even if our sexual sins belong to our pasts and our lives bear fruit of true repentance, we may still have an enormous reluctance to bring sexual misconduct to light.

And for good reason. Take John 8, for instance, and the woman caught in the act of adultery dragged into the temple courts and Christ’s response to whether or not she should be stoned. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Every accuser fell silent to the thuds of rocks dropping at their feet. Which of us has the right to throw a stone? None, of course. That’s the way of Jesus. That’s the way of grace.

The thought that it could be our own sins shamefully exposed is so horrifying that we’ve ripped off a piece of duct tape and slapped it across our mouths. Most of us have not only committed some form of sexual sin. We’ve also grappled at one point or another with some level of sexual dysfunction, however well we hid it or quickly we moved through it. The statistics on pornography alone testify to our skewed sexuality. We understandably feel guilty about pointing out such weaknesses in others and our sensitivity to hypocrisy is appropriate. We see the faces of the accused all over the media and imagine our own mugs between their crimson ears and the sordid reports of our own sinfulness in print instead of theirs.

But here are a few questions I’d like to pose: do all sexual sins call for the same response? Are we meant by God to respond to the sexually abusive the same way we respond to the sexually immoral? To be sure, all stones of condemnation drop to the dirt in the presence and perfection of Jesus, crucified for our sins and raised from the dead so we can walk in newness of life. His grace extends to all. His forgiveness is earned by none. All sexual sins have negative repercussions but all sexual sins don’t cause the same level of repercussions. Likewise, all predators are immoral but not all immorality is predatory. Do we walk away from an unrepentant rapist because we’ve all sinned sexually in one way or another or do we apprehend him? Do we ignore a church leader’s sexual harassment because we slept with people in college? Forgive me for being so direct but these things need sorting out.

If we are going to move to a place of healthy community in the church where there is thriving instead of conniving, where the sheep are protected instead of the wolves, where the abused find shelter instead of the abusers, we’re going to have to sort out our convoluted thinking about sexual misconduct.

It is imperative that we learn to differentiate between sexual immorality and sexual criminality.

Both are sin.

Both call for repentance.

Both require grace.

Both can be forgiven, slates wiped clean, by our merciful God though the cross of Christ.

Where church and ministry leaders are concerned, both also call for proper action. But one calls for a different proper action. It calls for the police. While all sexual sin is immoral, not all sexual sin is criminal. There is sexual sin in general. And there is sexual assault in particular. There must be a distinction drawn between the two.

Here’s the bottom line. The problem is enormous but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We’ve helped blow it up to its current size with our breathy silence. We won’t be able to eradicate sexual crimes – only the coming of Christ’s kingdom will accomplish that – but, by His grace, power, wisdom and courage we can lessen it in our own midsts by a landslide. We have victims of sexual assault, molestation and abuse all over the church – 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males – just as we do in virtually any community. We also likely have some predators and abusers in our congregations. So, do we quit going to church? No, unless we want to quit going to work, too, and to malls and social gatherings and sports events and concerts. Anywhere you have a crowd of people, you are among those who have abused and been abused.

So, what can we do? We address it head-on. We start making it well known – wisely and without witch-hunting histrionics – that the church is henceforth an unsafe hiding place for predators. It’s a great place for them to go forward and repent and turn themselves in, casting themselves on the grace of God with the rest of us but it must cease to be a safe harbor where they can hide and perpetuate their crimes. We need pastors and teachers who are willing to address these realities often enough to alter the silence culture.

I think numerous Christians genuinely just need to know it’s God’s will to expose such things. After all, love covers a multitude of sins. And, thank God, it does but love does not perpetuate victimization by covering for a victimizer. Love that uncovers one in order to cover another is by no means loving. We’re smarter than this. We can discern better than this. We know in our gut that covering up grievous wrongdoing because the individual is a fellow believer can’t be what 1 Peter 4:8 means.

Ephesians 5:11 says “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose them.”

Ephesians 5:13 follows it up with these words: “But when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”

We don’t expose darkness darkly, with condemnation, hatred and vengeance. We expose darkness by the light of Jesus. Anything – absolutely anything – the light reveals, the light can also heal.

God alone knows the impact Rick and Kay Warren will have on churches all over the world because they were audacious enough last Sunday to address the topic of sexual abuse and assault from the platform in all their services. Kay courageously, shamelessly told her story, shared ramifications of the abuse and the road to healing and Rick preached on the themes from Scripture. I will long remember Rick’s address to his congregation. After nearly weeping with compassion over the hurt many had suffered and saying the simple but fitting words “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” he said this: “God has made me shepherd over this flock. I will do everything I can to make Saddleback Church a safe place for the sheep but it will not be a safe place for wolves. If you are a predator and you prey on my flock, I will hunt you down and I will turn you in.” He also invited abusers to the cross of Christ, to repentance and forgiveness, and prayed for them. It was not the abused that left church frightened that day. It was the unrepentant abusers and make no mistake. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Prov.9:10)

We need more than a handful of people to activate. We need church and ministry transformation. We need brothers and sisters who are brave enough to sort through their own sexual messiness, to repent where it’s called for, to be infused by the Holy Spirit to discern wisely and to distinguish accurately, to love healthily, comfort and protect valiantly and to help create an atmosphere where people thrive and healing really can take place. We need us all. We need all of Jesus.

I’ll end with this. A few days ago my morning Scripture reading included the first two chapters of Ruth. I was halted by Naomi’s statement of affirmation regarding the field of Boaz as a safe place for Ruth to work, even with many men close by (see Ruth 2:21). In Ruth 2:22, Naomi used these words: “It is good…lest in another field you be assaulted.” What the chapter conveyed about both Naomi and Boaz as alert, aware and proactive protectors was profound. Women, let’s be like Naomi, informed, smart, discerning, and like Ruth, willing to listen to sound counsel – not fear-mongering but sound counsel – about safe versus dangerous places. Men, take up the mantle of Boaz and see to it valiantly, wisely and shrewdly, that in your field, whatever and wherever it may be, no one gets assaulted. And, should anyone be harmed despite your watchfulness, you know what to do.

Do what is right.

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Invited: a Worship and Prayer Gathering for Women

 

***UPDATE: Because there has been such great interest in Invited, and due to limited seating, we have decided to open registration! Book your seat here!

Hey girls! Lots of new and exciting things are stirring at Living Proof in 2018 and we are especially thrilled to share this one with you! Starting Wednesday evening, January 17th, we will be hosting a monthly ministry night for women who’d like to participate. I’ve longed for some local hands-on ministry where the Holy Spirit is invited to create an environment for effective, fervent prayer and for building up our faith in God and His Word. By His grace and goodness, this prayerful longing is resulting in a new once-a-month gathering we’re calling Invited. It will differ a bit from what I have the privilege and passion to do the rest of the time. If you’ve been to our other events like local Bible studies here in Houston and Living Proof Live events around the country, you know that our usual approach is a half hour of uninterrupted praise and worship followed by a 60-75 minute Bible lesson complete with points on the screen, Greek or Hebrew word definitions, quotes, commentary excerpts and concepts developed into what I always pray will be a comprehensive theme. This is my favorite method and will continue to be my absolute priority.

But I also have a deep yearning to be part of a night each month that creates more space for prayer. We are each and all in desperate need of  prayer and, for many of us who genuinely love God and His Word, it is our weakest muscle. We were promised that we would receive power when we received the Holy Spirit and, if we’re in Christ, indeed we have but often faith-filled prayer is what God uses to activate that supernatural unction in us. We aren’t meant to barely eek by. We’re meant to abound. Yes, we’ll always have difficulties and sufferings but we can still flourish in our faith and either see God move mountains or climb them to get a better view of Him.

I’m convinced based on the authority of God’s Word that He is still willing to perform miracles and, yes, often in our circumstances, but always in our hearts and, if we’re willing, also on the battlefield of our minds. Invited will be an atmosphere…

…where I can bring a word I’ve sought from God and prepared but one that is deliberately shorter, free of handouts, power point slides and minutely-detailed scripting.

…where prayer and worship and the Word of God are not as segmented as most of our services (and often appropriately so) but integrated more spontaneously throughout the gathering.

…where there won’t be any snacks. Or kids*, though we love them so. Or coffee, though we love it so. 🙂 Just a water fountain in the hall. And, I pray, Living Water in the sanctuary. (*I wish we could provide childcare but it’s just impossible to figure out for this kind of thing.)

It’s just bare bones. The kind of bones we pray God will raise back to life.

A mega sanctuary is a fabulous place for Bible study but not as conducive to the environment we’re hoping God will appoint for this event. Bayou City Fellowship, my home church, has welcomed us to hold Invited in their sanctuary and it will be the perfect size. We will move the event into our new Bayou City Fellowship Spring Branch location for the sake of inside-the-city-proximity as soon as it’s finished by Summer but we’re going to meet at our Cypress campus until then. You’ll find the address at the conclusion of this post.

If you’re familiar with the term “seeker-friendly,” I can’t necessarily tell you that Invited will be the best environment to spring on a lost loved one, neighbor or friend but she is certainly invited, especially if she is desperate for prayer. It will be a place where people will be free to go to their knees or their faces in prayer if God so leads and where we might be directed to turn to several people around us and pray for one another or for our city or for the lost or grieved or broken. You get the idea. This event will not be designed for spectators. This one is for participants but, as long as you’re willing to participate, you don’t have to have an iota of experience. If you’re brand new to this whole faith-thing and want to come, by all means, do! I just want you to have an idea what you’re walking into. 🙂 At Invited, our goal will be to seek the One who is ever-seeking us. It won’t be slick. It won’t be Tweety. Instagrammy. Or Snap Chatty. But I pray it will be real and worth somebody’s time. I long for it and, if you do, too, let’s see what God might do.

 

So, our first gathering is Wednesday, January 17th 7-8:30 PM. And we have included dates for the next six months below. Invited will always be in the middle of the month on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening. (FYI for BCF women, this will not replace RISE. It will be in addition to.) Thank you for letting me share this new (interdenominational and nondenominational) vision with you. At Invited, we’re going to be putting up our phones and raising up our empty hands and I, for one, can’t wait.  Here’s the address:

Bayou City Fellowship Cypress Campus

12715 Telge Road

Cypress, Texas 77429

January 17  |  February 13  |  March 13  |  April 17  |   May 15  |  June 12

 

You guys are wonderful. Please pray for this event even if it’s not possible to attend or not really up your alley. I’m deeply grateful for the privilege to serve you! Tons of love to you.

Beth

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Why consent isn’t all there is to it

As demoralizing as it has been to see the continual surfacing of one public figure after another accused of sexual misconduct, harassment, abuse, assault and, in various cases, rape, it also comes with a sigh of relief to many exhaling the words, “It’s about time.” Most women and, tragically, even many teenage girls were already well acquainted with the depth and breadth of a problem that desperately needed to be publicly exposed. I do not claim in this article to speak for every woman or girl who has been abused, assaulted or harassed but I’d like, if I could, to speak from what I have experienced, seen. heard and learned, not only as a victim but also as a servant to women for 35 years.

I wish to make only one primary point in hopes that it will stick and to make it succinct enough for this article to be read in full. As solutions are being sought and these vital matters are being discussed, the word “consent” is, understandably and appropriately, the word in the forefront. The line to be drawn in the sand. While determining whether or not there has been consent may be enough for settling legalities and forming policies, it is unfortunately not enough to insure that an individual has not been victimized.

Countless women and girls (and boys) consent to sexual advances they do not welcome or want and that scar them for a lifetime. Or sometimes they consent to one thing and get something completely and disturbingly different. They do so for the same reason I did. They feel enormously pressured, extremely unprotected, overpowered and, at times, utterly powerless. I well remember feeling something akin to paralysis. The word “no” was not even in my vocabulary. The boundaries around my life were bulldozed early and by a bully, I might add, because, while not all bullies are sexual predators, all sexual predators are, in one way or another, bullies. There was no manual within my reach about how to rebuild those crumbled boundaries.

I did, however, learn as God raised me up in strength and dignity and restored me. He accomplished these works through making me a student of His Word and of His gracious ways and through godly counsel and by making me a woman of fiery faith and ferocious prayer and confidence in Christ. All of these are unabashed graces of God and to His glory alone. Part of my work has been to help facilitate that process for others and it remains one of the greatest privileges of my life.

And here is one of the most important concepts I can teach them: YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY NO TO UNWANTED SEXUAL ADVANCES. EXERCISE IT. Not a meek little whispery wispy “uh uh” but a full volume, confident, steel-strong “NO.” It’s not too late, no matter how old you are.

Parents, your part here is titanic. As you raise your children and teach them about the boundaries they get to draw around their lives, train them up with the confidence to use one of the most vital words in their entire vocabulary. And also teach them about how we can feel so pressured and overpowered, we feel like we can’t say no and how we can muster up the courage to get that reluctant term to bounce out of our mouths. This part is really really important: if and when you learn that harmful sexual advances were made on your child or loved one then come to find out there was “consent,” do not automatically assume consent is synonymous with welcome. Whatever you do, do not shame them. Help them. There won’t be a do-over on your initial reactions to their detrimental sexual experience. It will be hard for them to talk about so try to read what they are telling you by their behaviors and create a safe environment for them to communicate. Believe them as they slowly open up to you about what happened and show compassion and strength and facilitate whatever further help they may need. If there was legitimate welcome and consent, for crying out loud, still love your child and work through the complications. Don’t withhold physical affection from them like they’ve become a pariah unless they, for a while, don’t want you to touch them. Assure them over and over how loved and valued they are and teach them the life-giving concept of grace. You’re the adult. Don’t make your child parent you.

I wish tools like understanding (and expecting) pressures to give consent and like learning how to exercise the right to say no would solve everything. While these tools can have a strong impact in situations of harassment and less forceful unwanted sexual advances, they are often little to no help in a rape or assault. If you or someone you love suffer (or have suffered) such a torrential crime, please know there is help out there. There is healing to be had in Christ and much esteem, dignity and strength to be regained in Him.  Boundaries can indeed be rebuilt around your life healthily that do not become a prison to your heart, perpetuating your pain and isolation.

I’ll conclude with this. Five minutes of stunningly selfish sexual pleasure can cost a victim a lifetime of suffering. Little can be more demoralizing and infuriating than the shoulder shrugging of victimizers and their sympathizers. “It wasn’t that bad.” Sometimes all we who have been victimized have left to say are the words of Christ from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And sometimes that can be enough because, make no mistake. Nothing is more empowering than calling wrongdoing wrong, calling yourself loved of God and valued and, by the power invested in you as His child, forgiving those who don’t have a clue how much they hurt you.

Let’s keep this truth ever before us in these days of ever-surfacing evil: God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. God has no dark side.

 

 

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The Quest For Teen Girls!

Here’s something fun we got at the ministry today in case it can help with Christmas shopping! Don’t panic if you have to leave a message. Let us know how to reach you, and we’ll call you back! 1-888-700-1999

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Waking and Responding to an Unwanted Era

Several weeks after 9/11 I went with a team of leaders gathered by the American Association of Christian Counselors to New York City to minister to pastors, their spouses, their fellow church leaders and various ministry leaders who’d served their city and congregations after a tidal wave of terror hit their shore. I can still picture their faces. Some of them had not yet wept. Others had not ceased to weep. We’ve come to speak often, with appropriate awe and appreciation, of the first responders among civil servants in outbreaks of violence or tragedy. The leaders who’d gathered in that sanctuary to be served and comforted after 9/11 were first responders among church servants.

Many of the pastors who met with us that day had done what their seminary training could hardly have prepared them for. They’d conducted a mind-numbing succession of memorial services for members of their churches. “With no bodies,” one pastor murmured, his face almost as pale as death, his eyes hollow. We do not normally think of a casket as a tangible mercy in our grief but we realized that day with horror that cold metal can be warm comfort in terrible times. There was a pause, a giving way to the silence, a pleading for the Holy Spirit to plunge to the depths where no man can go, to intercede and bring a comfort not of this world to His very own servants. That day was a day for speaking the unspeakable. They could say anything they wanted or needed. They could voice feelings they were fighting that could not responsibly be uttered in such raw form to their congregations. Those of us serving them did our best to speak when speaking was appropriate. We held in our arms the ones who wanted holding. We sat near those who did not want to be touched.

As we search for words for what has befallen us, maybe 9/11 is the closest we can come to marking the birth of a different era, one distinguished by, of all horrific things, terror. Birth by stillbirth. Life in what we called a civilized world with a fire-breathing dragon of death coming out of hibernation. Terror from without and within. Global. Domestic. Evil. Environmental. We are not nearly as scared of death as we are of being scared in death. These things are unthinkable yet we must think of them. They are unspeakable and yet we must speak.

Wise, responsive action must be taken in coming days. There are outcries for legislation that need to be heard and reasonable measures to be taken for church security but this is an outcry for the fortification of the souls of our people. This is a plea for an awakening to the demands for responsible discipleship in the generation that has been entrusted to us, for training up and equipping strong, able Jesus-followers, sturdy living stones, tenderized by the love of Jesus, strengthened by His divine power.

I’ve thought over and over in the last five years, “we’re unprepared for what has befallen us.” Our discipleship, generally speaking, is not matching the demand of our violent, unstable days. We who follow Jesus were timed for this exact era on earth. God thought we were capable of serving it or He would not have planted us in this bloody soil at this moment in history. He’s a strategist. We leaders and teachers and mentors and communicators can either embrace what has been entrusted to us or answer for it when we see Him. We have churches doing no discipleship at all which would have completely flummoxed first century church planters and begged the question “Why bother?” Few of us have the patience or time to address for the millionth time all the ways we’ve flung our church doors open to the pandemic narcissism of our culture. Show them a good time. Do not dare call out sin or call for service or sacrifice or, God forbid, actual commitment. 

Those are tired discussions and I’m not in the mood to have them this morning. The discussion I’m in the mood to have is about revisiting the paradigm for discipleship in the early church where Jesus-followers were equipped to both suffer and rejoice. Not one or the other. Both. Take a look back at Matthew 10 and Luke 10 where Jesus sent out His followers and warned them what kinds of conditions they’d encounter. Look back at Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. They were taught to serve one another in extreme hardship and that it would not finish them. Rather, it would flourish them. If it killed them, well, they’d be in the presence of the Lord. They were equipped for the inevitability of affliction and not just how to survive it but how to abound in it. This is the heritage of the saints. New Testament believers were trained – not just told but trained – to weep together and laugh together. To remember Christ’s death together. To live out authentic resurrection life that could not be explained in natural terms. They were taught to battle demonic powers and principalities. They were taught how to grieve with hope. They were taught how to repent and be restored. How to turn from the sin that was hemorrhaging their witness and their tenacity in Christ. They were trained in prayer and taught how to keep the faith. They were taught to anticipate with great joy the vivid life awaiting them in Christ on the other side of death and that these are mere shadows compared to the substance to come.

The church in America is dying for this kind of discipleship, for the real, live fly-in-your-face thing that results in lives that matter greatly in their communities. I’m not pounding on something that I’m unwilling to put to practice. I have a long way to go and a lot to learn but I’ve made increasingly strong adjustments in Bible study curriculum in recent years. I hope the call to steadfastness, sacrifice, strength, love, faith and defiant joy in times of extreme duress and distress is blatant in the studies on James, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 2 Timothy and, most recently, The Quest. I want to be like Paul described Epaphras who was “always struggling” on behalf of those he served, that they might “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Col.4:12)

There is so much good news. Such a fresh embodiment of the increasingly disembodied Body of Christ. I’ve watched a slack-jawing awakening of service and sacrifice in churches in my own city in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. I have no doubt Floridians would say the same. I marveled yesterday as our pastor told us what our next phases of ministry would be. It included things like dropping off new mattresses in homes where beds were destroyed and families were sleeping on floors, hanging sheet rock, helping people fill out insurance claims. Serving in Houston has looked more like rebuilding a community after a war than the church of my young adulthood. What is this world we’ve awakened to???

It is our world. The only one we have for now. I’m the furthest thing from a pessimist but I don’t think it’s going to get better. I think we may get reprieves of mercy but I fear we have entered a travail we will not soon escape and that it will intensify. Here’s where my optimism comes in handy: I may not think our conditions are going to get better but I think the church is. Jesus-followers have what it takes to serve this world. We have the Holy Spirit. Now we need the training on how to allow Him to work effectively and fruitfully among us. We need discipleship fit for our days. We need the Scriptures. We need to be taught in our churches not only how to deal with our personal suffering but how to deal with our community suffering as a people.  We need to be taught our right to joy and how it flourishes most beautifully and colorfully in a landscape of difficulty.

I’ve run out of writing time and I’m sure you’ve more than run out of reading time. I’ve got no great ending to this post. Just earnestness. We wish things were different. They’re not. But we can be different. We can be disciples. Real ones. Trained ones. Tenderhearted ones. Fortified ones. Effective ones. Strong ones. Joyful ones. Courageous ones. Compassionate ones. And the world will be the better for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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