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Hard Blessings

What do you think of when you think of the word blessing? Goodness, abundance, grace, protection…These are the words that come to mind when I think of it. I was raised to always seek God and the good things He has in store for me. I’ve lived a pretty decent life and with that, I made the assumption that the blessings of God would cover me from the hard things in life. I wouldn’t have verbalized that, but in my heart, that is what I believed. Now to be sure, I’ve avoided disasters by making good life choices, but as we all know, there are some things beyond our control.

Several years ago a series of deaths took place in my life that totally rocked my world. Within 6 months there were 4 deaths that took place among friends and family. Every time I would start to feel like I could get up in the morning without the dark clouds, I would get another phone call…my safe blessed world had been shattered. Everyone who passed away were all dedicated Christ followers. I felt vulnerable, and unsafe in this world I had just opened my eyes to. This isn’t supposed to happen to me. I shouldn’t have to go through that kind of trauma. Where was God, my protector, the one who knew I loved him and did what was right. Was I not blessed, aka protected from the bad things in life.

I had equated blessings with material gain, comfort and all things warm and fuzzy. That is apart of God’s grace towards us, but it is not the total picture. Many times blessings are made available or amplified in times of need. God lead and prospered a whole group of slaves and made them into a mighty nation that still exist today! The ethical structures that governed them as a distinct people has influenced many nations including our own. Most importantly, it was through this people that God sent the world their savior. All this is against the back drop that for 400 years they were slaves in the great nation of Egypt. For 400 years they were considered subservient and less than human, yet they were blessed…

What Does It Mean To Be Blessed?

Where is the blessing in 400 years of slavery? Where is the blessing in being crucified for others crimes? Where is the blessing in losing those you know and love in quick succession?

God showers His mercies on those who follow Him and those who do not, because He loves freely, so there is a difference between one who has received a blessing and one who is blessed. The title or adjective of blessed has more to do with the one it is in association with and that is God Himself. To be blessed is to be bestowed holiness &, prosperity, etc. Not just prosperous in material possessions but in goodness, love, patience, joy, etc. To truly be blessed is to be in relationship with the God of it all.

Jesus tells us, blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who morn, are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied…We live in a fallen world, but God is sovereign. He can take ashes and create something beautiful. He can take a people in slavery and show them how to treat others in ways that only 400 years could of done. He can take the corrupt foolishness of the world upon Himself and make it the back drop for the greatest show of love this world has ever known. He can see His daughter in a lot of pain and say if you will just trust and abide in me, I promise you will make it through and on the other side you will have a greater empathy for others and a greater trust in me.

Many times we want our blessings to come easy and on our terms and call ourselves blessed. Oftentimes, the greatest blessings from God comes through the rough and tumble refinement of life. But those who are truly blessed find their satisfaction, their joy, their peace in Him even in the midst of life’s greatest struggles. For we trust that there will be a day when we see Him face to face and we will see the one whom our heart has longed for and truly be blessed.

What about Andy Stanley?

As some of you may have heard, Andy Stanley has been under a bit of criticism lately from some regarding a sermon he preached. In the sermon he talked about how the Old Testament is not entirely in place any more, and some had taken the comments to be saying that the Old Testament has no value for us today. Since we use Andy Stanley’s sermons and lessons in Men of Fire, I thought it might not be a bad idea to offer some knowledge on this subject, and while we can still feel good about using his materials.

A Little History

My first time in reading about Andy Stanley being under a little bit of criticism was when I read a First Things (A prominent journal) article a couple months ago. The article did give some good history on the use of the Old Testament throughout the life of the church. But, it’s criticisms of Andy were a bit much. The article can be found here. 

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/05/andy-stanleys-modern-marcionism

Back in the second century, a man by the name of Marcion rejected all of the Old Testament and most of the Gospel’s for Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. The Churches got together and unanimously agreed that Marcion was incorrect. It also was a good impetus for churches to clarify their own position that the Old Testament was inspired Scripture and which books each of the churches really knew to be Inspired in the New Testament.

Today there are some in the wider Christian world that sound a bit like Marcion from time to time. Even though they believe the whole Bible is inspired, they place Paul’s letters in a sort of pristine place of use over the rest of the books. These Christians are Dispensationalists. At Living Water (as well as true blue historical biblical Christianity) are not Dispensationalist.

Critics have gone a bit far…

I do think the critiques have gone a bit far on this. I myself have a much more integrated view of Old and New Testaments, than does Andy. But, I think his comments in the Relevant Magazine article do a good job of explaining that the complaint many have had regarding Andy’s small comment, were part of a much larger sermon series. The point is that many have misjudged the sermon. I myself don’t like people lifting comments quickly from my sermons, but rather like them being taken as a whole. The link to Andy’s interview with Relevant is here…and I encourage you to read through it to see his perspective. https://relevantmagazine.com/god/andy-stanley-thinks-sermon-critics-curious/  

A little more theology

Andy seems to be in line with plenty of thinkers in evangelical and charismatic contexts, who have a much stronger sense of separation between the two testaments than integration. Martin Luther himself has some similarities to these thinkers. Moreover, there has been some debate on how to think through ‘what is still in place in the Old Testament and what is not’ for most of the last 2000 years. The major views to be rejected are anything that denies the Old Testament being Inspired Scripture, or anything that denies it is still useful to us today. Andy affirms a very high view of inspiration, infallibility, and usefulness, so it seems critics are clearly missing the point.

Most Christians agree that some things were fulfilled in Jesus. For instance, we no longer practice sacrifices, circumcision, Israelite priests, etc. Thus, even though the force of the Old Testament is always in place, there were some aspects that were fulfilled when Jesus came and died on the cross.  

What about Andy?

Andy is no Marcion follower…so the critics have gone too far. As I already said, I have a more integrated view of the Old Testament and New Testament than does Andy, but his own approach is not “out there.” Millions of evangelicals hold his view. 

Why we can stick with Andy?

We can stick with Andy for several reasons. 1) He is not a Marcionite. 2) His approach really speaks to people who are outside the church and works as a great outreach. 3) Even if we would ever disagree with something he says, we can wear our ‘big boy pants’ and have a great theological conversation about it. In a situation like this, I prefer ‘learning’ over ‘sanctioning’ where appropriate. And, right now we have nothing to sanction…but if we ever did, we could use it to talk about where we are different and distinct.

Big God

Growing up, there was one thing I always knew, I wanted to serve God with every fiber of my being. The greatest way I knew to fulfill that desire was to be a missionary in a foreign country. I thought there was no better or higher calling. I barely graduated high school, but I didn’t care, because the only thing that mattered was believing in Jesus and going to heaven.

I went to Bible college after high school, because I knew no other way to accomplish my goal of becoming a missionary. During those years I breezed through school, and graduated among those at the top of my class. This was an eye opener for me because I did not think this was possible. The joy and sense of accomplishment I gained through it was other worldly. I was surrounded by professors who loved God and served him well in this capacity. That may seem like a small deal to most, but it was a game changer for me. I began to understand service to God as something that went beyond the roles found inside of a church. It began a journey of not only understanding my role in God’s Kingdom, but better grasping the vastness of our God and the reality we live in.

One of my favorite movies is, Interstellar, and not for obvious reasons. When I watched it for the first time in my living room, I felt the presence of God expressed through immense joy. My mind was blown to know this movie was based on real science. Based on the possibilities of other worlds, wormholes and different dimensions, that theoretically could be out there, but yet to be discovered. I thought, how can man deny the reality of a being that transcends our physical dimension? As explored in this movie there are mathematical and scientific pointers to possibilities that we have yet to encounter! I experienced the wonder of God through a “secular” medium and it was legitimate.

In the past, I would have been closed off even to the possibility of such an encounter. My understanding of God was so limited that I had condemned everything as vanity and of no concern if it did not expressly read Jesus and Heaven. I had relegated the Creator of the universe to the pages on my night stand and an experience to be had once or twice a week. I neglected the grander narrative by which God was sovereign over the whole thing. Was the point of my faith in Christ just an insurance policy for the life to come? Does life now, matter to life after?

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Genesis. It is the introduction to humanity of the source and purpose of life. It casts a shadow over the rest of the Bible, as the last book is a continuation of the first. We meet God here, and see that He is the creator of all reality and intended it for good. He then entrust us with the care of His good creation, but we know where that story goes, and it is because of this twist we tend to limit the larger than life being of God to our short list of what is or is not of God.

My view of God was more focused on fire insurance than the life that was given through Him and meant to be experienced now. Remember, God did create this reality in all its vastness, complexities and even simplicity and calls it good. He created the brains that the scientist use to make discoveries of the universe and takes pleasure in it. The joy we find in the most basic human interactions are all ingrained in the fabric of the reality that finds its source in God. It all matters to God, and he blesses and ordains it for good.

My eyes were opened to the God that was bigger than the world I created for Him. I realized there was much of life to experience in Him that I had denied myself at the expense of His pleasure and shared joy. I wanted to please Him with every fiber of my being but had told Him with my actions all of this was not worth the investment. I wanted to tell the world about Jesus, but had left the other part of the story unsung. God wants to show us how to live now and how to do it well so we can continue the narrative together in Him. We serve a BIG God! Amen.

I Need You to Survive

A little over a year ago, I felt like I was supposed to put together a retreat specifically for the young women in my family. The theme of the weekend would be, fellowship in community. The goal was to bring us together in a way that went beyond the normal formalities. It ended up being a time I will never forget and a source of beauty I will reference in my memory until the day I leave this earth.

At one point during the retreat, I had everyone hold hands and sing along to a song titled, “I Need You To Survive.” If you know me, I am not a very physically affectionate person, so even though I initiated the gesture, it was a challenge. I then took it up a notch and sang the song face to face to everyone in the circle. Talk about feeling raw and open, but it was in that kumbaya moment that it sank into my soul that I needed everyone in that community to survive.

We are not an island unto ourselves. Although we like to live and think that way, it is inherently contradictory to the way we were destined to operate. We are beings made in the image of our Maker and I’m not talking hands and feet. God Himself, as expressed through scripture is a being in relationship. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are constantly giving of themselves to one another in holy union. As a result of this nature, He created beings whom He could lavish His love upon and who in return would do so towards others.

We Were Made To Exist In Community

It was told from the very beginning that God in his plurality, saw man in his singularity, and said it was not good to be alone. Community is a part of the image/character of God. In this, a reality exists in which we are outward focused and not centered on the subjective self isolating wants of the individual.

In Christianity, we refer to our community as the Body of Christ. This presents the image of a unit with interconnected parts all working together to properly function. This is the ideal but how often do we actually achieve this type of interconnectedness that God in His very nature models for us? Unfortunately, not often enough.

I heard this example used once. We often treat community like a bag of marbles. We congregate together based on our common spiritual experiences, etc., but when one marble slips through the mesh bag it doesn’t really affect the bunch. In reality, Christ’s community is meant to be experienced like grapes on a vine. Although, each grape has a personal connection to the vine, the whole cluster shares a common source and therefore a common fate. When one is plucked there is a noticeable gap. When one is rotting, usually the ones closest to it are next to go. What is happening to you affects me and vice versa. Our connection to God may be personal but it is not private.

I need you to grow and you need me. We are to be challenged by one another, loved on and encouraged towards good deeds among many other things. I need you in my ‘business’ asking me how have I stewarded God’s blessings in my life. You need me calling your attitude into question when you didn’t get your own way. If our fellow man is slipping away, I hope we care enough to not let him go without a fight. And when times are hard, we need the comfort of one another and the shared empathy of our Savior to get us through. We cannot run this race on our own and that is exactly how our God designed it to be. Life together, centered on one another in Him, ensuring the survival of the of the whole and not just one self. I need you to survive.

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A Response To The “Great Debate,” Does God Exist?

Last week our church hosted a formal debate where friends, family and the wider community were invited to participate. The topic was on the rationality of the belief in God. My husband took the stance that it was rational to believe in God and the visiting professor took the opposite position. Overall, it was a great night, and such a beautiful opportunity to be under one roof with people who fundamentally disagree on key subjects, but yet be civil and welcoming to one another. I would say, it was a holy moment…

With that said, it does not mean I was not nervously sitting in my seat as the debate played out. I had my head bent for a lot of it, because I wanted to hear the words and judge the ideas on their own merit. I did not want to read into the facial expressions or body language. So with my phone open, I tried to take as unbiased notes as I could.

It did take some brain power to follow and process the arguments. I then found something to be lacking for me in clarity through the arguments being made, and that was the definition and subjective use of “evidence.” Professor Shapiro almost exclusively relied on physical evidence while Isaac relied more on the nonphysical. I found this to be troubling, because Shapiro was ultimately saying, because there is no physical evidence for God, all other evidence does not amount to anything. All that is real, is physical and nothing can exist beyond its boundaries. To his credit, he said that not knowing the cause of something is okay, and that it is presumptuous to think that we live in a universe where all things should be knowable. Yet, he objectively argued for the exclusivity of physical evidence as the ultimate and only decider of what is rational. It eventually became evident to me that God CANNOT exist in Shapiro’’s world…

Mongoose Vs. Cobra
Mongoose are known to be able to get the upper hand on Cobra’s. This is because they are immune to its poisonous bit and also, because they can jump around quickly to get out of the striking path. One day a bet is placed on who would win a fight between the two. People largely placed their bets on the mongoose because they know it’s abilities. Both animals are placed in a box and covered. When the cover is removed, the mongoose is found dead.

What happened?

We could postulate that the cobra just out witted and out maneuvered the mongoose. Although, technically true, if we took a step back and look at the bigger picture, we could see the mongoose from the start was at a disadvantage. It needs the room to jump around as its defense, but when a box is put over it, it’s hands has just been tied so to speak. Evidence for God’s existence cannot exist in Shapiro’s world, because he has limited the scope for what is possible. Anything leading beyond the physical realm will always be a mystery not to be solved or, declared unresolved until further conclusion. He concludes, if God is non physical, and the non physical does not exist, therefore God does not exist and belief in God is not rational.

Shapiro comes in with the assumption that the physical is all there is. To limit the human experience to only its physical nature, I believe is to diminish the complexity of humanity and the universe as a whole. The mind alone is a wonder in itself. Our consciousness alone testifies of the otherness of our experience. We make the mistake of taking one discipline (scientific method) or sense of examining the world and broad brush our whole experience to fit through that lens. When there are a whole host of others ways to interpret ourselves and the world around us.

I believe Shapiro makes this mistake of limiting the importance of other evidences for God’s existence. Until one is willing to remove the box that limits your scope, you will not be able to fully take advantage of the evidences around you, and see what is in plain sight….

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Journey to Ordination

At the age of 20, after graduating Bible college, I received my Minister’s License. At the time I thought it was a cool bonus prize, but I don’t remember caring much especially when the bill came to renew the following year. I took a pass, and had not looked back much since. Although, it might not have seemed obvious to those around me, at the time I did not have much ambition towards formal ministry.

After Bible College, traditional modes of Christian service were not on my agenda. I continued to serve in my local church, but I no longer sought for my vocation to be associated within an exclusively Christian context. I had ‘outgrown’ that desire. Those thoughts would take a back seat as our family grew and an opportunity came to us that I felt totally unprepared for. A town not too far away was looking for a Pastor. We had heard about this position months before, but neither of us wanted to go down that particular path. One day, the conversation about it became serious and I knew in my heart, that God was going to change our lives.

I was told exclusively by my husband on more than one occasion that he did not want to be a Pastor, so how did we end up serving in this exact position? Overall, I was a good sport, but embraced the role as his thing. I was still trying to find my way. Shortly after, we had our 2nd child and I finished my Associates in History. I started to long to do more and I applied for the Bachelors program in History while starting my own nonprofit to help others pursuing their education. I remember one day registering for classes and feeling so depressed. I had no clue what I was going to do with this degree because I had no desire to fulfill the roles that it pointed to. Through a series of events and a semester break, I ended up applying to an online program that would accept my credits from Bible College along with my Associate to finish my degree in one year. In doing so, it felt like the death of a dream. I cried before going through with it, my degree would be in Religion and Social Science. I would be starting right where I ended. It was in that moment I started to say yes to God.

As much as I tried to deny it, I could not run away from the call of God on my life to serve His body. I am now beginning to acknowledge and embrace this mission as an adult. I knew from my earliest memories that God was real and He was always very present to me. I never really latched on to any one profession I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’ but , I knew whatever it was I wanted to serve Him. In high school I told my parents I wanted to be a missionary and at the time my mom in particular wasn’t too happy about it, but I didn’t mind. But along the way of trying to accomplish that goal I got sidetracked. During my time at Bible College I came to the realization that one didn’t have to be formally recognized as a minister in order to best serve God. He blessed us all with many gifts and talents and they were all to be used to serve Him. With this realization in mind I decided to serve Him outside of my safe context, the church. But it was there he was calling me too all along. I felt like it was a cop out to vocationally serve in the church, but the real cop out was not fully submitting myself to the God who knew me and what He purposed me for from before I was in my mother’s womb.

After side lining myself for so many years I had finally stepped out of the way. Accepting my purpose I felt like I could begin to run with better clarity. I felt free to become the person I was called to be. I began setting goals to accomplish and being ordained was one of them. For me, ordination, like baptism was a public declaration of the call of God and my acceptance and submission to His leading. At 29 years, I am now realizing the true value and gift this ‘bonus prize’ is and trying to redeem the time that my 20 year old self let slip away. I am now at home in the center of God’s will and I cannot imagine being anywhere else.

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Humble Parenting

I grew up in a household and culture where your parents were always right. There was no such thing as a wrong motive, action or advice because they always knew best.
I vowed that I would never be prideful with my kids, and then I actually had them.

My oldest is only six and painfully insightful. I do not remember the situation, but I remember being angry about something and feeling justified in my actions until my daughter proved I was wrong. My instinct was to save face, but then I was reminded of the kind of example I wanted to set for my daughter when she is confronted with her wrong actions. Is this going to be a do as I say not as I do kind of household? There is nothing like being humbled in front of a six year old, but it was good medicine (although not very tasty) for my soul.

Sometimes as parents, we feel like we have to be this stallworth example to our children, but often the way we go about trying to paint this appearance can be detrimental. We often want to be like God to our children in the image of perfection, and when they call our bluff or we find ourselves in situations that expose our humanity we gird ourselves with pride. We might not say that we are always right, but we act like it.

The thing is, everyone else knows we are flawed (including our children) so who are we left fooling…ourselves. There is only one perfect being and that is God and the only other roles that are left are sinners and recovering sinners. By our example, let our children know that they will mess up, but instead of trying to cover it up, follow Christ in his humility and own up to your failures and move forward to make better decisions. Sometimes that is the hardest part, because we then are put into a position of being accountable to those we lead and that is a little uncomfortable. Good news is, if we teach our kids this way of life from an early stage, the level of shame and vulnerability we fear in exposing our weaknesses won’t be as daunting because we have already modeled and taught them the way of grace and humility. Jesus tells us those who are grace filled towards others will recipients of it as well.

If your parenting is seasoned with the fruit that comes from one that abides in God, then you have nothing to fear as far as your children using it as a tool against you. But if it is not, then there is no better time to start than now. Do not convince yourself otherwise. Believe it or not, your kids are watching and taking their cues from how you model it to them. So the next time you want to sweep your dirt under the rug, remember your children are watching and they are taking note. But most importantly your Heavenly Father is watching to see if you will follow Him in His example of humility or continue to build your own self-righteous kingdom. Choose the better way.

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Consumer Worship

Often times before I write about a subject, I generally like to take a day, a week or more to gather my thoughts. I read scripture, other commentators, reflect on my life experiences and synthesize it all together. By the time I’m ready to write I feel like I have somewhat internalized the matter and can provide a decent opinion. This is not one of those times. This is one of those subjects where I feel woefully inadequate to communicate in a way that is meaningful to the reader and simultaneously honoring to God. But I will attempt to do so anyway.

The concept of worship, for most in the Evangelical and Charismatic world prompts one to think about the music sung at church. In more traditional circles the word is used in reference to the whole service. Either way, we get the gist that this is supposed to be an act towards God…or do we?

Growing up, I was often apart of churches that boasted high energy singing and preaching. It was usually engaging and dare I say at times entertaining. Then I found myself in a context that no longer catered to the concert style worship I enjoyed. I was forced to learn how to read a hymnal as I repeatedly got lost after the first line! Was God even present? My worship goosebumps had long since gone and there seem to be no ‘shouting’ points in the sermons. This experience had me questioning, what was worship all about?

Many churchgoers select where they choose to worship by the style of music offered, the charisma of the pastor, the beautiful building or the complimentary coffee available at the gift shop, among other things. None of these offerings in and of themselves are wrong. Who doesn’t want to sing along or try not to fall asleep during a sermon? I can only speak for myself, but I’ve had seasons where I found myself bored and not getting much out of the service. The novelty had worn off, so I would show up later and later or some weeks not at all. Was God as bored as I was, because we were not connecting like we were when the they were playing my favorite songs and preaching engaging sermons.

Regularly we approach God during times of worship as a consumer. We come not ready to give but to take. We come with a list of subconscious needs demanding they be met in order for us to properly worship, but do we even understand what worship is?

What is worship?

Jesus once said that true worship was done in spirit and truth. Truth by definition is objective. It is transcendent of our subjective opinions and preferences, just as the spirit is to the material world. True worship transcends my favorite songs, charismatic sermons and social entanglements. Can these elements be conduits? Absolutely, but too often it is made to be the object of our glory. So what is the essence of worship?

Whether defined in Hebrew, Greek, or English it all points to humbling oneself in the presence of one who is greater. It is an act of giving honor to one who is worthy. Worship, by definition reinforces the separation and otherness of God and man, because there is always the distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped. Worship is not a partnership of equals, but God in his wondrous love, bows down to receive our offering. In this, He gives of Himself, which brings about our healing, gives us vision and proclaims truth, which can only be found in Him. But before you can experience true worship, you can have no other gods before Him. There is no room for self-glorification.

During times of worship we must never allow ourselves to simply be the ‘audience’ to what is happening in front and around us. We are to be a part of the giving of ourselves as a love offering to our Lord. After all, who is supposed to be doing the worshipping? So the next time you find yourself in a place of worship, stop looking around for how your needs can be catered to, and ask yourself, what have I to give to the one who has given His all…

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Submitted by: Vachelle Fleming

 

Women in Ministry 1 – Experience

The subject of women in ministry comes up in church life. Especially when people from one Christian background are getting involved in a church from another Christian background. People want to know a given church’s viewpoint on women in ministry. Now, to be sure, at some level most people realize that this is not the very center of the faith. The center of The Faith is the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, there are many people who have a passionate view about this subject. I thought I would offer some of my thoughts.

The first area to cover (strangely) is not the Bible, but rather ‘experience’ and the various reasons people offer on this subject. Most often, even before I can offer Biblical perspective on this subject to individuals, they have experiences that they wish to share with me. And, just in case you wondered, my other blogs forthcoming on this subject will be dealing with the Biblical material on the subject. I encourage you to take a look as they develop.

Still, when the topic comes up I usually hear something like, “Well, I could not imagine a woman being in leadership?” Or “I saw a woman in a ministerial role before and it did not go that well.” Or “Women are very emotional, and emotions don’t work well in a Pastoral role.”

Let’s be clear on these points. Every one of them can be countered by another person with a positive experience with a woman in a leadership position. For instance, I personally know women in ministerial roles that do well and lead the charge effectively. Whose experience wins the day? Moreover, on the emotional end, I think that varies between each person (whether male or female). And, having emotion does not disqualify one from leading or serving in Christ’s kingdom. In fact, there are avenues where emotional intelligence, especially in ministry is very important. Therefore, one could say that women (at least those called) will handle ministry very effectively as God sees fit.  

My only point with this assessment is that experience or the reasons that are sometimes offered against women in ministry cut both ways, and prove little. In fact, we can take this one step further and apply the same reasons used against women being in leadership roles and apply them to some men. For instance, I have seen plenty of men do poorly in leadership in Christianity. Does that discount men? Moreover, I have seen some men who are fairly emotional or perhaps non-emotional, does that disqualify men in general? Of course not. The same of women.  

Therefore, before we get into the Biblical material, we best be aware that our experiences cut both ways. Moreover, they do little to invalidate women from ministry in general. 

Pastor Isaac