Saturday, March 31, 2007

One Day

One day...very soon, I hope. I will be back in a regular rhythm-- FAQs, leadership lessons, exploring dimensions of discipleship...after weddings and Godspell and baptisms...

This is probably the most exciting weekend of my life. Usually, Leadership Retreat is the most exciting weekend. But this weekend is packed with 3 things that I am most passionate about. First, Godspell opened this weekend. First performance was last night, and I am so proud of our cast and crew. This Godspell thing has been a dream of mine for several years, and it was so cool to stand in the back of Ebenezers and watch God make it happen. Secondly, we've got Leadership Summit in a couple hours. I love spending time with our leaders, rallying the troops, and preparing for the next semester. Finally, we've got a baptism class on Sunday for anyone interested in being baptized. I love baptisms! They remind us of what it's all about and why we do what we do.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Like the Old Days

Godspell officially opens on Friday night, but we've got a full invited audience for our final dress rehearsal tomorrow night (or tonight, I guess). It's 2:00 in the morning, and there's a group of hardy souls painting the set and working on the program. It's just like the old days! I love it. My mom and sister should be here enjoying this, as well!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Heading to Seattle

I'm heading to Seattle tomorrow. So excited about my friends Alan and Sara getting married! It's going to be a great time. I'm also super excited about officiating my first wedding.

Alan was a small group leader at NCC for several years, and he worked himself up to a zone leader position. I miss the Sunday afternoon sports that Alan organized.

Sara is a pharmacist from Nebraska, and she met Alan while working in Baltimore. Anyone that can follow Alan on his insane hikes will be a fantastic wife!

I'm really looking forward to seeing them, hanging out with some friends, and being a part of their wedding.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fantasy Baseball Rookie

I've joined my first Fantasy Baseball League! For the past few years, we've had a Fantasy Baseball small group at NCC. The first year, it was all men. Last year, it was men and women. This year, we split into two leagues-- one for men and one for women. Our group is called A League of Their Own, and my friend Jill Wyman is the commissioner.

I'm a rookie, so I spent a great deal of time last night pouring through magazines and stats to put together my spreadsheet for tomorrow's draft. I tend towards picking the new guys who seem to have a lot of potential as opposed to the old war horses. But then there are other guys that probably aren't worth squat or are getting too old that I want on my team just because I like them or they are a Yankee or a Brave. It transports me back to the days of trading baseball cards with my friends.

For anyone who might be wondering how the heck a Fantasy Baseball League qualifies as a church small group, you are not alone! I questioned it, as well, when the first one began. Theoretically, I firmly believed in the idea that God could take our passions and interests and turn them into community-building and disciple-making opportunities. But Fantasy Baseball? We took a risk, and that risk turned into one of the best groups we've ever had. Men joined up. The group met for managers meetings. They adopted a Little League field in our neighborhood and served as the grounds crew. They hosted a big All Star party and invited the Little League teams and coaches that played on that field. This semester, the men are taking things deeper by adding new dimensions of accountability and discipleship to the group.

Our two requirements for small groups is that they be relational (a place for people to connect in community) and missional (have a plan for making disciples and impacting their community). That's exactly what these group are doing.

Friday, March 16, 2007

You Come to Me?

Here's a picture from our Godspell preview performance at Ebenezers last night. We gave Ebz Anniversary patrons a sneak preview of the opening of the show. This is Dan Cummins (Judas/John the Baptist) and Nathan Spiwak (Jesus).

The photo was taken by Kacey McGowan, who is not only an amazing director, but also an amazing photographer.

FAQ: What is the Discipleship Atlas?

The Discipleship Atlas is our primary internal marketing piece for small groups at NCC. It is released at the beginning of each semester, and it lists all of the small group and ministry opportunities available for that semester. Most of our recruitment efforts are wrapped up in this magazine. Two weeks before the semester begins, we hand out a copy of the Atlas to every person who walks through the doors of NCC.

Each small group listing includes a picture of the leader or leadership team, contact information for the leaders, information on group meeting times and locations, and information on the group's topic. NCCers are encouraged to prayerfully read through the magazine and ask the Holy Spirit to point them towards the group they need to plug into.

In addition to the group listings, I write a "Field Notes" column about some discipleship/spiritual formation topic, and we publish articles writted by some of our small group leaders or participants. The Atlas breaks down out Discipleship Map into individual islands and highlights those core discipleship opportunities available on each.

It's a lot of work to put this thing together and it costs a lot of money. But we're okay with that because it communicates the priority we place on small groups. A spreadsheet could just as easily and more efficiently communicate information about groups, but it wouldn't necessarily communicate the importance of groups.

Each year, we have give the magazine a unique look and feel. In 2005, we focused on teamwork within our small group ministry, so we spoofed Sports Illustrated and published Small Groups Illustrated.

Last year, we released our first draft discipleship map, so we decided to spoof National Geographic and published National Community Geographic.

This year, we decided to move away from the spoofs and create something unique to NCC. Since the discipleship map has become the central metaphor for our discipleship strategey, we decided to go with the Atlas theme. I can't take any credit for this one-- I think zone leader extraordinaire Nathan Gonzales received a burst of creativity during a run along the National Mall.

You can see a .pdf of the entire thing here.

Book Review: Confessions of a Pastor

The more I read from Craig Groeschel, the more I like him. I read Chazown about a year ago, so I was thrilled when I got Confessions of a Pastor. This book is a quick read (I read it in one day) and it is authentic. Craig tells it like it is and doesn't hold back. He's a real guy sharing his real struggles, hopes, failures, and victories, and that's why I identify with him. But more importantly, he shoots straight about what God expects of us. That's why I like him.

Revolving around 10 confessions, this pastor of pours out his own struggles and challenges all of us to stop hiding behind spiritual masks and start becoming the people God has created us to be. I wasn't really blown away by the book, and I didn't make many underlines or comments in the margin (which is typically an indication that I've really enjoyed the book). However, the author invites us into his life in a way that is simultaneously grace-giving, truth-giving, and challenging. Reading this book was more like an honest conversation with a friend than a lecture of important details to remember or a set of pithy sound-bytes to highlight and live by.

Personally, I found the chapters on loneliness, inadequacy, and criticism particularly helpful.

One of the quotes that I identified with the most was, "I had become a full-time minister and a part-time follower of Christ."

I was expecting this book to be written primarily to pastors. While it certainly comes from a pastoral perspective and highlights some of the unique challenges that pastors face, this book shoots straight to everyone-- pastors, lay leaders, and committed Christ-followers.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Best Job

I was reviewing and pondering my to-do list earlier today:
  • Work on a homily for a wedding (I'm about to perform my first wedding for a former NCC small group leader)
  • Meet with small group leaders and help a few of them navigate some leadership opportunities.
  • Get ready for our Kenya missions trip meeting and appoint assistant leaders.
  • Write some leadership training materials.
  • Handle some logistical and administrative tasks in preparation for a 19-year dream of mine to land on the Ebenezers stage in 2 weeks (that would be Godspell, in case the previous week of posting hasn't offered a clue!)
That's an awesome to-do list! I'm so thankful that God has given me the opportunity to do what I do. I'm grateful for what I get to do and for the people I get to do it with.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Godspell Postcard

I've got more Godspell promotional goodies to share. This is our postcard, designed by cast member and artist extraordinaire, Bekah Kitterman.

Tickets are available at Ebenezers Coffeehouse (201 F Street NE) or online here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Godspell Tickets Online

Godspell tickets are now available online. Visit the site for Ebenezers Coffeehouse and go here for tickets and information about the show.

Birthday Cake

My friend Jill Wyman is an amazing cake decorator. Although she has taken some classes, she's pretty much self-taught. I turned ancient yesterday, and she made me a witch cake for my birthday.

Yes, she is my friend.

A witch cake probably seems strange, so perhaps an explanation is in order. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at our local community theatre. One of my favorite roles was the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz, which I played about 4 times. It was a great opportunity to melt, disappear in a blaze of smoke, and send little kids to the lobby screaming.

This might be my favorite birthday cake since my mom's Mickey Mouse.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Radical Femininity Sermon Notes

I've received a number of emails from people asking me to post my sermon notes from Battle of the Sexes: Radical Femininity. Please be warned the following post is 1) Very long and 2) Very rough. My manuscript was more of an outline than a finished piece, and I'm a bit scared to post them without serious editing. If you read something you disagree with, please engage in dialogue and don't write me off as heretical. :)

The sermon can be downloaded here.


Close your eyes and imagine with me for two seconds. When you hear the word, “woman,” what comes to mind? What images or pictures or feelings are associated with that? When you hear the word “femininity,” what image do you get? What pictures and thoughts come to mind? Are they similar? Are they different?

Consider the various examples of women of God in Scripture:

There’s Esther—who was the most beautiful woman in the kingdom and whose inner strength matched her outward beauty to save a nation. There’s Deborah- the warrior and political leader who saved her people. There’s Ruth—who was known for her faithfulness, loyalty, and ability to win a man through seduction. There’s Huldah—the prophetess that gave spiritual direction to King Josiah and the nation of Judah and led them to revival. There’s Hannah—who struggled through depression to become a model of motherhood. There’s Mary of the Mary/Martha duo—who rested in the presence of Jesus and learned at his feet in the posture of a disciple. There’s the Proverbs 31 woman—how many of us are tired of living in that shadow?

Did any of those women match the pictures of womanhood and femininity? Did any of them contradict?

Each one of us will express femininity uniquely. God created us women to reflect his image and glory of God. I want to talk today about Radical Femininity: being women that reflect the image and glory of God according to the unique design he has given to each of us. Fitting into a rigid mold of personality traits or role does not reflect or bring glory to the image of God.

Knowing what it means to be a woman of God can be difficult because there are so many different messages of what it means to be a woman. The world has downloaded various messages into our brains. When feminism emerged in the 1960s, it began fairly innocently and honorably—equal pay for equal work. But then it began to spin out of control and became distorted and twisted and began to tell us, “Women, if you want to be powerful and successful, then you must act like a man.” Instead of seeking only equality of pay, we began to seek equality in every other area and tried to displace men instead of complementing them, and we are still living in that trap today. We rightfully began to step into new spheres of influence and culture, but we entered more like men than like women. Instead of trying to be the women that God created us to be, we acted like men and slapped makeup over it.

Another message the world has delivered to us is that feminine power and significance lies primarily in our sexuality and physical attractiveness. Pick up any women’s magazine and it is jam-packed with articles on improving appearance and heightening the sex appeal. So we spend lots of time working and worrying about the outside.

Meanwhile, the church has painted a far different picture. The church has encouraged us to pay no attention to the outside because it will fade away and work hard only on inner beauty. In the church, femininity often means quiet, gentle, serving undercover, and often with no sexuality at all. To add to the confusion, the church has sent mixed messages to women throughout history and even today on what it means to be a woman and what roles we are allowed to play. One of the things that particularly bugs me is the literature put out by well-meaning Christians about what it means to be a godly woman. Most of it is geared towards those who are married and mothering, and the rest of it tends to follow the theme of “how to be a godly woman while you wait for these things,” as though somehow the pinnacle and sole goal of womanhood is a role of wife or mother. (Disclaimer: Please understand what I am not saying. I am not saying that there is any career more important than being a mother. My mom hit the pause button on her brilliant teaching career so that I could play sports, dance, play the piano, and do community theatre, and I’m convinced that my spiritual growth is tied primarily to my mom and dad and the way they brought raised me. What I am saying is that there is more to being a single woman than waiting for those things to happen.)

Today, I want to cut through all of this noise and static and confusion and go to the Scriptures—the source code, as my favorite pastor, Mark Batterson, refers to it.

In our confusion and in the midst of all these differing messages, we have sought to solve the Battle of the Sexes by minimizing our differences. But Genesis 1:27 very clearly spells out God’s intention: male and female. He created us as male or female for a reason. Last week, Pastor Mark went on record as thanking God that he was a man. I want to go on record this weekend as thanking God that I am a woman. But that also presents challenges…

As women, we are confronted with our gender numerous times in our lives—probably more than men. From our earliest days in pre-school, we begin to suspect that there’s something significantly and mysteriously different about our little boy friends. When I was very young, I desperately wanted some Spiderman underoos, and my mom had to explain to me that boy underwear were made differently than girl underwear. My suspicions were confirmed.

There are three distinct times I remember coming face to face with my gender identity, and the questions that arose because of them. I think they are questions that every woman faces, and the way we answer those questions is extremely critical.

Who am I?
The first time I can recall being faced with my vulnerability as a woman occurred in elementary school. There was a group of guys playing baseball on the recess field, and I wanted to join. But I was the only girl. There was one boy in particular, Scott, who was very vocal in his opposition to any girls playing. As I stood patiently along the first base line waiting to be invited onto the field, I pondered in my heard, “Scott is going down.” The next time Scott approached the plate, he struck out. I was on the pitcher’s mound. As we walked back to class, someone asked me, “Heather, don’t you wish you were a boy.” Interesting question. No one would question my playing with the boys. More opportunities could open for me. Perhaps I would feel more comfortable as a boy. Spiderman underoos…

I hesitated for a moment and then came to an important realization. Confidently, I explained, “No. I love being a girl. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to be a girl and be this good.”

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that was a very important and life defining encounter. I was forced to answer the questions, “Who am I?,” “What does it mean to be a woman?,” and “Do I view my gender a liability?”

Whether we are competing with the boys on the recess yard or in the corporate boardroom, those questions come to us in many different forms, and it is in those moments that we decide whether or not our femininity is a liability.

How does my gender affect my sexuality?
In college, I faced a different sort of question related to my gender. One of my best friends, who also happened to be my small group leader, went through a period of trying to set me up on a blind date with a man who was not a Christian. I refused. Several times. I just wasn’t interested in dating someone who wasn’t passionately running after Christ. Not to mention I’ve always been kinda weird about the whole dating thing and just wasn’t that interested in casual dating during those days. Frustrated that I kept rejecting this blind date idea, she informed me that she was afraid I was gay.

Now, in case you haven’t figured it out already from the baseball, Spiderman underoos, disinterest in dating, I tend towards being an a-typical woman. I was an engineering student, I loved to play football, and I wasn’t especially interested in dating. It didn’t take years of study to realize that I was already a little “different”—but because of that question I began to wonder, “is there something wrong with me?” I am so thankful for two wonderful, godly Christian roommates who affirmed my femininity and encouraged me and kept me from going down a dangerous path of questioning or giving a wrong answer to the question, “How does my gender affect my sexuality?”

All women have faced that question in some form, and how we answer it is critical. The answers vary greatly from woman to woman. Some of us have answered in a way that has led to paths of promiscuity, giving ourselves to men in search of love. Some of us have despised or ignored our sex drives ourselves because we answered that’s what a proper Christian woman should do. Some of us have listened to the questions and believed a lie that something is wrong with us—no one will want us, no one wants us except for sex. Some of us have gone outside the guardrails of God’s plan and sought an answer to that question in sex outside of marriage. Some of us have believed that because we are different, our sexual orientation does not match our gender. All lies. There are thousands of different lies to the question that we all face: “How does my gender affect my sexuality?”

How does my gender affect the roles I can play?
About four years ago, I faced yet another type of question related to my gender. When Pastor Mark first asked me to consider coming on staff full-time here in a pastoral role, I came face to face with my understanding that women should not be in church leadership positions. I grew up in a tradition that did not typically elevate women to ministry leadership roles and certainly did not place them behind the pulpit. To their credit, they did this from an honorable place of wanting to protect women against roles for which they were not designed. It wasn’t a matter of chauvinism, it was a matter of chivalry.

I had to face the question: “What is my role as a woman?”

Two years later, through studying Scripture and seeking the counsel of many wise men and women of God on both sides of the issue, I emerged with an answer—or at least part of an answer—to the question: “What is my role as a woman?” Like the other questions, we are faced with this one over and over in our lives. As our lives move forward and we enter new seasons, we are faced with new roles, each one with their own unique challenges and opportunities. What is my role as a daughter? As a wife? As a mother? As a student? As a business woman?

Three questions—Who are we as women? How does our gender affect our sexuality? And what roles do we play?

Today, I want to focus on that first question—Who are we as women? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What are the challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities that are unique to us as women?

To answer the question, “What does it mean to be a woman?,” we have to rewind all the way back to the beginning. Let’s look at Genesis 2:18-23

And the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him." So the LORD God formed from the soil every kind of animal and bird. He brought them to Adam to see what he would call them, and Adam chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock, birds, and wild animals. But still there was no companion suitable for him. So the LORD God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of Adam's ribs and closed up the place from which he had taken it. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib and brought her to Adam. "At last!" Adam exclaimed. "She is part of my own flesh and bone! She will be called 'woman,' because she was taken out of a man." (NLT)

There are two things I want to pull out of this to give us insight on what we were created for.

The first thing I want you to see is that Even was created to be an answer. She was created to be a solution. I am grateful to Lisa Bevere and her book Fight Like a Girl for that understanding. When we ask these questions, “What does it mean to be a woman? Is that a liability? Is something wrong with that?,” it’s important that we understand that God created us as an answer. God created us female because it was not good for man to be alone. God’s solution to Adam’s aloneness was not to create another man to go bowling, hunting, or to play poker with. The solution was a woman. I think a lot of us go through life thinking that we are problems or that our femininity is a problem. We are too needy, too loud, too fill in your own blank. We believe that somehow we are problems or that our femininity is problematic. I’ve been guilty of this, saying things like, “I don’t like being in women’s groups; they are problems.” But that’s not our created purpose or design. God’s original purpose in making us was to be an answer to Adam. A solution, a companion, a helper. Not a problem. Women, you are an answer.

The second thing I want you to see in the creation account is the unique way in which Eve was created. Adam was created from the dust of the ground. Eve was created from the side of Adam, she were created from another person. And from women, all persons are created. Because of this, we tend to be more relationally oriented and be more nurturing than men. We were created to reflect the image and glory of the relational side of God.

The relational image of God is seen in Jeremiah 31:3 when he said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”

We see it in Isaiah 49:14-15, when God compares himself to a mother and his people as nursing children. He compares his love for us as the love of a mother to her children.

We see it in Matthew 23:37, when Jesus expressed his longing to gather his people as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings”

Women reflect the image and glory of God by expressing the heart and relational nature of God. We have the unique ability to impart healing and life. Disclaimer—this does not mean that all women are touchy-feely and emotional. Some women are more task-oriented than relational-oriented, and that is okay. But women, in general, have a higher level of emotional intelligence and we have the ability to reflect the healing, nurturing, life-giving relational power of God. It can reveal itself in many different forms as we see from the vastly different women of the Bible. But we reflect the image and glory of God as we demonstrate his healing, nurturing, and life-giving relational power.

In summary, we learn two things from the creation account. First, we were created to be an answer—a strength to complement Adam. And secondly, we were created to reflect the relational heart of God.

Men and women were not created to be at odds with one another. The Battle of the Sexes was never God’s plan. But in Genesis 3, we see the terrible results of sin and the detrimental affect it has on the perfect relationship that God designed. The creation teaches us what God designed us for. The Fall can give us insight into the unique challenges that women face.

Look at Genesis 3:1-7
Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the creatures the LORD God had made. "Really?" he asked the woman. "Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?" "Of course we may eat it," the woman told him. "It's only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die." "You won't die!" the serpent hissed. "God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil." The woman was convinced. (NLT)

Answer- Problem: We are incomplete
The enemy made Eve believe that somehow she was incomplete: “God knows that you eyes will be opened when you eat it.” The serpent planted a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind-- that for some reason, God was keeping something from her. She was no longer the answer—she had a problem—so Eve tried to “add” something to herself.

One of the challenges that most women face is a sense of self-worth, and this goes all the way back to the Fall. We believe lies that we aren’t good enough, we aren’t smart enough, and no one likes us. So we try so desperately to add things to ourselves—degrees, men, clothes, diets, hobbies, careers, children, plastic surgery, and on an on it goes. Just look at the leading women’s magazines and it’s clear that this is still the enemy’s strategy against women. Certainly, none of those things I mentioned are wrong in of themselves, but they are wrong if added for the wrong reasons. We must come to the place where we recognize our identity in Christ, and we really believe that he is all that we need. We must stop believing the lie that we are somehow incomplete and stop striving to add and add and add the things where we think we are incomplete.

Relationships Distorted: Manipulation and Abuse
If we look at the results of the Fall, we see another challenge that women face. Adam was created from the ground, so his curse was related to his work and how he interacted with the world around him. The woman’s curse was a little different. Let’s read it in Genesis 3:16: “You will bear children with intense pain and suffering. And though your desire will be for your husband, he will be your master.”

It’s interesting to note that the results of the Fall for Eve were tied to her relationships. Eve was created from the side of Adam, so her curse was tied to her relationships.

When we fell from God’s perfection, we retained the heart and relational power that God created within us, but that strength became marred and distorted and presented new challenges to women. The challenges come in two different forms—manipulation and wounding.
The first is in the area of manipulation. Women, we must be very careful about how we wield our intuition and emotional strength because we have the power to use it for very manipulative purposes.

The second area is the vulnerability that leads to wounding. Many of us find that our hearts can be used. The Body of Christ is such a wonderful community where men and women can enjoy healthy and godly relationships with one another. We want to encourage that at NCC. Let me speak to our single men and women for just a second. Men—I need your attention in particular for just a second. Because of this thing called the Body of Christ, you have the wonderful privilege of being in relationship with sisters in Christ. However, there is a tendency for men to abuse or take advantage of that relationship to share an emotional intimacy with women that you never intend to share with them in any other way. It’s healthy and godly for men and women in the Body of Christ to affirm one another, but do not seek intimate space with your sisters in order to get your emotional needs met and your ego stroked. Women tend to embrace your heart and pour their heart out to you in those moments, but then they are left with their heart exposed, confused and sometimes wounded.

Women—you have a responsibility in this, as well. Do not engage in emotional promiscuity. Do not commit emotional adultery. Proverbs tells us to guard our hearts. There’s a verse in Song of Solomon that served as a guidepost for me: “Do not awaken love until the time is right.” That challenge is written three times in the Song of Solomon, and it’s something we would do well to pay heed to.

We understand that physical intimacy was created for marriage. God designed sex to be enjoyed within the sacred boundaries of marriage. But we flirt around with emotional intimacy in ways that can leave women wounded.

Men—be careful with the hearts of women. Do not take advantage of the opportunity you have sisters in Christ in order to get your needs met.

Women—guard your hearts and don’t awaken love until the time is right.

We were created as an answer and we were created to reflect the healing power and life-giving heart of God. But with that comes challenges—there is the tendency for manipulation, there is the vulnerability of the heart. We see our challenges reflected in the Fall— a striving to complete ourselves or add to ourselves something we believe has been withheld from us simply because we are women. Our relationships with others have become difficult and strained because of the Fall.

Let’s transition for a moment and talk about the unique opportunities and responsibilities that a woman has.

We hear a lot about “the desires of women” at women’s conferences and in women’s books. Someone stands before us or writes in such a way as to speak for all of us in expressing the 10 things that every woman wants. My problem is that I’m usually about 3 for 10. Yes—I’m a-typical. I don’t want what every woman wants, apparently. But I bet there are many of you that feel the same way. We get a little frustrated when women stand up to speak on behalf of all of us in what we desire. As the Bible has shown us through the lives of so many women, femininity is expressed in many unique ways. So I’m not going to stand up here and try to speak on behalf of all of us and make assumptions about what we all want or don’t want. Instead of looking at what we desire as women, I’d like to look at what God desires of us as women. If we reflect the relational side of God and his healing power and life-giving heart, then what does he desire of us?

Again, this is tricky ground. Who do we hold up as the prototype of a woman of God? Esther or Deborah? Ruth or Huldah?

I’ve got an idea. If we want to pull one woman out as a representation of what it means to be a woman of God, then I would submit that Mary the mother of Jesus is probably a good place to start.

We don’t hear a lot of sermons about Mary—it’s probably a reaction to the quasi-deification of Mary in the Catholic Church. We hear loads of sermons and teaching about Esther and Ruth. I think it’s because they fit the stereotypical mold better and are easier for us to speak about. Mary is the woman through whom God chose to send his son. Mary was chosen, above all other women, to be the mother of Jesus. What an incredible privilege, honor, and responsibility. I think that qualifies her as a person we should consider when examining what it means to be a woman of God.

I’m going to pull out seven principles from Mary’s life that give us a picture of what God desires of us.

Active Receptivity
We don’t know much about Mary. There are only about 40 verses about her in the entire New Testament. We are introduced to her in Luke 2.

The angel Gabriel shows up to tell Mary that she is going to have a Son. And not just any Son—God’s son. Verse 29 describes her as being “confused and disturbed.” I imagine that was one of the greatest understatements in all of Scripture.

In Luke 2:38, we read Mary’s response to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.”

What an amazing example of receiving God’s will. I’m not sure that would have been my response; I would have had a lot more questions to go over, and I would have demanded that a PR plan be put into place. I’m fairly confident this was not in Mary’s plan for her life, and I’m sure she could have imagined a thousand different more preferable scenarios for her life. But Mary model for us the way we are to receive what God has to give to us.

It doesn’t mean that Mary doesn’t question. In verse 34, she asks, “How can this be?” Later in Mary’s life, she questions whether or not Jesus should really be doing or saying the things that he is doing. But her ultimate posture is one of receiving what God has to offer her.

This isn’t passive; it’s active. Mary models for us one dimension of being a woman of God: a posture of actively receiving and working with the will of God for her life.

Female Friendship and Affirmation
In Luke 1:39, the story continues,”A few days later, Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin and someone who understood and rejoiced with Mary even when others could not understand. Elizabeth had the ability to understand and encourage Mary in a way that only another woman could. Female friendship is important. We need to be around women who affirm our femininity and affirm the things that God is doing in our lives. We need to be around women who loves us but loves us too much to let us stay the way we are. If you are like me, you may think that being friends with guys is easier (because we verbalize the lie that women are problems). But there are places where only female friendship can speak to us and heal us and encourage us.

Older women, I ask you to guide and encourage and affirm the younger women in your life as Paul recommends in Titus 2. Younger women, I encourage you to seek out other women. And I encourage you younger women to follow Mary’s lead and seek out that friendship. I receive emails from women every week looking for a mentor. My encouragement is always this: go to where women are, get plugged into a small group, and take the initiative to say, “Hey—I’d like to share with you what’s happening in my life and hear what you think about it.” That bond can be unique—it can take place at the baseball field as easily as it takes place at the spa. It can take place as easily looking at art as it does in getting your nails done. It’s not about being involved in certain activities, it’s about finding opportunity for us to encourage one another and sharpen one another.

Mary models for us the value of female friendship and affirmation.

Quiet Courage
The third thing I want us to see in Mary is her confident yet quiet courage. When Mary left Elizabeth’s house after three months, she had to return to her village obviously pregnant. This was not a culture known for sexual freedom. By law, Mary could have been killed. It was an illegitimate pregnancy. The angel appeared to Joseph, but as far as we know, the angel didn’t give the heads up to anyone else in the village. If I had been Mary, I would have been running around trying to defend myself, trying to explain, trying to do damage control. And not just for myself—I would have wanted to defend my husband and my future child. Scripture doesn’t speak directly to this issue, but we can infer from the angel’s interaction with Joseph, as recorded in Matthew, that this was a problem that Mary had to face with quiet courage. There was no PR plan for the entire village, and Mary doesn’t seem to be on a campaign to explain herself.

How often do we find ourselves defending ourselves or explaining ourselves or trying to “control” situations, people, and people’s opinions? Many times, we need to simply strop and trust in God. Whether we are facing unfair criticism or blame or jockeying for a position in the company, if we are walking in what God has given to us, then we can rely on him to be our advocate.

Mary displays courage by following her husband to Bethlehem. Luke 2:5 says, “He (Joseph) took with him Mary, his fiance, who was obviously pregnant by this time.” Bethlehem was 70 miles away from Nazareth. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have been very excited about traipsing to Bethlehem while “obviously pregnant.” I don’t care what the government was asking. And yet Mary once again displayed courage in making that trek.

Mary models for us the quiet courage a woman can have as she follows God's plan for her life.

The Ability to Be
The fourth thing we can learn from Mary is the ability to simply be. Imagine the scene: Jesus is born, Joseph is trying to get the crib set up in the form of a smelly, dirty, manger, angels are singing, shepherds are running around, animals are making noise, and it is complete chaos. Luke 2:19 records, “Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often.” In the midst of the chaos, Mary simply enjoyed the presence of Jesus.

Mary was not a busybee. She was not trying to clean the stable. She was not trying to keep up with the craziness. Most women I know are busy…and tired. And we don’t even have time to be before God. We run the risk of missing so much because we don’t allow space for God to dwell with us.

We read the very same thing of Mary in Luke 3—Jesus was 12 years old, and Mary and Joseph lost him in the Temple. They found him talking with the religious teachers. When she and Joseph found him, Mary acted as any mother would. She said, “Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” She was a typical, frantic, running around mom. But when Jesus said, “I am about my father’s business,” once again, she “stored all these things in her heart.” She stopped and allowed the space for God to do his work.

We need to be before God and we need to allow our hearts to be open to and meditate on his work in our lives.

The fifth characteristic of Mary’s that we see in Scripture is intuition. John 2:1-12 records Jesus’ first miracle, and it was his mother that set him up. Weddings were important social functions in Jewish life, and to run out of wine would have been a tremendous embarrassment to the hosts. Mary was the person who brought the problem to Jesus’ attention. Jesus kinda brushed her off, asking “How does that concern you and me?...My time is not yet come.” But Mary confidently told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary must have sensed that it was Jesus’ time, and she knew how to set him up for that. She knew what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. She didn’t push. She just encouraged Jesus, ensured resources were available, and left the rest up to her Son.

As women, it might be easier for us to see things and to know when certain things should happen. But that doesn’t mean we jump out in front of people and do them ourselves. We use our intuition to encourage and give life—not to crush or take control.

I’m going to be blunt and address something that goes on in our culture and especially in the church. The women talk about it and the men know they talk about it, so let’s just deal with it. Women—you get frustrated when you perceive that men are not stepping up to the plate. You complain that men don’t step up to the plate to ask you out. You get concerned that men don’t step up to the plate to lead. You get frustrated when men don’t “get involved” in the things you think they should care about. Here’s my advice. If you perceive men aren’t stepping up to the plate in some way, then I encourage you to follow Mary’s example. Encourage the gifts you see in men. Do whatever you can to ensure that opportunities are available. And then shut up, step back, get out of the way, and let them step up to the plate as God leads them. God knows how to lead his sons, so trust him to do that.

Use your intuition to guide you to be a godly healer and life-giver and not a crusher and controller.

And men, if there is a woman pushing you, then you can follow Jesus example and ask, “How does that concern you and me?” :)

Fast forward to end of Jesus’ earthly life—John 19:25—“standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother…”.

When so many of the men in Jesus’ life fled in fear, the women stood strong. Jesus hung between heaven and earth, and Mary’s courage was once again expressed through her fierce devotion to her son. It was public. It was horrifying. It was confusion. Mary must have wondered what went wrong in God’s plan. She endured the pain of being pregnant outside of marriage. She lifted the burden of receiving God’s will. How could it end like this? But Mary stood at the cross devoted to Christ.

Women have the capacity for fierce devotion, and in this we reflect the image and glory of Christ.

Our capacity for devotion can also become a source of frustration. Sometimes, we feel like we pour ourselves out to others but don’t receive anything in return. We pour ourselves out to our children, our husbands, our families, our friends, and we fall on our beds at night feeling completely drained and empty. We resent the devotion we display to others when we seldom receive that level of devotion in return.

Look what happened to Mary at the cross. Mary stood at the cross in complete devotion to Christ, and it was at the cross that Jesus rewarded her for her devotion. Jesus told John to take care of his mother. Our devotion must first be towards Christ, and if we do that, he will fill every relational need that we have. It is at the cross that Jesus will meet us.

Empowerment for Ministry
The final thing I want to bring up is one that we’ve probably never considered in relation to Mary, and that’s empowerment for ministry. It’s something that I never really thought about until recently as I studied the life of Mary. In Act 1:14, we read of the disciples, “They all met together continually for prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.” After Jesus ascended, Mary was a part of that band of people who stuck together to pray and wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. If we keep reading, we find that it’s the same group of people huddled together on the day of Pentecost that are filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s kinda of cool to think about, right? That 33 years and 9 months earlier, the Holy Spirit came upon Mary to conceive Christ within her. Fast forward to the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit came upon Mary again, and she speaks in tongues and is empowered to do the work of the ministry of sharing the good news of Jesus.

As women, God has a special ministry for us. It will be unique to you as a woman and you can do it only as a woman.

God desires that we be receptive to his work in our lives, no matter how odd it may seem to us or to others. He desires that we find affirmation and growth through godly female friendships. He desires that we display quiet courage and understand how to “be” with him. He desires to use our intuition to help others grow into what they were created to be, offer healing, and give life to others. He desires that we be fiercely devoted. And he desires to empower us for ministry.

Leadership 101

Just got through doing our spring semester Leadership 101. I always leave with this strange mixture of being drained and being totally energized. It's so excited to be with potential leaders and hear about their small group ideas. Some of the ideas tossed out today included book club, cooking group, apologetics, DC Sightseeing, swing dancing, Leviticus. Okay, I admit, Leviticus was my idea. I'm really going to do that Bible study group someday! :) I'm always amazed at the unique ways that God wires people and uses them to creatively spread his Gospel.

I'm already looking forward to a great summer semester!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Whirlwind to NYC

I feel like I'm living in a whirlwind. Ryan just accepted a new job, and he starts on Monday. So we made a last minute decision to run up to New York. We caught Kristen Chenoweth in The Apple Tree, which was fantastic. I love watching Chenoweth perform. We also caught Les Mis since it's back on Broadway for a few more months. Every time I see it, I am amazed at what a great story it is. We were up and back in less than 36 hours, but it was well worth the craziness.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Godspell Tickets

Jump on Metrorail or Metrobus to Union Station for Godspell. Tickets for our production of Godspell go on sale this weekend! I can't wait. We have decided to use the DC metro as the backdrop for our production, so our set and marketing has a metro theme. That's why the show tickets look like metro passes, or at least they look like the old metro passes. Ryan bought a metro pass the other day and realized they have recently changed the design! Oh well...

I can't even believe we are already at this point. I'm so proud of the cast who has gone the extra mile over and over again.

Showtimes are as follows:

Friday, March 30 at 8:00pm
Sunday, April 1 at 2:00pm
Sunday, April 1 at 6:00pm
Thursday, April 5 at 8:00pm
Friday, April 6 at 8:00pm
Saturday, April 7 at 10:00pm **Special Easter Vigil Performance
Sunday, April 8 at 2:00pm **Easter
Sunday, April 8 at 6:00pm **Easter

Performances will be held at Ebenezers Coffeehouse.

Metro-operated lots are free on weekends and most federal holidays. At times when fees are charged, SmarTrip® cards with full parking fees are the only accepted form of payment for parking (except metered parking). Visit the Trip Planner at or call 202-637-7000 (TTY 202-638-3780).

Friday, March 02, 2007

Tagging and Spam Filtering

Two months ago, Shannon over at Divulgence "tagged" me. Somehow, his email disappeared into cyberspace and a related email got lodged in my spam filter. Gotta love those spam filters. So today, I'm responding to my tag and posting my "5 Things About Me."

By the way, you can read Shannon's here.

5 Things About Me
  • When I was 6, my life goal was to become the first female in Major League Baseball. I was a pretty good shortstop.
  • I grew up doing community theatre and played roles such as the Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz), Portia the Stepsister (Cinderella), Red Queen (Alice in Wonderland), Portia (Merchant of Venice- Shakespeare School Tour), and my personal favorite, Imogene Herdman (Best Christmas Pageant Ever).
  • I was inspired to study biological engineering in the 7th grade on a family vacation to Disneyworld. Thank you EPCOT Center. When I went to LSU for college, I had to make a decision between engineering and theatre. I chose engineering and got two degrees in it. Disneyworld remains one of my favorite vacation spots.
  • I spent 5 years on Capitol Hill working on environment and energy policy for a US Senator, where I wrote legislation to create a new National Wildlife Refuge.
  • I spent three weeks on pilgrimage in Jerusalem with 6 other clergy, and it was turned into a documentary scheduled to be released later this year.

FAQ: What is the First Friday Podcast?

The Zonegathering First Friday Podcast is our newest training/communication vehicle. On the first Friday of each month, we release a 15-minute podcast specifically geared towards our leaders. It gives Pastor Mark another opportunity to connect with our leaders, share what is on his heart, and give our leaders important information on upcoming events or issues in the life of the church.

The podcast also contains a training feature. Currently, we are highlighting a different core value each month. Pastor Mark shares insights from the Bible and from NCC history to help our leaders grow in their leadership and spiritual development.

You can download or listed to some of our recent podcasts here.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

FAQ: What is

The Zone Gathering launched on March 28, 2005 as the online community for the small group leaders of National Community Church in Washington, D.C.. It is another vehicle of communication between staff, zone and team leaders, and small group leaders.

Through articles, links, postings, and discussion, the Zone Gathering strives be a resource and an environment for the equipping and encouraging of NCC’s leaders. The Zone Gathering is also a way for leaders to stay connected across NCC’s multiple locations, multiple zones, and multiple groups.

Every week, there is a regularly-scheduled program designed for the leaders of NCC.
  • Monday- Weekend Summary (A list of worship songs, announcements, and sermon items from the weekend services)
  • Tuesday- Spotlight (An interview with a member of the NCC Community) or Book Review (An NCC leader reviews a book on a leadership or discipleship topic)
  • Wednesday- Bible Drill (An inductive or devotional study of a book or passage of the Bible)
  • Thursday- Leadership Lesson (An applicable topic designed for leaders)
  • Friday- Scorecard (An opportunity to share what God is doing in your life, in your small group, at NCC, or in the community)
Also, we have our monthly First Friday Podcasts, led by Heather Zempel, NCC’s Pastor of Discipleship, as she interviews NCC’s lead pastor, Mark Batterson, about a leadership topic for NCC leaders.

Why is the website called Zone Gathering? Back when NCC only had three small groups, it was pretty easy for Pastor Mark to oversee the small group ministry. But over the years, as the church grew, it became necessary to put in place a structure to facilitate leadership development and aid the overall management of the dozens of small groups. At NCC, small groups are divided into zones, and this website is designed to be a community that bridges the gap between leaders in each zone in effort to get everyone on the same page.