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Voices of Orthodox Women now archived at Layman.org

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As reported here in October 2012, the board of directors for the “Voices of Orthodox Women” voted to bring their particular ministry to a close:

“VOW’s active ministry was discontinued in the fall of 2012, and the board of directors will be dissolved on May 31, 2013. The website will be deleted from the Internet on the same day, but its resources and articles will be archived on The Layman Online.”

Those resources have now been brought online here at Layman and are all available under the category of Voices of Orthodox Women (click here to access, or do so from the home page of Layman.org, along the right-hand side of the screen).

The majority of these archives incorporate the date on which they were posted at the original website.

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Lesson Nine — The Challenge of God’s Covenant


by
Sylvia Dooling

I have two concerns about this lesson:

1. The author underscores VOW’s major objection with this Horizons Bible
Study when she writes, “Some of these narrative are relatively accurate,
historically speaking, but others are not. However, no matter how much
scholars agree or disagree about the historicity of particular narratives,
we read these stories with a different intent. We read to discover the word
of God for us, here and now, and to be nurtured spiritually.”

Hearing the Word of God, here and now, is a laudable goal. But, it cannot
bypass the hard work of dealing with the history of the narratives, and the
meaning of the text to its author(s). But, the study’s writer tries to avoid
this step. Rather, she tries to apply the meaning of the text without first
determining the meaning of the text. This is a flawed process. For example,
does Joshua really speak to saving our environment, preventing pollution,
and protecting our atmosphere? (p. 86)

2. The author correctly points out that there are several kinds of covenants
in the Old Testament, but her discussion about God’s covenant with Abraham
is a bit confused. She is right to point out that we are part of the people
of God to whom his covenant with Abraham pertains ( Galatians 3:6-7 “Just as
Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, so, you
see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.”) However, she is
unclear when she states :

all the nations of the world receive God’s blessing. Jesus Christ, who gave
himself for the life of the world, is the one through whom the divine
blessing is transmitted to all.

What she says, of course, is true in a sense — salvation is through Jesus
Christ for all people, and the entire world is blessed by Christ’s work
(general grace). But, his work is only effective unto salvation for his
elect. So, if she is saying that all people are God’s people, and that all
people benefit equally from the life, death and resurrection of Christ, she
is out of step both with Scripture and our confessional standards as
Presbyterians.

Once again she runs into trouble by failing to deal with the context of
Joshua. The people, during the time of Joshua were living under the Old
Covenant which would be replaced by the New Covenant with the coming of
Messiah.

As the prophet Jeremiah spoke years after Joshua:

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the
covenant that I made with their ancestors when I them by the hand to bring
them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was
their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with
the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law
within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say
to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least
of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity,
and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34

The New Covenant was cut in the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is a
Covenant of grace. The last section of this lesson, Choose This Day Whom
You Will Serve is written in a way that sounds like a Covenant of grace and
works. (FYI this is the real issue of the Reformation. The Catholic Church
insisted that we are saved by grace plus works; the magisterial reformers
insisted that we are saved by grace ALONE.)

It would appear that for the lesson’s author grace only goes so far– Joshua
lays out the challenge: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (24:15). God
continues to come to us freely and graciously. It is for us to respond by
returning the divine love to God and sharing it among ourselves. This is
indeed the covenant — the law — that secures our fellowship with God.

I heartily disagree! Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have
been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of
God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Scripture from the opening pages of the Old Testament until the end of the
New Testament makes it absolutely clear, as Luther put it, that when it
comes to the Covenant, God does it all. Human beings are incapable of
obeying the Law because sin has broken our relationship to God. We are dead
in sin. So God graciously does for us what we are unable to do for
ourselves. This we must be very clear about or we miss the point of the
cross and the resurrection. We cannot choose to obey God on our own. It is
the abiding and transforming Holy Spirit that enables us to grow in a life
of obedience, which we will never fully attain until Christ comes again and
we are taken into his eternal kingdom with resurrected bodies. On this the
church must be clear.

Be careful about mixed messages in this concluding lesson.
Read more

What She Said — Lesson 1


Working Notes
by
Sylvia Dooling

*These are my own working notes*

Let me begin by saying the notes that I will be posting each month on ‘What
She Said” are my own working documents. They are some of what I will use as
I help the PW Bible Study Leaders in my own church prepare to teach Dale
Lindsay Morgan’s lessons in their individual circles. They are not intended
to be a negative criticism of Dr. Morgan’s work. Rather it is merely my
intent to add some thoughts and insights that I believe to be important. I
also encourage you to refer to Steve Bryant’s comments which, this year, are
also complimentary to the PW study, and not an alternative curriculum.

Parenthetically, I also want to say that it has been my joy and delight to
work with the women of our congregation. It’s been exciting to watch them
lead their friends in the study of God’s Word. So, I hope these notes will
also give you a ‘feel” for what I’m attempting to do.

‘What She Said” begins with an excellent question ‘What do you look for in
a Bible study?” The study then provides a list of answers that were
compiled by PW. What I look for, however, is a bit different. I look for a
Bible study that attempts clearly to state and apply the clear meaning of
the text under consideration. I am not so much interested in what other
people have to say about the text as I am in what the text itself says. To
put it another way, I study Scripture to hear what God has revealed about
himself and about his plan to restore a broken creation. Equally as
important, I want the study to help me apply what I have learned to my own
life how I fit into God’s plan, and what the changes are that I need to make
in my everyday life as a result of what I have learned.

*Note #1 The Fall*

The first lesson in ‘What She Said” is about Sarah and Hagar.

We are told correctly that Genesis means beginnings. We are also told
correctly that ‘Genesis is a book about creation and blessings.” All this
is true! But, there’s more. Genesis also says some important things about
God, himself, and about what theologians call ‘the fall” our foreparents’
choice to disobey God, and what happened as a result.

The Bible is the story of God’s good creation, how we messed it up, and how
God has been at work in history to put the pieces back together again.
Unfortunately, however, a great deal of contemporary Christian thinking
leaves out the fall and its cataclysmic consequences. The pattern becomes
God creates everything good, and we need to learn how to ‘live into” the
goodness of God’s created order.

So, my first ‘random note” would insist that any serious consideration of
anything beyond the first couple of chapters of Genesis must be understood
in terms of the terrible consequences of human sin human hostility toward
God, and conflict with one another.

Without consideration of ‘the Fall,” the story of Sarah and Hagar makes
little or no sense.

Genesis IS the story of ‘beginnings!” It is the story of God’s gracious
plan to restore his fallen and corrupted creation to what he intends for it
to be.

*Note #2 In the story of Sarah and Abraham God begins to reveal his
redemptive plan, and how he intends to accomplish it through a people he
will set apart for that purpose*

We are taught in Genesis that God begins to reveal his plan in the choice of
Abraham and Sarah. They are to be the parents of a holy (i.e. set apart by
God for a particular purpose) people.

So, before you read the passages on which Lesson 1 is constructed, I suggest
that you first read Genesis 12. There you will read about God’s intention to
make Abraham a blessing through his offspring. There God orders him, ‘Go
from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that
I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you,
and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those
who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the
families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Without that historical context, it is impossible to understand anything
that follows.

This is a story of God’s grace and Abraham’s faith in trusting God and in
acting out that faith in obedience to leave everything that was familiar,
and to head to a land that was foreign and, most significantly to worship a
God whom he had never known. That is the big picture.

Included as part of the big picture is the story about Sarah and Hagar. It
is not a story that stands alone, but one that must be understood in terms
of the larger context.

*Note #3 The story of Sarah and Hagar tells us what happens when Abraham and
Sarah fail to wait upon God, and take matters into their own hands*

Central to the promise of God is the promise of an heir to the aging Abraham
and Sarah. As they grow beyond childbearing age, they begin to despair
unable to see how God’s promises can possibly come true. So, they take
matters into their own hands, and ‘produce” a son through Sarah’s Egyptian
slave, Hagar.

*Note #4 So I must respectfully disagree with Dale when she infers by the
questions that she asks that this text is primarily a story about families
and how they are created rather, it is about trusting God’s word to be true*

When God reaffirms his promises to Abraham in chapter 15, Abraham reminds
God that time is apparently running out for him and Sarah to have a son. ‘He
(God) brought him (Abraham) outside and said, Look toward heaven and count
the stars, if you are able to count them So shall your descendants be.”’

To understand the story of Sarah and Hagar, it is vitally important to
remember that Abraham and Sarah waited years maybe even decades for God to
give them their promised son. In the process they grew impatient, and their
faith faltered. And, that fact is related to us to teach us, among other
things, that God’s timing is not our timing.

At precisely the right time, God gave Sarah and Abraham a son named Isaac.
But, when they chose to short circuit the process, terrible consequences
ensued that some believe can be traced right down to the present day.

*Note #5 I am convinced that an inductive study of Scripture (i.e. from the
historical and grammatical facts themselves) is generally to be preferred to
a thematic study that runs the risk of imposing meanings on the text that
may not actually be there*

Sarah and Abraham’s choice led to great suffering and conflict. But in spite
of the unintended consequences of their decision, God’s grace and mercy are
revealed in the way in which he cares for Hagar and Ishmael.

I make this point, because I am struck by the potential trouble we can get
into by bringing our own pre-conceived notions to Scripture rather than
allowing Scripture reveal its own themes.

While admittedly clever and tantalizing, this year’s theme ‘What She Said”
is also, to a large degree, artificial. That is to say, Scripture itself
never specifically suggests it.

However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider it. But, it does mean
that as we deal with this year’s theme, we must always keep the bigger
picture in mind the full witness of Scripture. We should ask questions such
as ‘What is God revealing about himself and his plan to restore a broken
creation?”

Dale Lindsay Morgan mentions the ‘covenant of circumcision,” in her lesson,
but without addressing the overriding problem of ‘the Fall,” circumcision
and covenant have little or no meaning.

Further confusion arises when, on page 9 in the sidebar, the three great
monotheistic religions are listed (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam)
without pointing out that it is through Isaac that the promised Messiah was
to come a fact that clearly makes Christianity unique (although in different
ways) from both Judaism and Islam.

*Note #6 Some of the questions are problematical for me*

This brings us to the list of questions on page 10.

Let’s look specifically at question #7. It emphasizes the common roots of
Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Abraham, and then asks, ‘How might this
common bond bring greater understanding between these three faith groups in
our day?”

In my opinion, the question ignores the important Scriptural point that that
everyone (including us) who places their trust in Jesus God’s Messiah are
children of Abraham. Abraham is our father, too not through the flesh, but
through ‘the promise” that God kept through the line of Isaac.

Yes, I know, this makes the lesson more complicated than simply hearing
‘What She Said.” But, it’s well worth the extra time and will help to
inform the rest of the lessons we will study this year.

One more thing, I think that it is important to avoid questions that
‘imagine” what the various characters in Scripture might have felt, and
instead stick to ‘the facts.” A ‘Joe Friday” approach to Bible study is
much to be preferred to speculation. Very little is gained from conjecture
and guesswork.

Questions 3, 4, and 6 can be helpful as we take the Scripture and attempt to
apply it to our lives today.

*Note #7 Preparing to teach this lesson*

The Suggestions for Leaders on page 11 provide an excellent approach to
lesson preparation. Always begin with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to
guide you and teach you as you study God’s Word.

Teaching is a tremendous responsibility! Listen to the Word of God. Keep the
passage in its context. Use reliable commentaries from your church library
or borrow them from your pastor. If you have questions about the material,
go to your pastor. Teaching others is always a huge learning experience for
the teacher.

Only after you have a firm understanding of the passage, of what it is
teaching, and of how you intend to communicate its message should you even
attempt to apply its lessons to our life today. Short-circuit the process,
and you will inevitably end up teaching your own ideas rather than the
message that God has revealed.

One more thought. Personally, I intend to use the time of introduction and
‘Digging In” to present background material on Genesis and the importance
of the Covenant that God made with Abraham. A Scripture you might want to
use at this point is Galatians 3:6-9. It reminds us that we are connected
with Abraham and Sarah by faith. Then proceed with the story of Sarah and
Hagar.
Read more

Argument to Persuade


by
Brittany Dowdy*

The nature of God has always been a difficult issue to address, precisely
because, as we are finite and God is infinite, we can never hope to fully
understand the mysterious Being we worship. But there are certain things he
has revealed to us, and it is these I would like to encourage each of you to
consider, both with each other and during your private time with God.

Feminism, in the form espoused by the Voices of Sophia, has garnered the
attention of many Christians. Their goals are admirable: to ensure that no
one is excluded from the church, either consciously or unconsciously, and to
be a voice for those groups which have experienced oppression at the hands
of the church in the past. However, some of the theology put forth by either
the Voices of Sophia themselves or the groups with which they are affiliated
is unsettling, and I would like to take this opportunity to show you what I
have found so that you can make an educated decision regarding this group. I
would encourage each of you to prayerfully consider the arguments I bring up
here.

Sophia, of course, is the Greek word for wisdom, and the Voices of Sophia
are right in saying that the Wisdom/Sophia language comes from a strong
biblical tradition ( Voices of Sophia ). In the New Testament, the word
sophia appears over 50 times; in the Old Testament, various forms of
wisdom appear almost 200 times. However, wisdom is portrayed as a part of
God’s character which he freely gives to his children, not as another name
for God. In the one instance where God and wisdom are equated, 1 Corinthians
1:24-30, a closer reading of verse 30 shows that Sophia is still not an
appropriate name for God. It says, He [God] is the source of your life in
Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom [sophia] from God, and righteousness
and sanctification and redemption (New Revised Standard Version, 1 Cor.
1:30). Here we must apply the reformation principle of allowing Scripture to
interpret Scripture: while Jesus became sophia from God, he also became
righteousness and sanctification and redemption. No one suggests that we
begin calling God Dikaiosune¯ (righteousness), Hagiasmos
(sanctification) or Apolutro¯sis (redemption). These are all, of course,
essential characteristics or functions of the Godhead, but they are not
alternative names for God.

Proverbs 8, another passage often cited when referring to Sophia (although
it is written in Hebrew, and therefore contains no mention of the Greek word
sophia ), also gives an essential distinction between God and his wisdom.
In this chapter, wisdom is personified as a woman, calling to the people to
come and learn from her. Beginning in verse 22, she describes her history,
beginning with, The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the
first of his acts of long ago (NRSV, Prv. 8:22, emphasis mine). She makes
it clear from the very first that she is a part of God’s creation, not a
part of God. She was created before anything else, but she was still
created, and as Elizabeth Achtemeier says, human beings are to worship not
the creation but the Creator (Achtemeier 4).

Sophia-worship, as it is currently practiced, seems often to lead to worship
of creation. Take, for example, the prayers of Terry Tempest Williams, as
quoted in Spahr’s speech posted on the Voices of Sophia website
(http://www.voicesofsophia.org/GeneralAssembly/2002/Breakfast-JanieSpahr.htm
l): My prayers no longer bear the proper masculine salutation. If we could
introduce the Mother body as a spiritual counterpoint to the Godhead,
perhaps our inspiration and devotions would no longer be directed to the
stars, but our worship could return to the earth. The problem with this, of
course, is that our worship and prayers should not be directed to the stars
or to the earth or to any other aspect of the created world, but to God. To
worship anything other than God is idolatry. And we are not to make for
[ourselves] an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven
above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the
earth (NRSV, Exo. 20:4), for God wants us to worship him and him alone.

In addition, God has chosen a few, very specific names for himself
throughout the scriptures, and selecting others invites confusion and,
eventually, idolatry. Indeed, as Dustin Eshelman, who served as a Youth
Advisory Delegate on the General Assembly Council Review in 1994 (charged
with reviewing the controversial RE-Imagining conference of 1993 that fueled
the Sophia movement), says, we can never, ever truly understand the
vastness of God; therefore Re-Naming God, RE-Imagining this great I AM is
irrelevant and uncalled-for (Eshelman 3).

It is not as though God has neglected to give us many different ways to
address him. Indeed, once I sat down and, as a way to bring myself closer to
God, wrote down all the names I could think of for him off the top of my
head. I was able to come up with a page full of names before I had to start
slowing down and looking things up in my Bible. There are five principle
metaphors with which God has chosen to reveal himself, though: King,
Father, Judge, Husband, and Master, and finally, decisively, as the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Achtemeier 3). This final metaphor is
given extra emphasis because it was the name revealed to us by God himself,
in the person of Jesus Christ. If we believe, as all Christians do, that
Jesus is the incarnate God, how can we seek to alter the name with which he
instructed us to address God? He was not ambiguous about it. His
instructions regarding how to pray specifically tell us to speak to Our
Father, who art in heaven (NRSV, Mtt. 6:9b). The Greek here is pate¯r,
which is translated as father. In fact, the root pate¯r is still used
in many of our words today to designate a father; take paternal, for
example. This is not news to any of us, but it bears repeating. Jesus is
God. If we, as Christians, have sworn to follow God, obeying in all things,
how can we refuse to call him by the name he has given himself? The Triune
God has , says Kimel, and he likes his name (Kimel 8).

This, I realize, is uncomfortable for some women. Perhaps they have had
horrible experiences with the father figures in their lives, or perhaps they
have never had a father figure and find the idea foreign and frightening.
These women may find it more comfortable to address God with less personal
terms, such as Rock, Way, Refuge, Fortress, or others. And such names are
all metaphors used in the Bible to describe God. Certainly it is not wrong
to think of God in these terms. But the Scriptures are very clear about
God’s character, and they ultimately depict a father figure who is the
epitome of all things good. The God of the Bible is intensely personal, and
it is this essential personal-ness which is lost in such metaphors as those
listed above. In God, a woman finds love, peace, encouragement, rest,
salvation, strength, identity, hope, and everything she could possibly need.
God does challenge us, as all good relationships will do. He expects more of
us than anyone else ever could, but his forgiveness when we fall short of
those expectations surpasses human understanding. He calls us to be his
companions, his partners, his very bride! Only a woman can fully relate to
the joys of being wife to a worthy partner. How much more joy, then, can be
found in being the wife of a worthy God? No impersonal designations of
God, says Achtemeier, except they be explained by the Bible’s personal
names for him, can adequately express that gracious and demanding
relationship of love with himself into which God woos and calls us (3).
There is no need to let our relationships with fallible human men sully our
relationship with the greatest Father and Husband, the God who calls each of
us into a loving and intimate relationship with him.

So what about substituting male imagery for female imagery? Surely there can
be nothing wrong with simply replacing Father with Mother. But God is
never called Mother in the Bible, and the few instances in which God is
referred to in feminine imagery are in the forms of similies, not metaphors,
lending a greater level of separation between the signifier and the
signified. This is one of the things which makes Christianity unique, for
the early Christians (and before them, the Israelites) were surrounded by
cultures which participated in goddess worship. In fact, Elaine Pagels made
a very astute observation when she noted, the absence of feminine
symbolism of God marks Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in striking contrast
to the world’s other religious traditions, whether in Egypt, Babylonia,
Greece and Rome, or Africa, Polynesia, India, and North America (qtd in
Achtemeier 3). This sets YHWH apart, distinguishing him from the other
religions with which his people were (and are) surrounded.

There is, however, another reason for God to have deliberately omitted
feminine language from his Word to us. A female Creator is much more
difficult to distinguish from her creation, for a woman gives birth to what
she has created. In all the goddess religions, the goddess birthed the world
from her body. By contrast, our God spoke it into being. If God is
portrayed in feminine language, the figures of carrying in the womb, of
giving birth, and of suckling immediately come into play (Achtemeier 4),
and the images move from God creating a world separate from himself to a
goddess who gives birth to a world which is a part of her. This opens up
everything in creation as potentially something to be worshiped?and that is
frightening! With a masculine God, however, there is less chance for such
connections to be made, and the idolatry which is so easily accessed through
the feminine imagery is avoided.

These are all important issues, and must be considered prayerfully by all
Christians. However, there is one further claim which some members of the
Voices of Sophia have made that I think speaks most eloquently about why
their theology has come under question, and it regards the theory of
Atonement.

This is a difficult and emotional topic for any Christian. As Eshelman says,
when someone who claims to be a Christian comes along and tries to take
away that atonement for which I live… I get angry (3). I think this is
the reaction of many Christians when they hear that the purpose of Christ’s
death is being called into question. The atonement, the idea that Jesus’
death on the cross holds the power to save every human being who has lived,
is living, or will live, is central to the Christian faith. It is what
countless people have staked their lives on, and to suggest that it is a
misconception has some very far-reaching consequences.

Yet that is just what such women as Inna Ray, writing for The Journal of
Women and Religion (a link to which is on the Voices of Sophia website),
have claimed. By renewing and developing soteriological theories and
metaphors alternative to the substitutionary Atonement theory of salvation
by justification, says Ray, women can reject it as one of many theories
of salvation and still consider themselves to be orthodox Christians (117).
This is not the case. The Scriptures are clear: Jesus’ death is the only
thing that saves us. As Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, May I
never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which
the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (NRSV, Gal. 6.14).
And again in his second letter to the Corinthians, For just as the
sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is
abundant through Christ (NRSV, 2 Cor. 1.5). He expresses similar sentiments
in nearly every letter he writes. For Paul, the Atonement is the reason for
faith; without Jesus’ saving death, he has nothing.

Ray’s argument is typical of the arguments against atonement. She says that
the atonement has been used to control, denigrate and exploit women (94),
and that it paints a picture of God as an abusive parent. In the first, she
has a very good point: the atonement has given some people an excuse to
cause others to suffer, and to excuse their complaints with a comparison to
the sufferings of Christ. This, however, does not mean that atonement
theology is flawed. All it means is that humans, with our great capacity for
evil, have distorted God’s plan for us and used the gospel to enslave
others, when it was meant to free us. In other words, it is not the
atonement theology which is flawed, but the men who have used it to further
their own personal agendas who are flawed. It is a fallacy to try to project
their failings onto God’s work, especially when the Scriptures are so clear
about the saving power of Christ’s death. Even our church’s constitution
proclaims the atonement; in Chapter VIII of the Scots Confession, it affirms
that
it behooved the Messiah and Redeemer to be true God and true man, because he
was able to undergo the punishment of our transgressions and to present
himself in the presence of his Father’s judgment, as in our stead, to suffer
for our transgression and disobedience, and by death to overcome him that
was the author of death. But because the Godhead alone could not suffer
death, and neither could manhood overcome death, he joined both together in
one person, that the weakness of one should suffer and be subject to death -
which we had deserved – and the infinite and invincible power of the other,
that is, of the Godhead, should triumph, and purchase for us life, liberty,
and perpetual victory. So we confess, and most undoubtedly believe. (Book of
Confessions, 3.08)

Similar sentiments are expressed in the Confession of 1967. This condemns no
one; rather, it frees everyone from the punishment we would otherwise
deserve. This is not a story of oppression or slavery, but of freedom and
life! The suffering is necessary to procure our salvation, and so far it is
good. But it does not say that all should suffer, nor does it suggest that
human suffering is something to strive for. On the contrary, Christ suffered
so that we would not have to. What suffering we do experience is not
something that God rejoices in, nor is it something we should rejoice in.
However, we can take comfort in knowing that he, too, has suffered greatly.

The second part of Ray’s argument, that Atonement theology paints a picture
of God as an abusive parent, is more complicated. God’s plan for Jesus was
that he must suffer to satisfy the damaged honor of God, she explains.
This casts God in the role of an abusive parent who says things like: ‘This
hurts me more than it hurts you,’ and ‘It hurts me to have to punish you
like this?but you have forced me to punish you’ (Ray 102). This is simply
not so. First of all, just because a father says such things does not make
him abusive. Indeed, it is probably true that any punishment, even if it is
only the revoking of privileges, hurts the parents more than it hurts the
child. But more importantly, Ray has missed the entire point of the
atonement. God’s plan for Jesus was not that he must suffer to satisfy the
damaged honor of God, but that he would suffer and die to make us
acceptable in his sight. Love can forbear, and Love can forgive… but
Love can never be reconciled to an unlovely object, says Traherne (qtd.
Problem of Pain 28). And our sin makes us unlovely objects. If God is Love,
how can he be reconciled to us while we are still sinful? The only way to
make us lovely objects is to remove the sin in which we live, since all
have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (NRSV, Rom. 3:23). God did
not demand Christ’s death because his honor was damaged, or because it was
pleasing to him, but because he loves us and he wants to be with us. But his
Love cannot be reconciled to us while we remain unlovely, and the only way
to make us pleasing in his sight is for someone to interfere and cover our
imperfections. The worse you are, explains C. S. Lewis, the more you
need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it
perfectly would be a perfect person?and he would not need to do it (Mere
Christianity 57). God’s solution requires someone fully God and fully
human?someone who can be perfect, but who can still take on the punishment
we have earned.

Ray is mistaking God’s justice for his mercy. Pure justice is not merciful;
on the contrary, it is harsh, unrelenting. Were God only just, we would all
be damned. As it is, though, God is a merciful God, and his mercy tempers
his judgment. He sent Christ to take our punishment for us, because Jesus
can handle the punishment we deserve, and we cannot. That is not an abusive
parent, that is a Father who tries to ease our suffering out of love for us.

Paul warns us, Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings
(Heb. 13:9a). If the things that I have brought forth here are the kinds of
theology that the Voices of Sophia advocates, then it is time to take a step
back and prayerfully reassess what the Gospel says. This has the potential
to change the very way we worship God, and that is not something to be taken
lightly. I pray that each of us has the courage to stand up for the God who
stands up for us, and to boldly proclaim his true Gospel throughout the
world.

Annotated Bibliography and Works Cited

Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Exchanging God for ‘No Gods’: A Discussion of
Female Language for God. Theology Matters 12.3 (2006): 1-7. Theology
Matters. 1 November 2006. http://www.theologymatters.com. Achtemeier was
adjunct professor of Bible and Homiletics at Union Theological Seminary in
Richmond, VA. Her article discusses the feminist re-naming (or RE-Imagining)
of God and the repercussions of doing so. She also talks about the way God
has named himself in the Bible and why he did so.

Branch, Craig. Sophia Worship. The Watchman Expositor (1995). 23 April
1998. http://www.watchman.org/sophia.htm.

Byfield, Ted, and Virginia Byfield. “A church seminar at Minneapolis shows
the old baals may be back in business.” Alberta Report / Newsmagazine 21.16
(1994): 37. Academic Search Premier. 12 October 2006.
http://search.ebscohost.com.

Chase, Dottie. United Methodist Women Get Taste of Sophia Worship. Good
News Magazine. 23 April 1998. http://www.goodnewsmag.org/reimagin.htm.

Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Office of the General
Assembly. Louisville, KY 1999.

Dooling, Sylvia. “Voices of Orthodox Women.” Voices of Orthodox Women. 14
Sept. 2006. https://www.layman.org/.

Eshelman, Dustin. Collected Works of DJ Eshelman. DBA Starving Guitarist
Press 1998.

Eshelman was a Youth Advisory Delegate on the General Assembly Council
Review in 1994, which dealt with the RE-imagining conference and the Sophia
movement in general. He graduated from Hastings College with a degree in
psychology and religion. He is also one of my good friends. I am indebted to
him for his help in researching this project (he gave me all the research he
had done on Sophia and any article cited here from 1998 is from the
collection he gave me), as well as the prayerful support he gave me as I
worked. The writings I cite here are his responses to the General Assembly,
though his other works have helped me in organizing my thoughts and I’m sure
that more of his ideas have worked their way into this paper.

Finger, Thomas N. In the Name of Sophia. Christianity Today 38 (1994):
44. WilsonSelect. 27 April 1994. http://gilligan.prod.oclc.org.

Grace, Kevin Michael. “The rise of WomanChurch.” Alberta Report /
Newsmagazine 21.16 (1994): 36. Academic Search Premier. 12 October 2006.
http://search.ebscohost.com.

Kimel, Alvin F., Jr. The God Who Likes His Name: Holy Trinity, Feminism,
and the Language of Faith. Theology Matters 12.3 (2006): 8-15.
TheologyMatters.com. 1 November 2006. http://www.theologymatters.com.

Lefebure, Leo D. The wisdom of God: Sophia and Christian theology. (Cover
Story). The Christian Century 111.29 (1994): 951. Academic Search Premier.
12 October 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001.. The
Problem of Pain. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001.

McDougall, Joy Ann. Sin No More? A Feminist Re-Visioning of a Christian
Theology of Sin. Anglican Theological Review 88.2 (2006): 215-235. Academic
Search Premier. 12 October 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.

Meehan, Brenda. Wisdom/Sophia, Russian identity, and Western feminist
theology. Cross Currents 46 (1996): 149. WilsonSelect. 27 April 1998.
http://gilligan.prod.oclc.org.

New Revised Standard Version: Holy Bible. Nashville, Tennessee, 1989.

Ray, Inna. “The Feminist Critique on Atonement Theology.” Journal of Women
and Religion 15 (1997) 93. Acacdemic Search Premier. 12 October 2006.
http://search.ebscohost.com.

Ray argues that the theory that Christ’s death on the cross had salvational
qualities is fundamentally flawed and inadequate for an accurate view of the
Christian faith. It addresses a central claim of the Sophia movement, and
the Journal of Women and Religion is linked to from the Voices of Sophia
website.

Small, Joseph D and John P Burgess. Evaluating ‘Re-Imagining.’ The
Christian Century 111 (1994): 342. WilsonSelect. 27 April 1998.
http://gilligan.prod.oclc.org.

“Voices of Sophia.” Voices of Sophia. 2005. 29 July 2006.
http://www.voicesofsophia.org [1] .

Additionally, I would like to thank the following people for their time,
their ideas, their support and their prayers, without which this paper would
never have been written:

Ashley Birk, Latonya Frank, Troy Gulbrandson, Rev. Rich McDermott, Rev.
Andrew Davies, Evan Dowdy, Kristen Dowdy, Sarah Weiger, Yael Yund, Sylvia
Dooling, Viola Larson, Peg Mussard, Don Mussard, Erin Lothringer, Stephanie
Jebsen, Pam Gensen, Don Gensen, Tessa Fiamengo, and the entire congregation
of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Collins, CO. May God bless you all!

* In 2006 when this article was written, Brittany Dowdy was a junior English
major at Colorado State University and a member of the First Presbyterian
Church of Fort Collins, CO. She grew up attending the First Presbyterian
Church of Brighton, CO, where feminist theology has a strong support base.
Having seen firsthand the effects of such theology, she felt called to
spread awareness of its presence in the church and to call her fellow
Christians into action against it. Brittany is now enrolled at Fuller
Theological Seminary in the MDiv program.

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Lesson Eight — The Place of Rest


by
Sylvia Dooling

The Key Idea of this lesson is: Joshua and the Israelites found rest not
in the absence of war or in a new land, but in God. This is where we find
our rest, as well.

That statement, of course, is true. But, it is not a truth that is
discovered by reading the text we are supposedly studying. Because the
author is consistently apologetic about the Israelites engaging in war as
they are directed by God to take over the land, she loses the point of the
book of Joshua. By including the passage from Hebrews, which certainly can
be used legitimately to show how with the New Covenant a fuller meaning is
brought to the Scriptural meaning of rest , the author diverts our
attention from the primary passage.

If the author wanted to deal more broadly with the biblical theology of
rest, it would have been more helpful had she said so. Then she could have
dealt with the subject in Joshua before exploring the subject of rest
more broadly.

The problem, of course, is that the word, rest, has a variety of meanings
both in Webster s Dictionary and in the Bible. In order to make my point,
let me refer you to the Suggestions for Leaders on Page 83. Here (Examine
and Explore) the suggestion is made to divide the class s participants into
three groups.

Group One is to deal with the premise: Yes It Was rest. The Deuteronomy
passages are spoken from the mouth of Moses as he describes Israel s
future. Israel s wanderings in the wilderness will cease. Israel will go in
and take over the land the LORD has promised them. After they have defeated
those living in the land, they are to destroy all of the idols in the land
in which they will reside. They will worship the LORD in the place he will
choose and in the way he will command. Moses description of rest is
multifaceted. They will move from wandering, to war, to settling into the
land, which will be a kind of rest, where they will live, marry, raise
children, and be obedient to the LORD.

Group Two is to deal with the premise: No It Wasn t rest. This group is
given passages that reveal that Israel did not completely remove the groups
of people who inhabited the land. The reality of disobedience and idolatry
will remain because the people did not do what they were told to do. So,
rest is always fleeting. Yet, according to the book of Joshua, the people
did enjoy a cessation of war for a time. They began to settle into the
land and the rhythm of life in this new setting began different from their
wanderings or from the battles with their enemies.

Group Three is to deal with the subject: Another idea of Rest. I don t
like to use the word idea. Idea sounds like a concept someone came up
with on their own. But, more to the point, what we are dealing with here are
two different periods in the life of God s people. The people in Joshua are
living in the old Covenant; the people to whom Hebrews are written are
enjoying the benefits of the New Covenant. Israel looked forward to Messiah
as through a mist. They looked forward in faith, but certainly didn t have
a full view of what was coming with the New Covenant. Their concept of rest
was more concrete they thought of rest as a time when the various tribes
could settle into their land and enjoy what God promised them a land
flowing with milk and honey. This rest, of course, was fleeting because
Israel had not completely conquered their enemies, nor did they destroy the
idols of their neighbors.

Now, the writer of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, looked back at
Israel under Joshua and gave rest a more fulsome meaning. The author of
Hebrews is making the point that there is a Sabbath rest coming when the
full number of the elect is gathered up in the kingdom of God. The author
binds all of us together those who looked forward and those who now look
back on the person and work of Christ (Messiah), and he encourages us to
persevere in faith until that time comes when God closes the curtain on
history and creates a new heaven and new earth where we will reside in
perfect Sabbath rest. The author of the Horizons study gives the
impression that we can experience that future rest right now. Not so no
more than Israel could then. Yes, in a sense, we as God s people experience
a rest because of our relationship in Jesus Christ. But, it is a rest
that is not complete and looks forward in hope to the resurrection and the
culmination of history on God s own terms.
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Review of the March-April 2010 Horizons Magazine


by
Sylvia Dooling

This was an edition of Horizons that immediately got my attention! Human
Trafficking is an issue about which Voices of Orthodox Women is deeply
concerned, and one of only a handful of social concerns upon which we
have publicly taken a stand.[i] So, I was keenly interested in what
Presbyterian Women had to say.

I wasn t disappointed. This is one of those issues that will stay on my
desk, close at hand. It s full of helpful information on this very
important issue. Beginning with the devotion inside the front cover, I was
drawn in. When faced with issues of human suffering, there are questions
that immediately come to my mind, similar to the author s. Where is God
amidst this bondage? How are Christians to respond to such horror? I wasn
t disappointed to hear Ms. Mills conclusions as to how Christians should
respond. I pray we remember that we cannot do this alone. We must begin
with prayer and an open heart for God to show us how to respond. For me,
this set just the right tone for everything that follows.

Noelle Damico provides the reader with helpful information. Her article is
titled Human Trafficking 101. From defining the issue, to providing a
list of myths and facts, to suggesting what to do and what not to do, this
is an article to share with others. Another article written by Kacie
Macdonald gives the reader information on how to recognize trafficking.
Whether we live in big cities or small towns, this kind of human slavery can
be found within the neighborhood s, downtown centers, and industrial areas
in which we live. Kacie gives us the signs to look for, and a reminder to
stay alert. And, she encourages Presbyterian Women to be ready to act,
because this is an issue that we can do something about.

Sara Friedman, in Joining the Battle Against Sexual Exploitation of
Children gives us some important information about the federal law that
helps prevent human trafficking within the borders of United States. It was
passed by Congress in 2000, and has been reauthorized in 2003, 2005, and
2008. In this article I discovered that PW has been speaking to this issue
for many years. For example, a Thank Offering in l992 helped give ECPAT (End
Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism) it s start in the United States. This
is an example of a grant worthy of women s offerings.

In sum, I found this edition of Horizons to be very worthwhile, and
encourage Presbyterian women use it to educate themselves on the issue. Keep
this magazine and read it carefully. Use it as educational material in your
Presbytery and congregation. Make sure that your church library has a copy
readily available.

I especially appreciated the reminder contained in several of the articles
that we shouldn t just charge out into the world thinking that we can solve
this problem on our own. It s important to take time to learn, to pray, and
to discern God s direction as we, the church, join with others outside the
church to combat human slavery. May this be our prayer, O LORD, you will
hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will
incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that
those from earth may strike terror no more. Psalm 10:17-18

Thank you editors of Horizons for providing this resource.

———————————

[i] See
https://www.layman.org/Documents/Doc0324.aspx?type=35&name=Human%20Trafficking ,
https://www.layman.org/Documents/Doc0321.aspx?type=35&name=Human%20Trafficking,
and
https://www.layman.org/Documents/Doc0323.aspx?type=35&name=Human%20Trafficking
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The Cities of Refuge — Lesson 7

by Sylvia DoolingIn my opinion, the author does not study the cities of refuge so much as she makes them a pretext for exploring a broader subject of terrorism in the Middle East. In fact, on Page 73, she says “I may be going too far, but I believe that so-called “preemptive wars” all too often increase violence and evil instead of preventing it. Yes, she has wandered off, once again, and has brought a subject to the text that does not exist. The study, however, does make the important point that biblical justice demands both the protection of life and faithfulness to the truth. The lesson also raises some interesting questions as to how to apply this standard to contemporary life. Application of Scripture is always in order after carefully studying the context of the passage itself.

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Ahab and the Gibeonites — Lesson 6


by
Sylvia Dooling



The author makes this lesson a commentary on contemporary issues (inclusiveness and hospitality) rather than a study of the texts themselves. In the process, she makes this Bible study a pretext for advocating her political biases. That is to say, the story of Rahab is not about insiders and outsiders, or the “marginalized” in society. Rather, it is a story about grace, faith, and obedience.



As for the story of the Gibeonites, read it carefully—especially 9:14-15. The leaders of Israel, without asking “direction from the Lord,” make peace with the Gibeonites. As a consequence they are tricked, but ultimately held to their vow not to destroy them. The Scriptures do not gloss over the errors that Israel makes as they move in to take over the land. This is an example. Again, this has nothing to do with “insiders and outsiders.”



On Page 64, the author writes about God having a “dream” for God’s world. According to the author, it will be a world of inclusive communities living in peace with one another. This is a poor use of words. God doesn’t dream about the future. It will become a reality when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness. True peace will only be achieved when Jesus Christ comes again.



As you study the story of Rahab, I would encourage you to read it as it is written. It is the story of a woman who is given faith by God to believe, and testifies to the two spies sent by Joshua that “the LORD your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below” (Joshua 2:11). Late into the lesson plan (page 66), the author makes this point, and also mentions that Rahab is included both in the genealogy of Jesus (Mt. 1:3, 5), and as part of the “great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11:31). But, a long discourse on insiders and outsiders is hardly the point. Unfortunately, the author’s personal agenda consistently take priority over her study of the text, and fails to do justice to the clear and plain meaning of God’s Word.



This particular lesson is a good example of what happens when we read our own ideas into scripture (eisegesis) rather than read out of scripture (exegesis) what it means to say. Unfortunately, this year’s study of Joshua has been full of confusion rather than clarity because of the inability of the author to separate her experience and closely held political convictions from the biblical account of Joshua.

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Random Notes on Horizons Study of Joshua: Lesson 5


by
Terrye McAnally



– The key idea quotation seems to contradict any of the nuance of Mikhael’s work and states Kinnamon’s opinion as fact. It is interesting that this quotation appears at all, given the publication timeline of this sort of material. Supposing it is a later editorial insertion, I wonder what the original “key idea” might have been. Participants may want to read the Scripture and then suggest another “key idea” before reading the study material.





– At the conclusion of the 1st ¶ of the lesson the author writes, “We never hear of a “merciful war,” a “kind war,” or a “constructive war.” My marginal note reads, “what about the war on poverty? the war on AIDS?”





– Using the undefined term “post-biblical” (p.53, 2nd full ¶) may not be all that helpful. A brief allusion to Augustine’s thought as a source for the concept of holy war might also have been a good idea.





– In that same ¶ the author makes the statement that the Hebrew & Greek texts of the Bible didn’t use the term “holy war”. I wonder if there is a Hebrew equivalent of “jihad”. March’s context piece on p. 55 talks about “herem” and indicates that “the Israelites were not alone in this practice.” Is “herem” the same as “jihad”? This would take more research than you & I have time to do.





– Also in that ¶, the author uses the term “authorizes” for God’s instruction to Joshua about the place of defeated people in the land. “Authorize” sounds like it was Joshua’s idea & God reluctantly just let it happen, whereas the text puts the words in God’s mouth as a clear command. This makes God sound impotent against the will of Joshua & Israel.





– The blanket statement in the next ¶ that “far greater mass destruction has been wrought by modern military force than ever happened in antiquity” may be true but is not supported with factual data or sourced.





– Question 1 at the top or p. 54 is not useful for discussion of the text. Whether we accept war or not, it happens.





– I fail to find any connection between the photo of the seal on p. 55 & the text on that page. If it is there only because it belonged to an ancient woman, it is superfluous and condescending. Is it necessary to have something related to women in a study of a biblical text that has few prominent females mentioned just because it is a study for women? (But I digress.)





– Does the text say that God gave Jericho to Joshua’s army because Jericho was disobedient as the writer suggests on p. 56? And is there any real logic for the point about war in stating that Jericho may not have been as grand as the Bible implies. The last ¶ on that page sounds like an attempt to defang the God of the Bible & make him no different from any of the cultural gods of the period.





– The question at the top of p. 57 is loaded.





– In the 3rd ¶ on p. 57 the writer draws a distinction between “holy” & “religious” as adjectives applied to war, but is not specific about the different terms, only implying that one is mythical & the other is always wrong. My note: why is one unspecified concept different than any other specified concept?





– At the end of the same page the author writes, “The Canaanites were ejected from the land of promise because of their disregard for God,” & references Deuteronomy 9:4-5. However, she seems to have overlooked the end of verse 5, which states that the purpose of ejecting the people of the land was “that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, Abraham & to Isaac & to Jacob.” The author’s conclusion of the ¶ at the top of the next page is that (biblical) “history has been shaped to fit a theological frame.” May it not also be true that history has been revised to fit a contemporary ideological frame?





– My response to question 4 on p. 58 is: what evidence do we have that the stories are not authentic? There is nothing overt in the context section referenced that would lead to one conclusion or the other.





– Question 5 on that same page is not particularly nuanced?





– The writer uses the text of Ephesians 6 (the full armor of God passage) to make her case that the only valid war for Christians is with the devil, or evil as an undefined concept, using only the tools specified in the text. Observation: Pol Pot was not defeated with only the Bible.





– The prayer on p. 59 is good in its emphasis on life.





– Rather than selected statements from General Assembly Minutes on page 60, the editors could have pointed readers to the Social Witness Policy Compilation, pp. 113-152, for a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the denominations statements on war. In any event, readers should be aware of the dates attached to the statements that are presented here & be encouraged to factor in the social context of the late 1960s in which the cited statements were adopted as they discuss the relevance for either the time of Joshua or our own conflicted time.





– Remembering that the Suggestions for Leaders on p. 61 was not written by the study’s primary author, it is useful to compare the statement of the Lesson Theme with the actual lesson. It begs the question: how effectively did the study author, or the sidebar writer for that matter, “critically separat[e] our modern idea of war from the stories of the conquest of Canaan [to] help us better understand these stories on their own terms”?

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Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas


by
The Rev. Karen Lynn Woo*



Ignoring the cold, winter wind which bit through her wool coat, Tabitha smiled as she left the grocery store with all the fixings for Friday’s Christmas dinner and thought about the Christmas she had planned for her husband Samuel and their three children: Phillip, Ruth, and Elijah. Christmas was her favorite time of the year. The smell of wood burning fireplaces and chestnuts roasting in local street vendor carts filled the air, and everywhere she went the music of Christmas reminded her that more than 2000 years ago Jesus, Immanuel – God is with us – came to earth out of love for God’s children to save humankind from their sins. Just thinking about it warmed her heart. Though a year had passed since her mom had gone to live with her dad in God’s mansion, Tabitha still missed her terribly but somehow knowing her mom’s passing was not “goodbye” but rather “until we meet again” made the temporary separation ok. Tabitha and her family didn’t have a lot . . . in fact, like many families in their community they lived paycheck to paycheck . . . but they had each other and the Lord and somehow that was more than enough. The bills got paid, the family got fed, and sometimes there was even enough left over to share with others who were in need. “You can’t love God and not love His children,” Pastor David had said to the congregation on Sunday. “Our triune God is all about relationships. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him AND a personal relationship with each other.”



“Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas . . .” Tabitha sang along with the voice on the radio as she drove the 6 blocks to the little house she and her family called home.



“That’s odd,” she thought as she turned into the driveway and hit the automatic garage door opener. “Why is the front door open? Oh well, maybe I didn’t pull it closed tight when I left. It’s not like that hasn’t happened before.”



She pulled the car into the garage and popped opened the trunk. Exiting the vehicle, she picked up two bags of groceries and entered the house through the garage door. As she set the bags down on the kitchen counter the phone rang. It was her sister asking about her plans for Christmas. 20 minutes later she heard the familiar voice of her husband calling out to her from the front door.



“Honey, I’m home.”



“Samuel’s home. I’ll call you back,” Tabitha said to her sister.



Hanging up the phone, Tabitha went to greet her husband. “Why was the front door open?” Samuel asked as he closed the door. “And where is your car?”



“I don’t know why the front door was open,” Tabitha responded giving her husband a gentle peck on the cheek, “and my car is in the garage”.



“No, it’s not,” Samuel replied looking into his wife’s face as he gave her a gentle hug. The garage door is open and your car is not there.



“Oh my gosh!” Tabitha exclaimed as she ran to the garage. Sure enough, her car was missing. “Oh my gosh Samuel!” she cried bursting into tears, “The phone rang as I was coming in through the garage door and I was so distracted by my conversation with my sister I completely forgot I left the trunk wide open for the whole neighborhood to see. When I came into the house, whoever was in here must have slipped back out the front door, seen the car open and found the spare keys in my purse. Oh my gosh. It’s all gone . . . my wallet, the car, the Christmas presents . . .What are we going to do?”



“I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have a bank account or credit cards to worry about,” Samuel said calmly. “You go deal with the groceries you brought into the house. I’ll call the police and we’ll go from there.”



Later that night the doorbell rang. It was Pastor David. He’d heard about the stolen vehicle and wondered if the church could be of assistance.



“You can pray for us,” Tabitha said. “We have no insurance and without a car I don’t know how I’ll be able to work since, as you know, I cater for a living. And,” she said as tears formed in her eyes, “I don’t know what we’ll tell the children. All their Christmas presents were in the car when it was stolen. I was so looking forward to Christmas and now I wish it was over.”



“We’ll be ok, Pastor,” Samuel said as he put his arm around his wife and held her tight. “We have each other and we have Jesus. It’ll be all right.”



“You have great faith,” Pastor David told him, “just like your name sake. Well, if you do think of anything the church can do for you, you just let me know.”



“We will,” Samuel responded as the pastor got up to depart, “and thank you for coming. It helps just to know someone cares enough to stop by and see how we’re doing and what we might need.”



After the pastor left Samuel said to Tabitha, “I think we’d better get the children ready for bed and then sit them down together and tell them what happened so they know what to expect and what not to expect on Friday.” Tabitha nodded, her eyes brimming once more with tears.



Having had their baths and now dressed in their pajamas, the children entered their parents’ bedroom and climbed up on the bed. “Are we in trouble?” asked Elijah. “We didn’t do anything bad on purpose . . . honest,” he said.



“No,” said Samuel picking up his youngest son and putting him on his lap. “You aren’t in trouble but mom and I have something we need to talk to all of you about. You’ve probably noticed there aren’t any presents under the tree. Well there aren’t going to be any presents under the tree this year.”



“Because we’ve been bad?” asked Ruth.



“No,” said Tabitha reaching out and pulling Ruth close. “It’s not because you’ve been bad. You know we don’t give presents because you’re good or withhold them because you’re bad. We put presents under the tree because a long, long time ago when Jesus was born the wise men from the East brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to honor Him. The gifts we put under the tree remind us to honor one another and Jesus. Dad and I had gifts for you but they were in the mommy’s car when it was stolen earlier today.



“Your car was stolen?” said Ruth.



Tabitha nodded and told the children what happened.



“But our gifts don’t have to come from a store, right?” said Phillip. “I mean, can’t we make gifts for each other and put them under the tree?”



Samuel smiled. “That’s the spirit!” he said rubbing the head of his oldest child. “You know, we’ve bought presents for so long I almost forgot we ALWAYS made our presents when I was growing up. Yes, that is what we will do. Mom and I will help you make presents for each other and we will also make presents for one another and for each one of you. This is going to be the best Christmas ever!” He said with a smile.





On Christmas morning boxes of all shapes and sizes were found under the tree. Elijah, Ruth, and Phillip all received newly made pajamas from Samuel and Tabitha. The boys and Samuel each received a box of their favorite homemade cookies from Ruth. Elijah, with the help of Samuel, made a jig saw puzzle for his family’s enjoyment. Phillip, with the help of Elijah and Ruth, entertained Samuel and Tabitha with a skit and a song . . . both of which Philip wrote just for that occasion. “This IS the best Christmas morning ever!” said Elijah as the last gift was opened. Just then the doorbell rang. “I wonder who that could be,” said Samuel as he got up to answer the door.



Standing at the door was a couple he and Tabitha had befriended two Christmases before when the woman’s dad was very ill. The couple lived 3 hours away but her dad, before he passed away, had been their neighbor.



“Come in,” Samuel said. “We just finished opening presents. Will you stay and have breakfast with us?”



“We would love to,” said Hannah. “As a matter of fact, when we heard what happened to you earlier this week Mark and I decided rather than buying each other Christmas presents we would buy them for you . . . and that includes the fixings for breakfast,” she continued pointing at one of the sacks that were sitting at her feet at the front door.



“Well then, come on in,” replied Samuel picking up the sack and leading the way into the livingroom where the rest of the family was still seated. “Look who’s here!” he said smiling. “And they brought fixings for BREAKFAST!”



“And gifts!” said Mark and Hannah as they passed out presents to the children.



When the children had finished opening their gifts Mark and Hannah turned to Samuel and Tabitha. “You were both so kind to us and my dad when dad was in his last days,” said Hannah. “I don’t know what we would have done without you.”



“We really needed a friend back then who could keep an eye on dad when we weren’t able to be here,” said Mark, “and the two of you were there for us 24/7. Now, we understand you need a friend and we want to be that friend for you.”



“Mark and I usually buy little presents for each other and one big present for the two of us at Christmas. Sometimes it’s something for the house . . . at other times it might be a vacation to a place we both want to go. This year we decided to forego the big present and give the money to the two of you instead. This is for you,” said Hannah handing Tabitha the card she held in her hand.



Tabitha opened the card and read the words of love handwritten within it. Then she unfolded the check that was in the card. “We can’t accept this,” she said trying to hand the check back to Hannah. “It is way too much.”



“No it’s not,” replied Hannah closing her hands over Tabitha’s. “It’s just enough for you to purchase a used vehicle so that you can both continue to work and to minister to those whom the Lord sets in your path. Without a car, you wouldn’t have been able to minister to my dad in his time of need and I don’t know what Mark and I would have done if that had been the case. Mark and I are agreed on this. We want to help you purchase your next car.”



“Thank you so much!” exclaimed Tabitha hugging the two of them. As she did so she heard in the background a voice singing on the radio, “. . . and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.
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