New Testament Women and the Piercing Embrace of the Following Life

Flannery O’Connor is known for her short stories, but she packed images large and alarming into her economical word count. Murder, road side ambushes, and the cast of grotesque characters who populated her writing reinforced her oft-quoted credo:

“You have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”

In Pierced and Embraced, Kelli Worrall borrows one of O’Connor’s “large and startling figures” to write in bold script a parable of the gospel. The story of a defenseless old woman being violently gored by a bull portrays the shocking nature of grace as O’Connor’s protagonist is stabbed through the heart with one horn and encircled about the waist by the other.

It was the piercing that grabbed Kelli’s attention in the midst of her struggles with infertility and the heartbreak of three miscarriages. She raged against the unfairness and felt abandoned by God until He helped her to see the embrace of His love that came alongside the piercing. She began to study the lives of women in the New Testament and was startled to note that Jesus’  manner of dealing with women was a uniquely gentle pursuit of their hearts.

One by one, Pierced and Embraced recounts the stories of seven New Testament women, their encounters with the Savior, and His impact upon their lives. At the same time, Worrall weaves in her own story of a challenging childhood, her marriage and career, the adoption of two children, and a growing faith and obedience.

  • Prophetically warned that a sword would pierce her heart, Mary of Nazareth embraced and was embraced by the call of God to a one-of-a-kind journey that put the power of God on display in a humble, faithful life.
  • The woman at the well found, at the end of Jesus’ piercing questions, a grace-filled embrace of her need and her longing — and then a new identity as “an instrument of change in the lives of many others.” (80)
  • Pierced physically, emotionally, and spiritually by life, we all hurt. The woman with the hemorrhage had experienced life’s piercing, but received the embrace of acceptance and healing when she placed desperate and believing hands upon Jesus’ garment.
  • Used as bait in a moral and theological snare for Jesus, the woman caught in adultery was about to be executed by a cadre of the self-righteous.  Jesus turned the tables, and skewered her accusers with His piercing interrogation. Expecting death and shame, the guilty received forgiveness and hope for a new beginning — a hope that encourages this present-day believer to come quickly for the embrace of forgiveness and the all-important words:  “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more.”
  • Worrall experienced the piercing anguish of God’s waiting room in the six year process of an international adoption. Mary and Martha waited on pins and needles for Jesus to heal their dying brother Lazarus. When Jesus shows up, He works in ways that no one could have predicted, but the lesson reveals that the jolting embrace of a wild and powerful Savior leaves His followers convinced of His presence and His love.
  • The woman with the alabaster jar pours out her worship with abandon and beauty and yet experiences piercing disapproval. Jesus’ rebuke of the scolds in the room is an embrace to all the beauty-lovers, the lavish prais-ers, and the devoted followers who put the glory of God ahead of practical concerns and even their own reputation.
  • Chosen to know Jesus and to make Him known, Mary Magdalene has been the subject of much speculation through the centuries since her eye-witness experience of the resurrected Christ. Pierced by sorrow and then embraced by a commission to be Jesus’ “apostle to the Apostles,” Mary received the privilege of being the first herald of the resurrected Christ.

Because He is timeless and immutable, Jesus continues to work in the lives of women, drawing us into conversation, commissioning us to share His message of Truth, and piercing our hearts with the conviction that His words are true and His path worth following.  May we find grace in this following life to lean into His gentle embrace as we are transformed and empowered for our own beautiful offerings of service and worship.

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Love and Truth Made Visible

Saying “I do” at any age carries a freight of challenges and adjustments along with the joy, but a 57-year-old newlywed, married for the first time, brings a unique perspective to marriage.  Using the parable of her wedding preparations, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth begins Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together with a challenge to adorn the truth of the Gospel in our manner of living so that the beauty of God is put on display.  Since this is best accomplished in the context of relationship, Nancy turns to the truth of Titus 2: 1-10 with its wise and wonderful game plan:   the sound doctrine and skillful living that are indispensable to godliness are best learned “woman to woman, older to younger, day to day, life to life.”

Women of all ages and stages of life stand to benefit when they dive into Scriptural truth and find that belief affects behavior, for the truth is that the kindness and self-control called for in Titus 2 flow out of a changed life.  The sound doctrine Paul writes about in verse 1 is the mooring for good choices that result in the purity, composure, and sound relationships that characterize “Titus 2 Christians,” both male and female.  In the process, our ultimate purpose — to make much of God — is fulfilled and the beauty of Christ is put on display.

Older women are uniquely equipped and qualified to take younger women by the hand and explore the riches of a reverent life.  The energy and enthusiasm of younger women motivates older women to live into their calling and their experience in practical ways.

“To be reverent means living with the constant, conscious awareness that we are in the presence of an awesome, holy God.”

A Woman Under Control

Appearance, attitude, and life style work together to model the fruit of a genuine relationship with God.  A life characterized by freedom from harmful speech and from the many forms of slavery (to food, exercise, shopping, television, work, prescription meds, to name just a few possible masters) demonstrates the overcoming power of the Spirit of God.  The outcome is what Nancy refers to as a “Sophron State of Mind” (pronounced so-phrone).  Derived from the Greek words soos, meaning “sound” and phren, meaning “mind,” it comes together to convey self-control, discretion, or good sense.  Looking at life through my sophron lens, I am encouraged to ask myself probing questions:

  • The way just I talked to that person — was it sophron?
  • The way I ate (or exercised — or not?), or managed my time today — was it sophron?

Statistics that caught me by surprise here in my church-lady bubble indicate that 1 in 6 women regularly view pornography and 80% will eventually follow up virtual activity with face-to-face encounters.  In a culture that fosters the exact opposite, purity and discretion require vigilance and accountability.

A Woman Under Her Roof

It goes without saying that it is so much easier to be pleasant and accommodating with people on the fringes of our lives.  It’s those who are closest to us that receive (and endure) the fruit of our true character.  Titus 2 calls women to genuine relationships and a love for home that puts those all-important relationships on the front burner.  Together, we can train our hearts to cherish our husbands and to embrace the gift of  motherhood.  Anticipating objections to the counter-cultural notion of biblical submission, Nancy defines it by what it is NOT:

“1.  A wife’s submission is not to men in general.
2.  Submission does not mean a wife is inferior to her husband.
3.  Submission doesn’t subject a wife to a life of forced compliance.
4.  Submission doesn’t amount to slavish, groveling subservience.
5.  Submission doesn’t minimize a wife into mindlessness.
6.  Submission doesn’t mean husbands are always right.
7.  Submission never requires a wife to follow her husband into sin.
8.  Finally, a wife’s submission never gives license to her husband to abuse her.”

Studying I Peter 3 on submission with my Sunday School class, I read huge swaths of this chapter out loud to my class simply because it is so clear and grace-oriented.

Because everyone is on a learning curve, it is clear that older women will teach from what they have already learned, but we will also teach out of our failures, pointing to the days (or years) that “the locust has eaten” as proof that God is graciously in the business of redeeming failure and loss.  Younger women play a necessary role in the adorning of the Gospel, for they bring energy and fresh perspective to the table, motivating older women to live up to their knowledge — and always mindful that everyone can be an “older woman” to someone.

Titus 2 calls believers to a life of practicing a costly kindness.
It lays the groundwork for partnership together in Truth that makes the love of God visible and the truth of the Gospel believable because it is being communicated by lives that are becoming more beautiful with every year.

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For more information about Adorned, about the Revive Our Hearts Adorned event, or to join a Facebook discussion group based on the book, visit the Adorned website.

Last year I read and reviewed Nancy’s wake up call to women, True Woman 101:  Divine Design.  You can read more here.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Excellence — Who, Me?

The wow-factor of my kids’ birthday parties?

The visibility of certain muscle groups in my arms, legs, and torso?

The ease and finesse with which I can entertain a party of twelve, self-publish a book, or create deck furniture from wooden palettes?

Are any of these a worthy means of measuring my excellence?

Not according to Cynthia Heald who challenges all of our preconceptions in the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of Becoming a Woman of Excellence.  She examines a biblical concept of excellence like a finely cut gem, turning it to reveal each face and its sparkling qualities:

  • Discipline of the mind, will, emotions, body, and time.
  • Discretion, which is defined as “saying and doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.
  • A Gentle and Quiet Spirit:  an inner beauty that has nothing to do with appearance and everything to do with security in God’s loving sovereignty.
  • Purity, a holiness that arises from a life of abiding in Christ.
  • Wisdom:  Hearing the Word of God and also living it in our every day life.

Cynthia draws from the Old Testament book of Ruth and the woman featured in Proverbs 31 (along with many New Testament passages) to highlight the beauty of excellence.  (Is it possible that Ruth, Solomon’s great-great grandmother, left such a legacy in her family that her memory inspired Solomon to write that famous last chapter of Proverbs?)  Each chapter is an inspiring collection of Scripture, relevant quotes from a wide range of authors, and probing questions to stimulate deeper thinking.

There is a cost to the pursuit of excellence, and a life lived with conviction involves a level of obedience and surrender that does not come naturally.  However, the prize of becoming a woman who fears the LORD and follows Him whole-heartedly is beyond price, and it is a goal well worth pursuing.

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This book was provided by NavPress, in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Divine Design

“As Christian women, we desire to honor God by living countercultural lives that reflect the beauty of Christ and His gospel to our world . . .”

These powerful words lifted from the True Woman Manifesto are a wake up call to women, an invitation to enter into a life based on truth, and to view womanhood as a glorious gift that puts the creativity and wisdom of God on display.

In True Woman 101:  Divine Design, Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (now Wolgemuth), share their own very unique stories of following God into ministry —  Mary as a wife and mother, Nancy as a single woman at the time of the book’s publication.  Certainly, marital status is no barrier to active and meaningful ministry.

While many in the church waste valuable time quibbling over what women should do or may do, the word of God is clear in its teaching that, although marred by the fall, the role of a godly woman is to exhibit wholehearted devotion to Christ, to display purity of heart and a quiet spirit in her use of the unique ministry gifts that God has granted.

When Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper, he forever exalted the role of those who come alongside to assist. This is a powerful message for women who want their homes to be launching pads for the next generation of world-changers, for women who are called to meet the needs of others outside their family circle, and for women of all ages and of all giftings who desire to be intentional and purposeful in living a countercultural life that puts others first.

The words of Elisabeth Elliot are a magnificent mission statement:

“We are called to be women.  The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman.  For I have accepted God’s idea of me, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that He wants me to be.”

True Woman 101 is an eight-week study that serves as an invitation to throw away the cookie cutters and delight in the differences between men and women as well as the differences among women of diverse temperaments, at various stages in life, and with different callings.  We live our lives before God “to the end that Christ may be exalted and the glory and redeeming love of God may be displayed throughout the whole earth.”

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.