Wednesday, July 29, 2015

an open letter to Multnomah students

Last fall, one of my college professors, Ray Lubeck, invited me back to speak to his Bible Study Methods class. Ray was more than just a professor to me. He became my mentor, boss, and friend, even performing our wedding in Colorado! It was an honor to visit his class again. I just came across my notes from the message I gave that morning, and I thought I'd share it with you as well.


18 years ago I sat where you are sitting.
I soaked in every word that Ray taught.
I poured myself into lab assignments.
And it changed my life.
Seriously, I couldn't figure out why no one had ever taught me this stuff before.
The Scriptures were opened up in a whole new way for me and the Bible came to life.

17 years ago I stood where I'm standing now, as a [Bible Study Methods] lab instructor.
It was the single most fulfilling thing I had ever done.
I kept coming back, teaching a total of 5 semesters.

12 years ago my husband Danny and I sold most of our things, packed up the rest, and headed to the Philippines as missionaries. We were more than ready. We had 4 years of the best Bible training on the planet tucked under our belts, teaching and church ministry experience, a strong team of prayer and financial supporters, a set of gifts that were a perfect match for the needs our mission advertised, and a commitment to reach Filipino Muslims with the gospel.

Weeks stretched into months as our initial enthusiasm wore off. We floundered. Ministry opportunities were not unfolding the way we had anticipated. Life in Manila was really tough. It was hot. We wilted. It was smoggy. We could hardly breathe. Language school was brutal. We were so homesick.

One day I was walking to the market to see my Muslim friends. I thought about their lives. They were immigrants from another island, far from home and trying to get along in a new language. Squatters by day and squatters by night, they sold pirated goods along the street without a permit and lived in makeshift homes on property they did not own. At any moment the police could show up and drag them off to jail for any number of infractions. The women sat pregnant in the hot sun for hour after hour selling combs and batteries and cell phone covers. After their babies were born they left them home with an older sibling and return to the market to sell again so the family could eat.

On my way to the market that day I felt so, so empty. What did I have that these friends really needed? I had come prepared to teach Bible study methods, but they could hardly read or write. We were here to reach them with the gospel, but what tangible benefit did the gospel offer them? A stable income? Reliable housing? What I knew to offer was a far cry from what they needed. As for godly character, I was depressed and discouraged, cranky and selfish, homesick and tired. I had come armed with colored pencils and an inductive Bible study method. I felt a little silly.

It was around this time that I got an email from Dr. Karl Kutz [another of my professors from Multnomah]. He was conducting a survey of graduates from the biblical languages program to find out our greatest accomplishments post-graduation. My Greek and Hebrew Bibles had made the trek across the ocean with me, but frankly, they sat untouched on my shelves getting moldy from the humidity. My greatest accomplishment? Umm… at first I groaned. There was nothing much that belonged on a resume. After some thought I decided that my most noteworthy accomplishment was that I could walk unannounced into a Muslim neighborhood climb the cement stairs of a 3-story building onto the rooftop where two families lived -- my friends from the market. Salma and Aisah and their husbands were raising their small children on that rooftop with no railings. Two lean-to shelters stood side by side, with corrugated metal roofs and walls with scrap linoleum floors. Their only furniture was a table on which the TV and a small gas stove were kept, powered with illegal gas and electricity. We sat on the floor as the pouring rain seeped through the holes in the floor and soaked our clothes. We talked and laughed, and I prayed in Filipino for Aisah's new baby, whom she had named Ishmael, or for Salma's whom she had named Eliana, after my own daughter. I longed for these friends to meet the Savior. I loved them, and I knew they loved me.

They had no pencil between them, and they could not read their copy of the Qur'an which was carefully wrapped and tucked between the wooden post and metal walls of their home. I would never have an opportunity to teach them inductive Bible study methods. That's not what they needed anyway. We all cried when Danny and I were called to move back to the US.

Yes, I've accumulated more degrees since then, and my Greek and Hebrew are not as rusty as they were in 2003. But if Dr. Kutz sent me that email again today I'm not sure that my answer should be any different. Allow me some liberties with 1 Cor 13:1–2:

If I read fluently in the languages of the ancient near east, but do not have love,
I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have impressive intellectual powers, advanced degrees,
and an exegetical method than can unlock all mysteries and all knowledge, 
and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Soak in all you can this semester. It is valuable training, and it will shape you in profound ways. But know this: without love, we are nothing.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

bored by Leviticus or lost in Numbers? don't miss this

I've already mentioned this resource last year, but it's getting better all the time as more videos are released, and I'm guessing that some of you blew me off the first time, so I'm going to say it again, LOUDER.

This is quite simply the BEST COLLECTION OF BIBLE VIDEOS I have ever seen. The content is solid. The graphics are impressive. The cost is affordable (It's FREE!). In just minutes you'll begin to understand how the books of the Bible fit together, and how each one contributes to the Bible's overall message.

There's a reason why over 42,000 people have already subscribed to these videos on YouTube (Genesis is nearing 200,000 views).

There's a reason why I used class time to show these videos to seminary students earlier this year.

And there's a reason why all three of my kids were captivated this afternoon watching them. After watching Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Hebrews, Eliana (age 14) announced that she was going to head to her room and watch them all again. Emma (age 10) said, "That was amazing!" And Easton (age 7) declared that he wanted to send some of his own money to help fund more videos.

They're that good.

Think the Bible is boring? or confusing? Or do you love it and want a way to share that love with others? Look no further! Watch it come to life at or get started right here:

Is the video you want to see not available yet? Keep checking back. The team is upping production speed so that all the biblical book videos will be out as soon as next year!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

on being finite

As a child, life stretched out interminably before me, holding an endless array of choices and possibilities. What do you want to be when you grow up? was the question that punctuated a long and happy childhood. No career was out of the question. My dreams held no bounds. My pint-sized mind was pregnant with possibility. Missionary-scientist-teacher? Bible translator-orphanage director? At one point I decided to become a missionary-astronaut-famous singer. I had my schedule all worked out in advance: I would spend several years overseas doing mission work, and then during furlough I would squeeze in a space mission and a concert tour before resuming my work in Africa.

How could I have anticipated the exhausting pace of what is erroneously called "furlough," or the rigorous preparation required for a trip to outer space, or the endless hours of practice and coordination to schedule a road show? My dreams were good ones, but I had yet to discover my own finitude.

We are given only so many hours, only so many days, and only so many years. Chances are that we will not be able to pursue every hobby that tickles our fancy, or learn every skill that would be handy to know, or volunteer for every worthwhile activity. Even as an adult, I have far more visionary ideas than I do energy to carry out those ideas. (I should bring a meal to so-and-so, or help with such-and-such, or start making my own this-and-that.) That leads to overpromising, overcommittment, pressure, guilt, and stress. Just because I can do something (in theory), does not mean that I should, even if it's commendable or I would be good at it.

Perhaps in days gone by one could aspire to be a 'renaissance man,' mastering knowledge in a wide range of subjects. That age has expired, and with it my dreams of being an astronaut or scientist or Bible translator or famous singer or counselor or midwife. I've given up on quilting and canning (at least for now), writing children's books, learning to paint, or taking an active role in the PTSO of my children's school or our neighborhood association. I cannot do everything. I have limits. For the time being, I study and write. When time allows, I read fiction and go camping and play games and take pictures. Once a year I even work on the family photo album. But mostly I dissertate. When that is done I will teach. And that will leave precious little time for anything else.

Almost-38-years old seems a strange time in life to start slashing my list of ambitions. I am interested in more things than ever before -- languages, geology, travel, world economics, traditional arts, gardening -- but I'm also more aware of my limitations. I am not a machine, I am a human being. That means I need balance, margins, rest. I can't do everything. Neither can you.

It's freeing to know that although God invites our active participation in his work, he does not expect us (in particular) to do it all. We invest what we can, when we can, as he provides the means. The rest is up to him. Our finitude drives us to depend on the infinite God for the strength to do what he has called us to do -- nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

why bother writing a dissertation?

Who even cares? And what difference does it make, really?

Pacific City, Oregon (Photo: C Imes)

Sometimes when I come face to face with an awe-inspiring panorama of natural beauty, I get to feeling very, very small. And I think about the hours I spend every day fiddling with footnotes, massaging sentences until they sound exactly right, poking my theories from every angle to make sure they stand up under scrutiny . . . In those moments my work seems so pedantic. 

Does any of this actually matter?

But when I turn back from a breathtaking view and stand squarely facing the church, I remember why this work must be done. I don't mean the church historic, anchored by creed, weathering the test of time. I mean the church in its messiest and most particular forms—the local church, my local church. Individuals of various ages and backgrounds and careers who share geographic proximity and have chosen to worship together on Sunday mornings at 9:00 or 10:45, coffee in hand, trying to shake off the spiritual lethargy of their week and tune in to what really matters. This church, my church, needs steady footing in the shifting sands of cliché and trend and platitude; they need to be guided to what is real and true and rock solid, what is profoundly biblical and yet fresh and relevant. People are weary of what they've already heard and tried and found wanting. They are tired of getting nowhere.

To speak with authority into the malaise of superficiality that confronts any local church, I must do my homework. I must wrestle each word to the ground, refusing to let it go until I understand, refusing to quit until I have clearly expressed what I see.

On any given day I consult books written by patient scholars who have done exactly this. Their insights have stood the test of time, like the majestic cliffs on the Oregon coast. I am grateful for their work—glad they didn't give up when things took longer than they planned—and inspired to contribute in some small way. 

And so I press on. 

Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

on being extraordinary

Are you extraordinary?

On a whim, we counted all the books and magazines in our house the other day.


That's quite a few! I don't know if it really makes us extraordinary, but I do know that it affords us the opportunity to spend extraordinary days traveling the world, learning new skills, pondering profound insights, and walking a mile in someone else's shoes. I love seeing my kids lost in a book, knowing that it expands their thinking and enlarges their soul.

A bookless house is a prison for the mind.

If you want to unlock your cell, check out my "best books" lists on the right-hand side of this post. There's one just for kids. And one for the best books I've read about the Bible and the life of faith. These books have changed my thinking and shaped who I am.

In the meantime, my kids and I want to know how many books and magazines you have at your house. Count them and post the total in the comments section below. My parents have over 1000 (which is proof of my happy childhood). How about you?

Remember, the quickest way to stunt your growth is to stop reading.

Monday, May 25, 2015

long found friends

The year was 1995 (give or take), and I was sitting at my desk in Memorial Dorm, staring at my computer screen, puzzled. (That put me in the privileged 32% of Americans who owned computers in 1995). The email was addressed to me, using the email address I had acquired when I left home that fall for my first semester of college. (If you must know, I signed up for my own account primarily to keep in touch with my parents.)

From: ?

Frankly, I don't remember who it was from, but I knew I did not know her. She greeted me by name, sounding casual, and referring to something I was supposed to know about, but didn't.

I could have hit "delete," but I decided to reply. I think perhaps you have the wrong email address. My name is Carmen, but I don't think I know you . . .

Then she replied, embarrassed. Oops! I was trying to write my friend, Carmen. Her email address and yours are almost exactly the same. I just forgot to put a "1" behind "Carmenjoy."

And that was it.
Or so it could have been.

But this was not the last email I received for "the other Carmen Joy." At some point, I decided I should introduce myself, since we shared the same first and middle names. And so I did.


As it turned out, Carmen Joy and I had a lot in common besides our names and (almost) our email addresses. Not only was the other Carmen a Christian, but she lived in the Pacific Northwest and she was thinking about attending Multnomah! She was interested in missions, too. We kept in touch the way all good friends did in the 90's—we shared email forwards. Through those "forwards" we learned a lot about each other.

My life's journey took me to the Philippines, North Carolina, and Illinois before circling back to the Northwest. Carmen's brought her to New Hampshire, and then to join YWAM in (of all places) Denver, the city of my birth. For years I received her prayer letters and she received ours. But in spite of her trips home to the Northwest and our trips home to Denver, we never met in person. Until last week.

Carmen is back in the Northwest for a season, about an hour north of us. I suggested we meet for lunch on campus at Multnomah. And so we did.

Carmen Joy Imes and Carmen Joy Matson meet at last! Photo: C Imes

It was just as wonderful to meet Carmen in person as I suspected it would be! After almost 20 years of long-distance friendship and mutual inspiration, I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to talk face-to-face. Carmen's life has been a sweet aroma -- someone who loves Jesus and pours out her life for his kingdom. She's taken the gospel all around the world (literally), investing in one group of young YWAM students after another, sharing her heart, her home, and her faith. Her emails and blog posts always point me to Jesus. I'm eager to see what adventures God has in store for her next!

Life is richer with like-minded friends to share the journey. I'm so glad Carmen's friends accidentally emailed me almost 20 years ago. Who could have guessed the sweet fruit of that "mistake"!?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

an unlikely blessing

I am trying to recall if I have ever heard a woman give a benediction before.

This search through my mental files is complicated by the fact that I have very rarely heard a woman preach.

There was Leslie, draped in black robes, who took the pulpit one Sunday evening in my childhood church. This I did not understand. Her vestments were foreign, to be sure, but stranger still was her gender. How could a woman preach God's Word to a roomful of Christian Reformed men — men who spent a good deal of time arguing over whether a woman could even pass the offering plate? This contradiction tugged my small brain into knots. I probably squirmed in my pew and scanned the sanctuary for furrowed brows. I suppose she even blessed us, but I don't remember. My Opa, who never missed a service, must have been livid. I was simply puzzled.

Then there was a woman in 2005 whose name I can't recall, and whose message I could not understand. She spoke Dutch. Oma and I had traveled together to the land of her birth, the plot of ground where she grew to adulthood, and the church in which her faith was formed. It was startling to see a woman take to the stage in the very church that had produced my conservative grandmother. I sat there, intensely curious, I — a woman — who felt called to teach God's Word. What would Oma say? The service ended. I braced myself as Oma turned to me with the inevitable judgment. "Well," she pronounced with considerable disgust. "You could have done much better." I'm sure my eyebrows rose, unbidden. Was this my grandmother's blessing? I received it as such.

Rebecca, a riveting speaker at Good Shepherd in Charlotte.
Octavia, who captivated us in chapel at Gordon-Conwell.
Maggie, drawing us into the story by performing a monologue as Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Karen, offering a simple, back-to-the-basics homily at the IBR worship service one year.

If I push myself, perhaps I could fill the fingers on both hands. I who am 37 years old and have rarely missed a Sunday. I'll do the math for you. That's 1,924 sermons, not counting evening services or chapel messages in college or Sundays since my last birthday. So perhaps it's not surprising that I cannot conjure up a picture of a woman pronouncing the blessing at the close of the service.

At least 99.5 times out of a hundred, it's been a man.

And so when Pastor Dave invited me to give the benediction after my sermon on Mother's Day, I hesitated. Is that ok here? sermon is already outside the box for most conservative evangelicals. I didn't want to start a riot. He assured me that it would be fine, and so I agreed.

The priestly blessing in Numbers 6 is one of my favorite parts of the entire Bible. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, studying it, and writing about it. But this is a blessing only the priests are authorized to give. And they are all men. And these are not just nice words, they are efficacious words -- they do something. With these words the priests confer the Name of Yahweh on his people, verbally branding them as His own (see Numbers 6:27). They invite God to act on behalf of his covenant people in accordance with his promise.

I no longer believe that gender is a prerequisite for preaching. For similar reasons, I think "blessing" is not limited to clergy (or to members of just one Israelite tribe, for that matter). We are, after all, a "kingdom priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) and in Christ there is "neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28). But frankly, I don't have much practice with benedictions, and hardly any precedent. It might have looked as awkward as it felt when I extended my hands over the congregation that Sunday.

But I meant every word.

May the LORD bless and protect you.
May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the LORD show you his favor and grant you his peace.
Numbers 6:24–26