The Helpful Enneagram

A Tool for Personal, Family, Spiritual, and Leadership Development

I’m always looking for ways to understand why and how I think, feel, and behave as I do throughout life, in all areas. Typically, it’s because I’m trying to understand how I can think more clearly, feel more clearly and fully, and behave more consistently and productively. I also seek knowing how to have fuller and more loving and/or productive relationships, depending on whether we’re talking about the context of work, family, God, or friends. I read and pray over the words and stories in the Bible daily (my ideal), or at least regularly, for these reasons and I’ve also used several kinds of personality tests/indicators with these ends in mind. I’ve taken the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, as well as others, several times over the decades. They’re all useful for what they are. They all have their limitations and their helpfulness.

Because I’m a member of the Redbud Writers Guild (power on, sistas), I’m on InterVarsity Press’s “advanced copy” list for several genres of books, all nonfiction and mainly biblically- and theologically- oriented (as opposed to, for example, philosophy, poetry, Bible study (per se), inspirational, spiritual formation, etc.). But recently, I was surprised to receive a Christian self-help book (i.e. spiritual formation) called The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile.

I recall some twenty years ago picking up a book on the enneagram and wondering, simultaneously, “What in the world? Where has this been all my life? This [one of the numbers/categories] describes me to a ‘t’!” and “Is this satanic and/or new age?” At the time, I can’t say I was an extraordinarily discerning or critically-thinking reader. I stayed within what I thought/perceived was an acceptable safety zone of reading for Christians. After reading significant portions of the book and even after being bowled over by the depth and accuracy of the various personality descriptions and how they interact with self, life, others, and God, I felt ambiguous about the content. Partly out of ingnorance-based fearfulness and partly out of simple ministry-activity overwhelm during that period of my life, I lost track of the book and its content. But I never forgot about it.

Fast forward twenty years, an advance reader copy of Cron and Stabile’s book appears in my mailbox during a time of deep discernment in my life and that of my life in partnership with my husband, David. This summer, we celebrated fourteen years of marriage. I think he’d agree with me if I said the first ten were the most difficult, compared to the last four.

Disclosure: Links in this article may be an affiliate link through which I may make a small commission for leading you to the resource. This supports The Verity Initiative’s ministry on the site and in “real life” and for this I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Going with the Flow, Part 1: Sentence Flow Diagramming

Assuming you’ve done your work with the <<preliminaries>>, here’s the next step to putting your Bible study on steroids: doing a sentence flow diagram. I know, I know: totally unsexy. But, seriously, this is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE tool for studying the Bible(lots of exclamation points!!!!!!!!) because everyone who has a basic knowledge of English grammar truly can get a much clearer picture of a scripture passage with some very simple diagramming.

Most translations are written, intentionally, in paragraph and verse form. By diagramming sentences according to grammar rules, you get to see how words, phrases, sentences, and even whole sections relate to each other. You see comparisons and contrasts at a glance. You see cause and effect in a second.


This post is part of the following (still-being-written) series:

Supercharge Your Bible Study Series: Simple (But F’Real, Bona Fide) Bible Interpretation for Newbies

Interpretation Preliminaries:

  1. Reading the Passage (in one sitting)

Going with the Flow, Part 2 – Putting the Horse in front of the Cart: Basic Grammar Rules (or, “Ninth Grade English, Revisited”)

Going with the Flow, Part 3 – A New Artistry: Sketching a Sentence Flow

2016 Lesser-Known Writing Workshops, Conferences and Retreats

Since joining the Redbud Writers Guild, in early 2013, I’ve been intentionally rubbing shoulders deeply and frequently with the amazing women in our guild. Because our network of women writers has been ever-expanding (we now number around 125, with the goal of 500 in 5 years), so has my personal network. As a result, I’ve been blessed with relationships and opportunities of which I’d not been aware otherwise.

One of those opportunities was attending the recent Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, where the Redbuds also gathered frequently and tried to be fairly ubiquitous, so we can become more of a presence in the field of Christian writing. Of course it was fantastic gathering at the festival with like-minded people: book lovers, writers, aspiring writers, editors, bloggers, publishers, etc. There were something like 2.5K in attendance and the number of sessions and other opportunities were, at best, amazingly-prolific and, at worst, overwhelming and paralyzing. Sometimes both. 🙂 Yet while it was awesome, there wasn’t time dedicate to actually writing if you became particularly inspired, because, ironically or not, that wasn’t the point of those 3 days.

There are opportunities, however, for people who want or need to actually work on their craft in community with others, and I’ve come to know about a small bevy of them as a result of that expanding network.
So, for those readers of my blog who are interested in writing, either avocationally or vocationally, I thought I’d pass along some of the notifications I’ve received about the lesser-known opportunities to gather in more intimate settings than big writer’s conferences. Below I’ve started a list of links to lesser-known opportunities for intensive craft development in smaller, groups of writers, editors, and publishers, often in someone’s home, converted barn, or even private island (oh yes). I’m limiting this list to opportunities offered by Christian writers, editors, and publishers, because it could get unwieldy otherwise.
I’ll keep adding to this list as I’m aware of more opportunities. If you know of others not listed here, please feel free to place it in the comments (subject to approval, as always) and/or write me at to make me aware of it. Please provide me with a link and anything else that is particularly noteworthy about it.

In order by month…

Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference (April. Portland, OR). (Thank you for this info, Leslie Leyland Fields)

The Glen Workshop (July-August. New Mexico. Karen Swallow Prior; emphasis on becoming good readers to become good writers)

God’s Whisper Farm Writers Retreat (July. Virginia. Andi Cumbo-Floyd)

Harvester Island Wilderness Writers Workshop (September. Alaska (and I mean it doesn’t get much more Alaska than a private island off an island off the coast of Alaska). Leslie Leyland Fields. Guest Writers  – Jeanne Murray Walker and Luci Shaw)

Breathe (October. Cornerstone Univ. in Grand Rapids).  (Thank you for this info, Leslie Leyland Fields)


Announcement: Massive Website Updates!

In the process of switching web hosts, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth – mainly by me. But I decided to make the best of it and have laid tracks for good stuff: merging blogs, linking websites, and making the flow between The Verity Initiative’s resources much easier.

Hence, you see a very different-looking URL on this website:

Eventually, you will see only; but for the moment, this interim site will be bridging the gap between what was and what shall be.

In the new site, all ministries will be linked (Biblical Breakthrough, Your Biblical Breakthrough Training Telesummits, WomenLeadershipBible (book website), the blog and all resources) through What a day that will be!

So, hang tight. In Christ we’re living in the “already but not yet”; but in websites, we’re simply living in the “not yet.” So, please bear with us during the growing pains!

Thank you!


An Easter Gift for You

Hello, friends!

Somehow, despite personal and family health challenges for the past three months, I have managed to put together something for you about which I’m very excited. For those of you who were able to attend February’s Your Biblical Breakthrough! Training Telesummit and followed the four lessons through to the last one, you know that I taught on how to use a Gospel synopsis Bible study tool. Oh dear, how I love those things. These simple-genius tools can open your eyes to things you never noticed before in the Gospels.

Behind Door #1

With Easter in mind, as well (as I write, Easter is tomorrow), I decided that I would create a small packet for you whereby you can read the crucifixion and resurrection accounts, Gospel-synopsis style.

You can access that here. This will open a file in my dropbox account. You’ll be able to view and download the file. I encourage you to download it, so you can refer to it, make annotations, or print it out for your convenience.

Once again, you can get that packet here:

Download Button

Behind Door #2

And to help you more fully understand what you are reading, I am also giving you access to my session from February’s YBB! Training Telesummit, in which I taught about using a synopsis: what it is, what it does, and how to use it.

You can view that training video here. (FYI: It’s about an hour of training.)

Behind Door #3

Finally, here is the downloadable gift I gave to people who attended that telesummit session. In this doc, I provide all of the pertinent notes, as well as the names for and many links to resources I referenced.

Here’s another link to that resource:

Download Button

Please Comment on What You Learn from This Post

Once you have a chance to take a look at these resources, please let me know in the comments below what you gained from it. Did you have some new insight? New question? Are you now as in love with the Gospel synopsis tool as I am?

Please share. And please feel free to share this post with someone to whom you think it may bring some encouragement and hope.

Happy, Blessed Easter to You!

I hope this helps you dive more deeply into Easter: all that our Savior and Lord has done for us, the power of God, and the hope we now have because of the resurrection.


A Note from Natalie – Easter 2016

Hello, friends!

I had wanted to get out an issue of “Dig Deep!” (The Verity Initiative LLC’s sometimes-monthly, sometimes-not newsletter) much earlier, but our house has been a house of sickness for the past three months or so. If it’s not been one person, it’s been another! Fevers, coughs, vomiting… You name it, we have had it. Of course, illness always comes on top of the rest of life, canceling out nearly everything else, including work and ministry life (not to mention housework, although I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing…).

In fact, today I am dictating this entry from the doctor’s office while I wait for a steroid shot so that I won’t have to take antibiotics for the third time in three months. Despite the setbacks, I pressed in and created something I hope you’ll love: a set of materials for going deeper into the Easter story than you may ever have gone!

Click this image to find out more:

Easter gift from The Verity Initiative & Natalie Eastman

This post is just to bring you up to date a bit on my health and what’s happening.

The Health Issues

Beginning in late November, I experienced multiple sinus infections and severe, repeated bronchitis. You see the image at the top of this post? Yeah, that’s not a picture of my sinuses. That is an image of healthy sinuses.

Here’s mine:

Natalie's sick sinuses

In early March, I discovered through that CT scan –  – that my sinuses are pretty much in a state of permanent sinusitis, because they’re fairly impacted and very full. Yucko.

The current plan is for surgery in mid-April to clear it all out. If you think of me, please pray for this. The work is very close to the eyes and the brain and carries with it a significant set of risks. I will be under general anesthesia. I take none of this lightly. The alternative is to continue having between five and seven sinus infections a year, with attending bronchitis symptoms, which is not always actual bronchitis, but may be caused by the wild gush of postnasal drip brought on by the never-ending sinusitis. Yummy.

For my natural-remedy friends (like me), don’t worry, I am pursuing all options. I am already taking several helpful natural supplements, using essential oils to free my breathing, and researching to see what other options there are besides surgery and drugs.

Thank you so much for praying for me and for the work to which I believe God has called me: training and encouraging women to study God’s Word with skill and confidence.


Julie Coleman on “Context”

When Bible Interpretation Goes Wrong: Context Matters

By Julie Coleman

Location, location, location. 1 Thing flower transparent

It was our number one consideration when house shopping. Location largely determines the value and desirability of a home. A beautiful home too far from work or in a bad school district has little attraction to the buyer. It makes a huge difference where a home is planted.

The same can be said about the location, or context, of a passage of Scripture. The reason we study the Bible is to glean truth from God—to discover His perspective, His instruction, and hear His heart. So the last thing we should want to do is put words in His mouth! Ignoring the context can result in an interpretation that means something far different than God ever meant Scripture to communicate.

Several years ago I read a devotional with that kind of error. The author wrote of a certain third-world country recently coming to financial ruin, resulting in many children now living on the streets. Her hope was that God would send them someone to declare the words of Hebrews 6:9: “We are confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation.” The writer basically interpreted the verse as a promise of a better financial future for those who believed the gospel. The Scripture she chose seems to validate her claim… until you look at its context.

Hebrews 6 begins with an encouragement to believers to press on to maturity. As a warning, the negative example is given of some who had experienced salvation but eventually fell away. “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation…we desire that each one of you show…diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end.”

Hebrews 6:9 is not a promise that prosperity or physical blessings will accompany salvation! It is an exhortation to believers to be diligent and persevere. This devotional writer’s careless interpretation promised something to her readers that God has never pledged to do.

Carefully examining context is one of the best ways to avoid this kind of error.

Two Key Questions Will Help

Answering two key questions can help us bring the context of the passage into focus:

  • What is the author’s purpose in writing?
  • How does this passage contribute to the message of the whole?

Thinking through these questions helps us dig deeper into the Word, and often uncovers great truths in the process.

Example 1: Mark 6 – “Rest” Jesus-Style

As an example, let’s look at the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6. While the order of events in the gospels are loosely chronological, they are better seen as parts of a context the author is purposefully building to make a point to his readers.

A look backward at what comes just before the miracle gives insight. The disciples had been sent out by Jesus to surrounding cities to preach repentance and the kingdom of God (Mark 6:7-13). They returned flushed with success, glorying in the miraculous power they had been given to heal which validated their preaching (Mark 6:30). It was a heady taste of their future apostolic ministry. But Jesus knew their experience was only part of what they would experience. It would not be only glory and excitement. There would be plenty of hardship, discouragement, and exhaustion as well. They would need to learn about abiding in Him.

So He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) The group boarded a boat and headed to the wilderness.

But when they arrived, a crowd was waiting for them. Jesus spent the day teaching and healing with the still-tired disciples working by His side. Finally, as the day wound down, the disciples approached Jesus. They were anxious for some of that rest He had promised. Send the crowd away, they urged. They are hungry and need to take care of their needs.

Jesus had other plans. “You give them something to eat,” he told them.

Wait…what? There was not enough money in the till for that. This was an impossible number. Jesus sent them looking for food in the crowd. All they could come up with was a boy’s lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish: woefully inadequate to feed 5,000. But Jesus assured them: it would be enough.

Jesus miraculously provided the food. But He kept the disciples involved. He told them to organize the crowd, seating them in groups of hundreds and fifties. He had the disciples distribute the food as it was created. The crowd ate and was satisfied. Then the disciples were ordered to gather up the leftovers.

It was a lot of physical labor. I imagine it took some effort just to follow Jesus’ orders, considering they had just returned from extended travels. But in the end, the disciples had learned a huge lesson on what it meant to (truly) rest in Christ.

We think of rest as putting our feet up and taking a little nap. The rest Jesus wanted to show them was in placing their trust in the power of God. He would use the disciples to build his kingdom. They would be the hands and feet of Christ. But they needed to know the conviction of hearts and the transformed lives would be God’s work. They were merely messengers.

Would it be enough? Yes, abundantly more. The twelve leftover baskets were proof of that. A basket full of uneaten food was left for each disciple. God would provide more than they could even use. They could rest in His power alone.

Do you see how the context adds such rich meaning to the miracle? Never miss the surrounding details. They are key to unlocking wonderful truths.

Example 2: Matthew 7 – What Constitutes Faith’s Foundation?

A second example of how context makes a difference can be found in a parable Jesus taught. I recently heard a speaker teach on the story of the house built on sand from Matthew 7:24-27. His main point was we build our house on rock by our obedience. In other words, our righteous acts lay a firm foundation. If we weren’t obedient, he warned, we did not belong to God. We may call Him Lord, but we are fooling ourselves.

What?? I was floored. How much obedience would qualify me? Because I fail to obey time and time again. If it is up to my actions, I am doomed. Then the words to an old hymn ran through my mind, assuring me: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” My foundation was in Christ alone.

Where did this speaker go wrong? He missed the context around the parable. If only he had just gone back a few verses! In Matthew 7:15, Jesus begins the larger context by warning the disciples that false prophets would come, looking like harmless sheep, but who were actually ravenous wolves. They will claim to know Him, even call Him Lord, but in reality, they won’t know Jesus at all. You’ll know them by their fruits, he told them. Their false doctrines will lead people away from God.

Then Jesus says a single word: therefore… connecting this warning with the parable he is about to tell: a metaphor comparing building lives on His words to building a house on a rock foundation. “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them may be compared to a wise man who built his house upon a rock…” (Matthew 7:24)

Listening to the false prophets, on the other hand, is like the man who builds his house on sand, Jesus continues. The first storm that comes along will knock that home right to the ground. Determine to base your faith on the rock solid truth of my words rather than the shifting sands of false teaching.

The connection the speaker missed was Jesus’ focus on the truth vs. false doctrine. Both men in the parable were builders. But there was a huge different on where they were building. Base your faith and lives on the Lord Jesus’ words of truth, not on the lies of an imposter.

Both of the above examples show how taking context into consideration brings a better understanding of a passage. We need to see smaller portions of Scripture as part of a whole—an example or further detail that the writer is using to bring his main point home. Interpreting Scripture through use of its context will bring a richness and clearness that pulling it out of context will never afford.

About Julie Coleman

Julie Zine ColemaJulie Coleman has been bringing audiences into a richer understanding of God through the transforming power of His Word for over two decades. With enthusiasm, transparency, and humor, she delights in helping others discover the unexpected sides of God.

Julie holds a Masters in Biblical Studies from Capital Bible Seminary. Her book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2013), was named non-fiction book of the year by the Advanced Writers’ and Speakers’ Association. She is a popular speaker for women’s events nationwide. She has been featured on many radio shows including Moody Radio’s Midday Connection as well as The Harvest Show on television.

In her former career as a school teacher, Julie won multiple awards including Anne Arundel County Teacher of the Year. She and her husband make their home in the Annapolis, MD, area. They have four grown children and six grandchildren. When she is not teaching or writing, Julie loves cooking, sewing, and being taken on daily walks by her dog Sasha.

Notes from Natalie

Do you struggle to find time and ways to begin your day in God’s presence and in the Word? True confessions: me, too…many, many days! I wanted to bring your attention to Julie’s book 15 Minutes a Day in Colossians, because in it Julie provides a way to dive deep into God’s Word in, ahem, well, 15 minutes a day. You know it’ll be a good, rich start to the day if you’re learning, growing, and stretching in your knowledge of Scripture and placing yourself in God’s presence.

Finally, for the sake of full disclosure, I broke up Julie’s text with the subtitles you see here. These are my own writing. You can blame me if you don’t like them. 🙂

Meadow Rue Merrill on Trusting God When Life Hurts, Act III: “Looking in the Word”


merrill nrwe template

Trusting God When Life Hurts

Contributed by Meadow Rue Merrill

1 Thing flower transparentWhen our daughter Ruth, who had multiple special needs, died before her eighth birthday, my husband, Dana, and I were devastated. I don’t say “completely” devastated or “profoundly” devastated, because by its very definition devastation is total. There are no degrees. Rather, we experienced a black, bleak ruin where the flowering, fruitful garden of our lives once grew.

Born in a hospital in Uganda and quickly abandoned, Ruth had spent much of the first year of her life in an orphanage before being diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She then came to Maine for six months of physical therapy. We met her through friends, fell in love with her laughing eyes and contagious smile, and completed a lengthy and complicated international adoption to give her a home.

Was raising Ruth hard? Yes. It was also the most unexpected, amazing, life-affirming, heart expanding experience of our lives. Because Ruth could physically do nothing for herself, our new routine—and our three older children’s—involved daily sacrifice. Yet, loving and serving Ruth filled us with joyful confidence that we were living out God’s will, expressed throughout scripture, to share his love with others. Our purpose was to love Ruth, and we did. Completely.

Then, without warning, Ruth died in her sleep after a mild illness. Not only did we lose a beloved child, I lost my trust in God. How could he allow this to happen? Here we had deliberately sought to obey God, and he had broken our hearts.

For months, I struggled to pray or read my Bible—once familiar practices that had often strengthened and comforted me in the past. For me, there was no comfort, only the aching question of who was to blame for Ruth’s death: us? or God? If us, how could I forgive myself? And if God, how could I trust him?

Discovering a hidden, underlying cause for Ruth’s death—something we could not have anticipated or prevented—slowly helped me let go of the guilt I felt. In the weeks and months that followed, I gave myself permission to feel and express the anguish of having lost our precious Ruth. I needed to mourn, but I also needed to be comforted. For those who trust God, grief is not the intended legacy of life. Love is.

And so, not quite trusting this God who had allowed Ruth to slip from our tender grasp, I opened my Bible to the most melancholy books I could think of, to see if perhaps God would meet me there. Ecclesiastes, which opens with the words, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” seemed like a safe bet. So did Lamentations, which is written in the form of a funeral dirge. I also found comfort in the Psalms, which are full of laments.

“I am exceedingly afflicted,” Israel’s ancient king David wrote in Psalm 119:107. “Revive me, O Lord, according to your word.”

This was what I needed: to be revived. The more I read, the closer I drew to God and the more tangible his presence became to me. I also became more aware of the hurts of others—not just my own. The Bible is full of misused, abandoned, downtrodden, and grief stricken people, including those actively following the will of God. To deny this is to deny the very suffering of Christ and that of other innocent people around the world—those caught in the modern slave trade, those struggling to find water, food, and shelter, those who lack proper medical care, and the millions of children like Ruth, who are still waiting for homes.

While I still ache from Ruth’s loss, looking in the word helped me to connect with the suffering of others and trust God so that I could keep sharing his love. If you read to the end of the book, you’ll discover this story’s not over yet. One day God’s redemption will be complete and suffering will be no more.

About Meadow

Meadow Rue Merrill

Meadow Rue Merrill

Meadow Rue Merrill is an editor, speaker and Christian columnist who writes books for children and adults from her home in Mid-coast Maine. This is the third essay in a summer-long blog series on trusting God when life hurts. To read other excerpts, please visit




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Sharla Fritz on Is Meditation Dangerous?

Is Meditation Dangerous?

Contributed by Sharla Fritz

Is meditation dangerous?

Is meditation dangerous?

I remember clearly when a friend mentioned he was seeing a counselor who recommended meditation.

“Clear your mind,” the counselor instructed. “Try to empty it completely.”

Red flags immediately shot up in my own mind. “Empty your mind” did not sound like good advice in light of Jesus’ warning that an empty mind may be an invitation for evil to take up residence (Luke 11:24-26). So I warned my friend that this kind of meditation could be dangerous.

But not all meditation is alarming and unsafe. Christian meditation doesn’t aim to empty the mind. Instead, Christian meditation focuses on filling the heart by contemplating God’s Word.

Think of meditation like enjoying a rich, European chocolate. You don’t pop in the delicacy and gulp it down as quickly as you can. Instead, you savor it, let it melt on your tongue, and enjoy the rich flavor as long as the candy lasts.

When I’m meditating on Scripture, I don’t try to read through God’s Word as quickly as I can. Instead I take a small portion and deliberately savor it. I let the meaning melt into my heart.

One way to meditate on Scripture is method I call SACRED reading. Choose a small portion of Scripture (about 6-8 verses) and follow these steps spelled out by the word SACRED. (Some Scripture selections to try: Matthew 5:3-10, Ephesians 1:15-20, Philippians 4:4-9)

  • Silence your thoughts. Begin by quieting your spirit. At first your thoughts may seem to crowd out any quietness, but let them pass through your mind and eventually the chaos in your head will die down
  • Attend to the passage. Read your chosen verses. Read slowly, out loud if possible. Pause when God seems to be highlighting a certain sentence or phrase.
  • Contemplate the Word. Meditate on the passage, especially on any words the Holy Spirit seems to directing to you today. Ask yourself, “What is my truest reaction to these words: resistence? sadness? conviction? joy? peace? thanksgiving?”
  • Respond to the text. After you have taken time to listen, pray. Pour out your heart to God, responding to what He has spoken to you. Express your joy or sorrow, your gratefulness or fear. Spill out any doubts and anxieties.
  • Exhale and rest. Read the text again and rest in the love of God. Receive His peace.
  • Dwell in the Word. Don’t shut the Bible and leave the words behind. Pick out one truth that you can carry into your day, one promise that will help you live out what God has spoken to you.

This kind of meditation will not empty your mind; it will fill it with God’s peace. This kind of meditation is not dangerous; it will leave your heart and mind more secure in God’s love and abiding presence.

For More on Soul Spa

For more about meditation on Scripture, check out Sharla Fritz’s new book Soul Spa: 40 Days of Spiritual Renewal and visit her website to get her free Soul Spa Kit: 59 Ideas For Creating Your Own Spiritual Retreat.

blog-banner-email-footerAbout Sharla

Sharla Fritz, author of Soul SpaSharla Fritz is a Christian author and speaker who weaves honest and humorous stories into life-changing Bible study. Author of four books including Soul Spa, Divine Design, Bless These Lips, and Divine Makeover, Sharla writes about God’s transforming grace. She is passionate about helping women take their next step of faith.

Find out more about Sharla on her website:


Twitter handle: @SharlaFritz

Soul Spa: 40 Days of Spiritual Renewal is available at and Amazon



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Q&A with Carolyn Custis James

When I first sensed a call to write the book that later became Women, Leadership, and the Bible, people — and I mean an extraordinary number of people — suggested that I needed to contact a woman named Carolyn Custis James. I’d not yet heard of her and she’d only published one book by that time: When Life and Beliefs Collide. I found her, got involved with something she’d launched called Synergy Women’s Network, read When Life…, and have been blessed and stretched by her thoughtful approach to faith and thinking theologically ever since. Also since, she has published prolifically a handful of books that have influenced thousands of women to think more biblically, consider life more theologically, and engage the world’s spiritual and physical issues more robustly and responsibly (book list at bottom of this page)

Today’s Feature: Malestrom (Including a Book Giveaway Contest!!)

Today, we feature a Q & A with Carolyn about her latest book, Malestrom.

We’re also doing a book giveaway contest for it using the “Rafflecopter” app:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Carolyn, please tell us how you came to title your book Malestrom.

When I started researching what is happening to men and boys in today’s world, I was stunned and disturbed by what I found. Powerful currents are bearing down on them, causing them to lose sight of who God created them to be as his sons. These currents can be overt and brutal leading to the kinds of atrocities and violence we witness in the headlines—wars, school shootings, beheadings, and the trafficking of men and boys for sex, forced labor, and soldiering. The number of male casualties on the giving and receiving ends of the violence is beyond epidemic. But these currents also come in subtle, even benign forms that catch men unawares yet still rob them of their full humanity as God intended. The repercussions of such devastating personal losses are not merely disastrous for the men themselves, but catastrophic globally as the world is depleted of the goodness and gifts men were born to offer. The maelstrom—a powerful whirlpool in the open seas that threatens to drag ships, crew, and cargo down into the ocean’s watery depths—offered the strong image I needed to represent the power and seriousness of what men are facing. A slight alteration in the spelling, and Malestrom was born.

Has the church embraced a fallen notion of manhood? And if so, what should replace it?

To answer that question, I point to the fact that there is a chapter missing in the Bible—the chapter that would show us what unfallen manhood is supposed to be. The Bible opens with a spectacular display of God in creative action and issuing the exalted mandate for human beings—male and female—to reflect him and to do his work in the world together. But before we witness a single moment of unfallen image bearer living, the Enemy invades and God’s image bearers rebel. They are cut off from their Creator and divided from one another. We are left in the ruins of a fallen world to figure out what God had in mind for us. If our reference points are broken, our conclusions will be broken too. Jesus didn’t come to endorse any human social or political system, no matter how we may try to “Christianize” or improve it. He calls those who follow him to a kingdom that is “not of this world.” Not a kinder-gentler version of how the world does things, but a Jesus, gospel way of living that is foreign to us and to our world. So to answer this question, yes, I believe we have embraced fallen notions of manhood. The Creation narrative doesn’t contain the slightest hint of one image bearer ruling over any other image bearers. Humanity’s call is outward to rule and care for creation for the good of all. What puts this whole discussion in an entirely new and alarming light is the fact that Middle Eastern experts now are linking “the struggle for identity, meaning, purpose” as a major factor that explains why disenfranchised young men (even from the West) are being drawn into the ranks of ISIS and other radical organizations. Social scientists describe an “insidious link” between masculinity and violence that fuels many of the wars that rage across our world. Malestrom is a call for the church to be fearless in putting anything and everything on the table that may stand in the way of reconnecting with God’s original vision, including patriarchy. We should care enough about men and boys—our fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers—to do this. The stakes are serious. We now have ISIS to consider.

How does patriarchy color the understanding of men’s stories within the Bible?

The fact that patriarchy is on virtually every page of the Bible means that in some way patriarchy matters. And in fact, patriarchy is an essential and powerful tool that helps to unleash the Bible’s radically transforming message. Here’s the crucial point:  Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Patriarchy is the backdrop to the Bible’s message.  Against this fallen cultural backdrop, the Bible’s message stands in sharp relief, and we begin to catch eye-opening glimpses into that missing chapter. Interwoven in the stories of women I have been studying in the Bible are the stories of remarkable men whose stories have been eclipsed by someone else who attracts more attention or who have been downsized because we’ve looked at them through an American/western lens. These missing men battle the malestrom and emerge to embody a brand of manhood that reflects the newness that Jesus brings. One of the reasons I wrote Malestrom was to recover the stories of these incredible men.

It is unusual for a woman in evangelical circles to write about men, yet you believe women are in an especially good position to offer insights into manhood. Why is that?

Actually, this is familiar territory for us. For decades women have been wrestling with what God calls us to be as his daughters against the tide of cultural and church expectations. The focus of gender discussions and debates has been almost exclusively on us. We want to know what is God’s calling on our lives and how, in this fallen world, we have been disconnected or prohibited from answering that call, and what we can do to get back on track. I’ve searched for a vision, and what I’ve found is moving us in that direction. The assumption has been that men don’t experience similar restrictions; that they really didn’t have problems with identity, purpose or meaning, until women started speaking up. But men are also disconnected and hindered from answering God’s calling on their lives. All of them are. No human being can escape the effects of the fall. Even men who live at the top of the power pyramid can seem to “have it all” one day and plummet to the bottom the next because of a misstep, a bad decision, or because another man (or woman) displaces them. Manhood definitions even lock them off from essential aspects of themselves that should characterize every Christian—love, mercy, gentleness, kindness, compassion, and the readiness to weep with those who weep. Not only have I come to this discussion with the conviction that we need to ask the same questions for our brothers that we’ve been asking for ourselves, I’m convinced that part of God’s calling on me as a woman is to battle for my brothers. I don’t have all the answers, but I am willing to open the conversation and raise questions. The stakes are high, for this is in many, many situations a matter of life and death. Not only that, but the very purposes of God in the world are hindered until God’s sons and daughters answer his call together. Daunting as all this sounds, it is a venture that is saturated with hope—for we have it on good authority that God loves his sons and has empowered them along with his daughters to be agents of good and blessing in the world and we have plenty of powerful stories in the Bible where that is actually happening.

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About Carolyn James

Carolyn Custis JamesCarolyn Custis James (M.A., Biblical Studies) thinks deeply about what it means to be a female follower of Jesus in a postmodern world. As a cancer survivor, she is grateful to be alive and determined to address the issues that matter most. She travels extensively both in the US and abroad as a speaker for churches, conferences, colleges, theological seminaries, and other Christian organizations. She is an adjunct professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, blogs on and Huffington Post/Religion, is a consulting editor for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament, and a contributing editor for Leadership Journal. Her other books include When Life and Beliefs CollideLost Women of the BibleUnderstanding Purpose, The Gospel of Ruth, and Half the Church. Carolyn and her husband live in Sellersville, Pennsylvania.

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