Issues and how to deal with them.

“You can tell a person with a true servant’s heart by the way he responds when he is treated like a servant.”

This was a quote I heard during our Sunday sermon this week and it really resonated with me. Our church has been going through a series on Division (you can listen to it here) and this was the last week of the topic. It hit home and I wanted to share some principles here as it pertains to children’s ministry.

As with every ministry – or any area of life when you have to deal with people – conflicts and “issues” arise. Lately, I’ve had a number of “issues” crop up in our ministry, some way bigger than others, and some blown out of proportion by others! This is the case with pretty much anything, though, and is to be expected. The question, though, is how do we as leaders respond when conflict – “issues” – arise?

  • We need to remember who we are. We may be the “leaders”, but as such, we are still servants – and not even upper class servants. The Apostle Paul’s usage of the term “servant” in 1 Corinthians 4 refers to one who is the under-rower of a ship – literally the lowest of the low for servants. Even as “leaders,” we must keep in mind that we are, above all else, servants of others. If I can view myself as my volunteers’ servant as opposed to their authority, I will relate to them – and the issue – differently. Perspective. It’s important.
  • We need to remember Who ultimately has the final say. One thing I enjoy about working in a church is that when issues arise that seem bigger than me and I’m not sure what to do with them, I can go right to Scripture and find the real answer. I don’t need to know everything, but I need to be in touch with the One Who does. I need to refer my volunteers back to Scripture as the final authority on controversial topics. God gets the final say on a matter, not me. It’s not my opinion that I’m touting – it’s God’s Word.
  • We need to remember that we are to be examples. We are servants. We are not better than anyone else. We are to be an example. One of the main sessions in the teacher training material I use talks about being Models – we need to “be” who we want them to “become.” Are we modeling out what we want our staff and our students to be? How do we act when no one is around? What do post on Facebook or talk about with our friends? Are we gossips? Crude? Rude? Vulgar? Or do we show forth the light of Christ in every area of our lives and live lives of integrity?
  • We need to remember to be gentle. Oh, the unfortunate frequency with which others are approached through harsh, insensitive words! Just last week, I was pulled aside so someone could merely “share” something with me and it threw off my whole night. There was nothing I could do about the situation in the moment (the timing was horrid to hear this news) and the news was given so tactlessly, I had to inwardly cringe, sigh, and give it back to God with a shrug of the shoulders and an, “Okay, God, this is bigger me. Handle it for me, will You?” When we, as leadership, need to ever approach anyone on any issue, gentleness and respect need to be at the forefront. Even if the topic is controversial, difficult to handle, with no easy solution in sight, and even when bluntness seems to be the best way to “get the job done” — we are still dealing with people. People who are not less than us, people who are not below us, and people with feelings and emotions the same as us. Those that are insecure in their leadership skills tend to come across as imposing their way and flaunting their authority. If you are secure in your leadership role, your goal should be evident: to bring out the best in others. Seek unity at all costs.

I hate dealing with “issues” and confrontation is so far from my list of things that I enjoy doing that I will shake and cry for hours (literally) before I handle anything. I probably apologize too often and take the blame more than I should. But, I hate disunity. To see my team divided is like seeing my family divided and I refuse to stand for it.

As much as it depends on me, I will live in harmony with my team and seek to bring unity to the team. Will you?

Student Needs.

This coming week, I will be teaching at a children’s ministry training seminar, so I’ve been working on my presentation, which is not material I have written, but material from our mission board. This is a course I haven’t taught yet, so I’m busy practicing, but looking forward to the day.

The course I’m set to teach is “Knowing and Meeting Student Needs.” As I was practicing the other day, I was struck by not only how critical this information is, but how relevant it is to my own children’s ministries.

In another post, I talked about being all here and reaching the children in this area and focusing on them more. Their needs are great and truly do threaten to overwhelm my team at times. We have children:

  • …from single parent homes.
  • …from homes in the middle of nasty divorces.
  • …from abusive situations.
  • …whose home has been foreclosed on.
  • ….whose father is in jail.
  • …who have never held a Bible before.
  • …who have no idea what “prayer” is.
  • …who come from such chaos, they aren’t sure what “order” and “rules” are.
  • …who are relying on their parents’ faith to get by.
  • …who have loads of head knowledge and not an ounce of heart faith.
  • …who can answer every question correctly, but act like the world.
  • …who normally attend Catholic catechism classes and Seventh Day Adventist church services.

The needs are staggering in our relatively small group of children.

If you’re involved in children’s ministry and know your children at all, you are probably faced with some of the same needs we are. Are you overwhelmed? Here’s some help, taken from BCM’s program In Step with the Master Teacher:

  • Don’t try to meet their needs – that’s impossible.
  • Instead, identify their needs and then teach to the need and introduce them to the One Who CAN meet all their needs.
  • Show you care: Even in our marriage, I tell my man frequently, “I don’t want you to fix the problem. I don’t even want advice. I just want you to listen to me and show you care!” Kids need that, too. Someone they can trust, someone who truly cares about what is going on in their lives. You may not be able to fix a thing – but you cared enough to listen.
  • Adapt to the needs you can: Learning disability? Teach differently. Inattentive children? Shorter, more active lessons. Hearing or sight problem? Move them closer, speak louder, use larger visuals. No man in their home? Recruit male leaders. Do what you can to adapt. Again, it’s not about fixing.
  • Know your students so you can teach appropriately. Lately, we’ve had to nix our curriculum and start over in some areas. For example, our older students were not memorizing their verses – or even caring if they did or not. The younger ones were memorizing out of necessity, not because they knew what they were doing or cared they were doing it. So, we nixed the idea of a verse per week and decided to do one collective verse per month. We use this verse in our materials as often as we can, we memorize it together – including the leaders – and we refer to it often. We are showing them how it applies to every area of their life and praying this will make a big enough difference that memorization will become more of a priority in the years to come. In the same token, if you see a specific need or theme in your class, but your curriculum doesn’t touch it – ditch the curriculum! Write your own and teach to your audience. You know them better than the book you bought does. Teach to their needs and let Jesus meet the needs.
  • Pray for them. I ask my volunteers to come at least 15 minutes early so we have time to pray. It’s crucial. Vital. The only way we can continue. If I talk with a student and they share something with me, I ask if I can pray for them right at that moment. They have yet to turn me down. :) If they mention something during a lesson, stop and pray for them. Show them that prayer is important and rejoice with them – make a BIG deal out of it – when God answers prayers for them. Prayer works. 

Work on one need at a time. If you tackle everything all at once, you’ll get overwhelmed.

Love on these kids. You might be the only one who does.

If you think your children’s ministry could benefit from some training, contact me – we’d love to help you out! Check this out for more information.

Kielbasa Recipe.

In Peru, we were a long ways away from the nearest fast food joint. We did have a hamburger stand and a chicken restaurant up the street, but we didn’t eat there often. So, basically, even when I didn’t feel like cooking and just wanted take-out, that wasn’t an option. I have learned the art of fast meals and normally, they’re pretty healthy as well since we also didn’t have tons of unhealthy options either. Frozen, canned, and precooked didn’t really exist.

Now we’re back in the States and our schedules are just as crazy, if not more so, and our budgets are just as limited – again, if not more so! Take Out is a wonderful commodity reserved for Sunday after church only. So even if I’m dead tired, I have to cook.

Our “go-to” quick meal each week is something I’ve kind of made up from scratch. We eat this once a week and Brian will actually ask for it if he knows we’ve had busy days. So, here ya go:

  • 1lb turkey keilbasa (one package)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 bag of frozen corn (about 2 cups)
  • 2-8oz cans of no-salt added tomato sauce
  • S&P
  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • smoked paprika
  • Italian seasoning
  • 2Tbsp sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • brown rice and/or tortillas
  • shredded cheddar

Saute the kielbasa and onion together. Season to taste with the salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and Italian seasoning. Once the kielbasa is beginning to get browned, add in the black beans, garlic, and corn, with more seasoning (especially salt). Once they are basically warmed through, add in the tomato sauce cans with additional seasoning, this time including the smoked paprika and the sugar. Smoked paprika is my new favorite thing, but a little goes a long ways, so don’t over-season. This can be used as a sauce over brown rice, or you can put it in tortillas like a wrap filling.

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If you want to use it on the rice, start the rice before you begin the sauteeing; instant brown rice will take about the same length of time as the entire meal while regular brown rice will take longer.

When the rice is about done, whisk two eggs in a separate bowl and then add them in. Stir continuously until the eggs are cooked completely.

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The eggs will not make the dish taste “eggy” nor should they turn out looking scrambled. They really should almost melt right into the dish and simply make it creamier and thicker.

Melt the cheese on top. Also good with sour cream and salsa.

30 minutes, feeds a family of 4 easily – with leftovers. Enjoy!

Be {All} Here.

Sometimes, there’s just a resounding theme in life. Everything will just kind of point to one, particular lesson that God wants to pound home. Right now, that theme for me is to Be All Here.

It hasn’t been a secret that I’ve had a tough time adjusting back to the States and being content living here. Yes, God pulled us out of Peru and yes, we are confident that we should be here and yes, we are at peace in the ministries we have and the life we are living. But, after spending most of my growing up years thinking I would be a missionary overseas and then I came back after just a few short years, in many ways, I have felt like a failure.

[Just to be bluntly honest.]

I have struggled with being all here. I have spent a lot of time thinking about Peru and wondering what was happening there and almost feeling guilty for leaving, yet knowing that was irrational and not from the Lord. I compared everything to South America at least in my mind even if I never verbalized a thing.

And then, a couple little kids walked into our Wednesday night program a few weeks ago. Their background is horrid; I really can’t even share it online. The things they are living through at this moment are unimaginable. No child should ever experience the life they are living right now.

I have always been a fan of “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath; I’ve even written about it before. Normally, when I hear this song, I picture being on the plane, landing in either Montreal or Lima, and seeing the city laid out before me. My heart just aches for the lost children in these cities. A couple weeks ago, though, as I was listening to this song on the radio on my way into the office, the picture in my mind was not these giant, sprawling cities. It was these two little kids with the saddest eyes I think I have ever seen.

It hit me then: I need to Be All Here. These kids have one of the worst back stories that I have ever heard, here in the States or overseas. They are right here. They’re not in some exotic, foreign country; they’re down the street from our church. They’re not slum kids in South America; they’re suburban children from Pennsylvania.

This week, we were representing our board at a missions conference and the speaker was Paul Borthwick. He was phenomenal to listen to and I hope the college kids took full advantage of this opportunity to hear him. But one of the things he kept bringing out was the fact that the “world” is right around the corner in our neighborhood anymore. He made the statement, “Since we wouldn’t go to the world, God brought the world to us!”

He kept bringing out how we can reach the world through reaching out to our communities here in the States and it just kept bringing home to me the fact that I need to Be All Here.

I don’t need to be overseas to be used by God. I don’t need to be in a third world country to reach children who are utterly hopeless and lost. I need to be wherever in the world God has planted me now. He doesn’t need to use me, but He chooses to, so I need to let Him and I need to do what He has asked me to do!

So, here’s my commitment to Be All Here. To love the kids in my life Here as much as I loved the ones in my life There. To serve the Lord whole heartedly where He has me. All Here.

Packing.

We just got back from a short trip and I’m already unpacked with just two loads of laundry to do – phew! I talk with a lot of people and many have asked how we do the packing and traveling frequently with young children. Here is our little “how to” on especially packing for a family of four for a trip of any length:

  • The first thing I do is make a list. A lengthy list. I detail everything out, even sometimes down to the outfits each person (except my husband – if he can’t pick out his own clothes by now we have a problem) will be wearing. My mom freaks out because I don’t normally pack until the night before, but the list really does center my thoughts and helps it go that much faster.
  • I find out what the weather will be like wherever we’re going during the time we’ll be gone (including if there are any stops along the way). This helps us make more informed decisions when it comes to clothing and outdoor gear.
  • I try to use the smallest bags possible for each of us. We have learned the hard way that large suitcases may feel more convenient, when you’re in a hotel or a small room in someone’s house, a large suitcase or two takes up precious room for much needier items – like a pack ‘n’ play and a mattress for E. So, we use carry-on sizes as much as possible.
  • If we’re going to be gone for a week or more, I find out about laundry facilities and only bring 3-4 changes of clothes for each of us. Yes, we repeat outfits. But, it’s easier to do laundry a few times than to try to pick out and pack a week’s (or more) worth of clothing. The most I will ever bring is six days of clothes – this normally will get us through travel to SD and a day there before needing to do wash. But, as a general rule, I try to stick to 3-4 days of clothing per person.
  • I pack in outfits, especially for the children. Each day has its own outfit, every item packed together. I’ve seen some put them in plastic baggies and that’s not a bad idea for when they’re a bit bigger and will dress themselves. This avoids the morning meltdown of my 3 year old picking out her own clothes, it helps us move faster when we’re getting ready, and it helps my husband not worry about “picking out the wrong thing” if he gets one of them dressed for me.
  • We invested in a good backpack with 3 zippered pockets years ago and it’s still working well. All of our shampoos, toothbrushes, deodorants, hair stuff, etc, goes on this bag. One pocket for toothbrushes/paste, etc, one pocket for medicines, and one for shampoos, body wash, etc. Everything is together; it can just sit in the hotel bathroom if need be; and it’s a backpack – if something breaks or spills, it’s easily washed out.
  • The kids get one extra outfit in the suitcase and one extra in the diaper bag. Baby J currently gets two extra outfits in the suitcase and extra jammies.
  • We take an extra bag that is specifically for dirty clothes. This helps the laundry issue when we get home. I just have to open and dump – I don’t have to wash everything that’s left over in the suitcases and I don’t have to wonder if something is dirty or not. And.. nothing else gets.. “contaminated.”
  • I also keep extra plastic bags in the car and in the diaper bag in case of emergencies (which was a lifesaver when the kids were newborns and they had unexpected blowouts in rest areas!!).
  • If we are staying a night or two in a hotel, I pack a backpack that is solely for the hotels. I take out just the clothes we need for the night and the day(s) we’ll be traveling and then cosmetics. We normally only need to bring in a diaper bag, two backpacks, and a pack ‘n’ play. This saves room in the cramped hotel rooms and allows us to just have to make one trip from the car to the room. It’s so much more convenient, I can’t even describe how much I prefer this method to the “Oh, we’ll just take everything in – it’s only one night” method we used to use!
  • Before leaving, I make sure the house is clean. I wash the bedding, do all the dishes, clean out the fridge, make sure all the laundry is done and put away. I will even clean the bathrooms, vacuum, and dust. I make sure there’s food in the freezer for our return. I love being able to walk into the house, set our bags down, and go right to bed if need be. I passionately hate walking into a messy home with rotten food in the fridge after a long trip. Worst thing on earth.

The key to a good, stress-free trip is all in the planning and packing. With a good list and a good plan of action, you will be able to actually enjoy your trip instead of just worrying about the packing details.

An Open Letter.

An Open Letter to those recently finished, or finishing soon, any form of Bible School:

Dear Graduate:

Congratulations! You have completed a task that fewer and fewer have even begun: study the Bible for a set period of time, be it two or four years (or more!). You will never regret having spent this time in purposeful Bible study, even if it was a part of other college courses. You are now even more fully prepared to enter this crazy world and I applaud you for your efforts!

But, there are a few thing that I, a former graduate myself, would like to share with you. It’s been more than ten years since I was in your shoes so I have a little of the “been there, done that” knowledge that I hope I can share with you.

  1. You don’t know everything yet. I remember that so many things I learned in Bible school was so brand new to myself that I figured it was new to everyone and therefore, I needed to impart my wisdom to all within earshot, including my father, a veteran pastor of, at the time, 30+ years. My husband and his best friend graduated at the same time and I remember our extreme arrogance immediately following Bible school. We had a pastor we all didn’t agree with and even though he had been studying the Word for almost longer than we’d been alive, the boys decided the need to debate him on a regular basis. What that poor man must have gone through every Sunday night after Bible study when the boys would come into the church, Bible school notes at the ready, prepped to debate him on almost every point he had made that evening. He was gracious, humble, and oh-so-much-wiser than we as he listened to our new-found Bible knowledge and “agreed to disagree.” We did not know everything.
  2. Listen to those with experience and learn from them. Right now, you might think you have all the answers to every problem in your church or community – how to better evangelize, make worship more engaging, teach better children’s ministry, have a more effective outreach – but… keep in mind that you might be wrong. If you were a business graduate and you got hired on at a successful (or even not-so-successful company), would you immediately approach the CEO with all your ideas and plans? Or would you recognize that he got there by hard work and after a long time and he might know more than you about this particular company? Consider your pastor your CEO; he got there by lots of long hours and loads of harder work than just Bible school courses. He probably has a higher education than you, has definitely been in ministry longer, and whereas you just finished 2-4 years of Bible study, he has probably been studying the Bible for 20+ years, every single day. Respect their opinions and ways of doing ministry. As much as you think you know all the answers and a “new way” of doing ministry… you might be wrong.
  3. Don’t get frustrated the first time you work in a church, whether it’s your home church or a new one, no matter what ministry or capacity you get into at the beginning. It’s going to be so easy to say, “I have a better way of doing things! They’re not reaching this generation correctly! I can fix this!” Don’t. At least not yet. There will come a day and a time when your opinions and thoughts and ideas are going to be highly valued. Keep in mind that that day is probably not today. Why? Because respect and a listening ear have to be earned. Interject ideas when they’re appropriate, but keep in mind that you are the low one on the totem pole for now. And that’s okay! Remember Point #1? You still have lots to learn. Be a sponge for now. Don’t get upset if your work is not recognized. Don’t get mad if you’re passed over in responsibilities. Learn humility. It’s invaluable.
  4. Keep a servant attitude. Remember what Christ said? “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Have you been asked to scrub toilets instead of preach the Sunday sermon? Do it cheerfully! Do you need to do the set-up and the tear down for an event… and you went completely unnoticed and under-appreciated? Rejoice! Were you passed over on the leadership position and someone less qualified was promoted? Good! You must first learn how to serve before you can be a good leader. The night before Jesus died, what was He doing? Serving. Doing the most disgusting and unappreciated job of all: washing men’s feet. He should have been exalted, treated like royalty. Instead, he was busy serving others. I have another secret to tell you: even when you get into a great leadership position, you will still be serving others. Learn how to serve well, with the heart of Christ, in all that you do.
  5. Be respectful. This is harder than it sounds. Trust me, I’ve been there. Watch how you speak to leadership. You are not the only one who has ideas, complaints, and desires that the leadership is listening to. You may very well have good ones – even the right ones – but a lot of how ideas are received is in the delivery of them. How do you present yourself to leadership? How do you address them? How do you present your ideas and, at the same time, how do you listen to their ideas? Be humble enough to follow direction, even if you don’t agree 100%. Your time will come. Trust me. It all goes back to Point #1: You don’t know everything yet. Never quit learning! Be open to listening to direction and being told, “You’re wrong.” Be open to someone picking apart your idea and helping make it better. Leadership in church is not your enemy! They are there to help continue this learning process – outside of the Bible school bubble, in real life.

The first year out of Bible school is the hardest. You are so filled with Bible knowledge that you just want to impart it to everyone! You have new (to you) ideas of how to do ministry and evangelism and outreach and you can’t wait to share them and change the world! You want to make sure everyone believes as you do and everyone has the same passion as you do! None of that is wrong. But, it will take time to be heard. It will take time to help implement change. The best thing to do while you wait is to learn. Learn patience. Get experience. Learn how to serve out of love, not just out of compulsion. Enjoy this time when you’re not the one in charge doing the leading because trust me, it’s not all the glitz and glam it appears. You think your job right now is thankless? Just wait til you really are in charge! :)

God has blessed you with this new Bible knowledge. Go out – make a difference – change the world! And never stop the learning process!

Sincerely,
A Fellow Bible School Grad

2014.

New Year’s Day is always a contemplative day for me, as I’m sure it is for most of the world. I wanted to fill out like a survey about 2013, but I couldn’t find one that I liked, so I’m just going to jot down some reflections on my own.

  • This year was not as eventful as I thought it would be. When we got back to PA from our month-long stint in SD in late January, we moved into our home here at the missionary housing property… and never moved again. Nope, not how I even remotely thought it would work out!
  • I was offered the children’s ministry director position… over and over and over again… until I said ‘yes.’ It has not been what I thought it would be and certainly has its ups and downs. But, over all, I’m glad I accepted.
  • My year has pretty much been consumed with the kids’ ministry since then. Looking back over the year, those are the events that, besides my family, stand out to me most. Writing and directing the summer program, trainings in August, start-up of the fall programs, organizing and leading the Fall Party, writing and rewriting lessons, filling in all over the place in different classes and programs, finding new volunteers and teachers…
  • Balance. Seriously, will I ever not struggle with that concept? It was the same struggle in Peru, yet manifested completely differently. Here, it’s the balance of three very different, very distinct ministries, two small children, my husband, and my home. Throw in friends and other relationships, alone time, and “hobbies” and my schedule is overloaded. Some things have been dropped (I never play the piano anymore and my scrapbook materials have collected layers of dust over the years) and some are neglected (coffee with friends? What is that again?) and some are needing a reboot this year (date nights with my man and workouts!). I would love for someone to just step in and show me the manual for how to balance your life because I still feel lost.
  • The kids grew up this year. Obviously. In all seriousness, though, this stage in their lives – 3 and 1 – is so full of changes. I look at how they were this time last year and it’s no wonder they nap a lot, eat like crazy, and have incredible mood swings. Their little bodies are changing faster than I can comprehend. We started this year with two kids in diapers, one nursing, one only speaking Spanish, and neither having ever lived in the States before. We have ended this year with a 100% potty trained little girl and a walking, jabbering, happily teething little boy. They have both finally lived through four seasons in America, been to the doctor, learned English, and are successfully sleeping in their own rooms (this was a big feat for us, trust me). E started the year with barely enough hair for pigtails and ended it with hair halfway down her back (but so curly you would never know that). She is hilarious, rebellious, strong-willed, independent, curious, and creative. Baby J started the year as a newborn and ended it as a fearless, daredevil of a boy – who is the cuddliest, cutest, sweetest little guy you will ever meet.
  • Brian and I ended the year on a high note. We had two very rocky years, just with stress and ministry and the strain of life overseas. But, isn’t it amazing what stability and relatively little stress do for a marriage? We are constantly growing and learning about each other, even eight and a half years in, and I am okay with that. He’s my best friend and that was exemplified again this year. He pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to do things that I probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been backing me the entire time.
  • I’ve learned a lot this year about forgiveness and moving on. I have learned how to drive and cook in America again. I have forced myself to do things completely alone – something I haven’t had to do in about five years – and it scared me to tears, but I did it! And I survived. I have grown in my faith. I have seen God supply for us over and over this year. I have felt His love and mercy and grace in tangible ways like never before.

As missionaries, we enter each year not having a single clue how it will end or where we will be when it ends. We fully plan on being here in PA this entire year, but when you’re following the Lord, you really have no idea what could happen. Which is part of the adventure! Our life has yet to be boring.

On the agenda, at the moment, for the year:

  • Representing BCM at one university and one church during the winter.
  • Teacher training in NJ in March
  • Brian leading two to three vision trips, two weeks each, to different countries
  • Revamping the children’s ministry in a couple of different ways
  • Annual trip to SD
  • Trip to VT and probably WI at some point

Quiet year! So far. :)

God is so good to us. We don’t deserve another day, much less a whole new year. Let’s not waste our time in 2014. The task at hand is simple: There’s a lost world out there who needs the Lord. We have that hope. Hold it up like a beacon, live for the Lord, and don’t waver from it. It’s the only thing that truly matters.

happy new year!

I Stand With Phil.

There are very few TV shows that my husband and I enjoy together. Namely, “The Office”, “The Blacklist”, and “Parks and Recreation.” Shortly after I gave birth to Baby J, I was up at 4am with his early morning feeding, flipping through our channels on our TV in Lima. Just that week, a variety of good friends had posted something about some show called “Duck Dynasty” and I randomly came across it that day. My laughter woke up my husband and we watched it together and were hooked. Our last few months in Peru and the first few in the States were highly stressful and Duck Dynasty became our outlet – we could watch it, relax, laugh, and feel the stress melt away for that oh-too-brief half an hour.

It is no secret among our friends and family that Duck Dynasty is a big part of our lives. Even my co-workers at our church are all into the show; the youth pastor has even tried to get one of them to come speak…. but of course that won’t happen! They are in kind of a big demand. :)

Because we’re such big fans, when this whole controversy about Phil hit the airwaves like a bomb, I wanted to be informed and figure out what was happening. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, articles, opinions, and Facebook statuses about the issue and have been slowly formulating my own opinion. I want to see if I can word it here, for whatever it’s worth, in a loving, hopefully tactful, calm way, for those who care to read it.

I am not a debater – I do not enjoy it, do not want to participate in it, and reserve the right to delete any comments I do not personally care for. This is my blog, my space for my opinions. I am not here to persuade you or debate with you, just to share with you what I think. 

One of the many things Brian and I have been discussing lately is the hierarchy of sin that Christians seem to have come up with over the years. It seems like sins like homosexuality, divorce, and sex before marriage are very high on an imaginary, yet somehow very real, list of sins. We tend to shun those who are caught up in these sins. We say hurtful things, become quite derogatory, and eventually become extremists — you know, the ones who bomb abortion clinics and hold violent protests. We feel so strongly that God hates these sins that we push these people away completely instead of drawing them back in.

But, then there’s the other side. There are some who think, “We can’t be extremists! We’re pushing everyone away from Christianity!” And I would tend to agree. Extremists in any direction kind of miss the mark, wouldn’t you say? So, then, they err on the side of love. Yes, err with love. See, instead of “shunning”, they “love.” Instead of speaking they truth, they “don’t judge.” What God says is sin, they say, “Oh, but they don’t know any better. They’re carnal.” True…. but….

Phil Robertson said what many of us Christians would like to have a public podium to say. He said that homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God (among other things – I’m not going to quote him here). True. They won’t. Neither will liers, murderers, disobedient to parents, rebellious, adulterous, promiscuous… the list continues. “Homosexuality” is in the same list as many sins for a reason. Some of those sins we consider “heinous” and some we consider “not so bad.” That’s us - we have created our own hierarchy of sin, remember? To the face of Almighty, Holy, Infinite Creator God all sin is sin. If I lie once to my parents or if I have sex with another woman, it’s all the same to God Almighty. Both of these acts, even if just committed one time and I never did anything else the rest of my life, would earn me eternity in hell.

God does not hate “homosexuals.” He hates homosexual behavior. He created us how we are – man and woman – for a reason. With a distinct purpose. We were created to worship Him, subdue the earth, and multiply. We cannot multiply if we all choose homosexual relationships – it’s impossible. To fulfill mankind’s purpose that was laid out in Genesis, we need a male and a female – just like plants and animals.

We live in a sinful world. A world where Satan has stepped in and wants to destroy everything good that God has ever done. His first target? The home. If he can decimate a home, he has won because everything in life stems from the home. If he can ruin you there, he’s ruined you completely. What’s the best way to decimate a home? Make it the opposite of what God intended it to be. Make it literally nonfunctional. It’s a battle. The book of Romans lays it out so well. Please take a moment to click here and read Romans 2:21-32 in its entirety. When you’re done, come back. I’l wait.

For those of you who don’t want to read the whole passage, let me quote the end out of the New Living:

28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

But wait – the best is yet to come! Check out the beginning of Romans 2:

1 You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. 2 And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. 3 Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? 4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

The rest of Romans is filled with “But God.” But God… But God… But God…

7:24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

See, to God, sin is sin. Call a spade a spade – it’s SIN. It doesn’t matter what labels society and culture have put on a sin; the fact is, it’s sin. No matter what it is, it keeps us away from God. We all have it within us and but for the grace of God, we could be locked in any number of inescapable pits. BUT GOD stepped through time and eternity and entered His own creation for the sole purpose of pulling us out of this miserable life of sin and suffering by paying the ultimate penalty – God Himself died for His own creation so that our sin can be snatched out of our lives for all eternity and we can go live with Him. 

Back to Phil’s statements. What he said, no matter how coarsely or tactlessly worded (because he is, after all, Phil Robertson!) was truth. It hurt. It was harsh. It was culturally inappropriate. It was raw. It offended.

Well, guess what. That’s what truth does. Didn’t Jesus Christ Himself say that He came to divide? To bring a sword? To split up families? That He Himself is an offense? When has it ever been or will it ever be culturally appropriate to speak the truth about or into someone else’s life? No one wants to hear that they’re a sinner! I’m not immune to that and neither are you. It’s sandpaper rubbing on our conscience. We hate it! We are repulsed by it!

That doesn’t make it any less true.

We have gotten so concerned that we don’t become the bomb-blowing, crazy protesting, fanatical Christians that we have erred on the side of, “I’m just not going to say anything about their sin and let God convict. It’s not my job to judge; I’ll just love them for who they are and God will eventually convict them if I pray hard enough for them.”

Love has a place and we are never, ever to judge someone nor are we to shun them out of our lives. I’m certainly not saying that! What I am saying is, if I were about to drive off a cliff and you knew the cliff was around the next bend, I’d sure appreciate you telling me it was coming and save my life instead of letting me believe my GPS was leading me correctly. Even if I got mad and argued that you’re a know-it-all and don’t like my modern equipment and I get offended that you don’t trust my driving skills — at least I knew that you loved me enough to tell me I was headed in the wrong direction.

We have a job to do, brothers and sisters. Our job is not merely to proclaim the Gospel itself, but to remind people that sin is sin, even if it’s culturally inappropriate to say so. Phil Robertson is just the first one in a long time to have the platform and the courage to say it where he did. Did he say it as tactfully as he maybe should have? I don’t know, that’s not for me to judge. That’s not the point, though. The point is – he said what most of us are too afraid to say. It’s sin. God hates all sin and any sin keeps us from Him. Period.

We need to stand with Phil. Do I think he’s being persecuted or his constitutional right to freedom of speech is being taken away? Not really. He still has his money, his fame, and his company. He’s not in jail nor has his platform for speaking been revoked. We will hear from the Robertsons again, I assure you, even if it’s not on A&E. He’s not being persecuted. You want persecution, visit this site, they can tell you what persecution truly is. Their Facebooks (and I’m sure their Twitters, though I don’t follow Twitter) have not been removed, therefore his freedom of speech is still fully in tact, I assure you.

However, we still need to stand with him. We need to stand behind him and say,

“I agree with Phil. No matter what my country and my government may say and no matter what ‘laws’ they may come up with, in front of God Almighty, homosexuality is still sin and unacceptable. You can be freed from it – just like any other sin – but only with the help from God Himself. Because we care about your eternal destiny and how you will answer when you stand before the Great White Throne, we choose to remind you that this is still a sin.”

And but for the grace of God, we’d be there with you. I struggle with my own sins – anger, jealousy, pride, selfishness – the list goes on, trust me. Just because I don’t struggle with homosexuality doesn’t mean I’m any less of a sinner. I have, however, been saved by grace.

I stand with Phil. I choose to say that homosexuality is a sin and no, God doesn’t like it. But, God loves you. He died for you. He cares for you.

Romans 3:22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

The Christmas Prayer

Back in ’08, I was inspired by Steven Curtis Chapman’s Christmas song, “All I Really Want for Christmas” and wrote a short story about it. I’ve posted it here before under the tab “My Writings” and thought I would share it again. I have no idea how to get it published or what to do with it, so I’ll just put it here each year. :) Half of it is here; the rest of it is under “My Writings.” I hope you enjoy! **Do not copy or use without written permission from the author.**

             The first time I saw him, it was Christmas Eve at the children’s home. I had volunteered my time, and my husband’s, in order to help distribute Christmas presents to the orphans at the children’s home. We were far from home and family, serving as missionaries in another country, and this seemed like an appropriate thing to do Christmas Eve. Personally, it helped take my mind off of being away from friends and family for the holidays. I needed something totally different to do so I wouldn’t think about being so far from home. My husband tagged along; not because he needed it like I did, but because we were missionaries. This is what missionaries do on Christmas Eve.

The children’s home was on the edge of town. It was filled to overflowing with children of various ages and genders who had either been abandoned or orphaned. Most were under the age of 10, although a few were in their early teens. We never did get a proper head count of the children.

Local churches and individuals had donated gifts too many to count. We had spent the past month volunteering our time and energy in order to sort, pack, and wrap those gifts. Tonight, we distributed them. The joy in the children’s home was palpable!

We lived in a poor country, so decorations, even in the children’s home, were scarce. I had made a few popcorn strands and some paper chains with colored paper I had brought from home. My husband had gotten out a pair of scissors and gone to work on some white paper to make snowflakes we could hang from the ceiling. Someone had gotten industrious and made a red coat and white beard with a giant red hat so my dear husband could dress up like Santa Claus in order to hand out the gifts and listen to the kids’ wishes. Someone had sent me some key baking ingredients from home, so I had made a batch of what I considered to be “real sugar cookies.” A few others had brought some more traditional desserts and fruit had been donated. To the kids in the home, it looked like a feast!

The children were dressed in their finest. They ranged from pretty, colorful, traditional dresses on the girls to more subdued, clean pants and shirts on the boys. A few girls had on some more American-style clothing, but all of them had giant red bows in their hair that another lady had made for them. Everyone was beaming, laughing, and running around the room.

As I carried the punch bowl across the room, I lifted it high above my head so as not to get bumped, and looked across the sea of laughing children. Over in the corner, though, I noticed one, small child. He was a little boy, only about eight years old. He looked lost and horribly lonely. His clothes were tattered and obviously donated by well-meaning Americans. His plaid green shirt stood out in the crowd. It looked faded and worn; I wondered who in the U.S. thought it a good idea to send down a used, worn-out “John Deere” shirt to an orphan in another country who had nothing else to wear? I shook my head, more at the inconsideration of the American who sent the shirt than at the thought of this little boy standing off alone on Christmas Eve.

I set the punch bowl down and wandered over to the line of kids waiting to sit on “Santa’s” knee and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. The gifts would be handed out once all the children who wanted to had talked to Santa. My husband listened closely to each request, gave his best “Ho, Ho, Ho!” and handed them a lollipop before sending each child on their way. I could tell by the look in his eye that he was loving his job.

I stood to the side and listened to some of the requests. Most were asking for toys like dolls, trucks, or books. Some of the requests were so specific, I couldn’t help but smile! My husband’s eye would catch mine when that happened and we both had to suppress a laugh. I looked at the line and noticed then that the little boy in the plaid shirt was still standing off by himself and hadn’t joined the line.

My confidence in the language wasn’t overly high, but I thought I’d give it a shot. I walked up to the little boy and tapped him on the shoulder. His eyes got huge as he turned to look at me. He looked scared, so I immediately reassured him that he wasn’t in trouble. I asked if he’d like to talk to Santa and he shook his head no. He said he’d tried to talk to Santa last year, but it hadn’t made any difference. Santa obviously hadn’t listened. I told him maybe he should try one more time. He turned his big, brown eyes up to me and whispered, “Do you think he’ll care?” I assured that him that, of course, Santa would care! He reached up and took my offered hand and walked very solemnly across the room to the end of the line.

The happy voices of the other children faded as I watched this little boy’s face as we waited our turn. He looked so serious for one so small. His eyes were focused on Santa, but I could tell his mind was elsewhere. He looked nervous and I could feel his hand shaking as held onto mine with a vice-like grip. Slowly, the line moved forward. He was the last one to get to talk with Santa that night.

Finally, it was his turn. My husband, the wonderful Santa that he was, reached out his big hands and smiled a welcome at the frail little boy in the plaid John Deere shirt. The little boy walked tentatively up to Santa, who promptly picked him up and set him on his lap.

I could hear Santa ask, “Now, what would you like for Christmas?”

There was such a long pause, I found myself holding my breath, waiting for the little boy to respond. I was just about to prompt him, when he took a deep breath and turned his big eyes to Santa. I saw my husband’s happy expression change to one of concern for rolling down the little boy’s cheek was one giant tear drop.

I leaned forward to hear what he had to say since he barely managed to whisper his request.

“I don’t know if you remember me. I talked to you last year. And the year before that. In fact, I’ve talked to you every year since I was three. I’m eight now. And I don’t want any toys. I want…” another tear rolled down his cheek. My husband, Santa, caught my eye really quick to make sure I was listening then looked down at the boy. “…a family. I want a mommy who will tuck me in at night. I want a daddy to play with me and teach me how to play soccer. I want” another tear rolled down his cheek, but he didn’t seem to notice, “to never be alone again. Santa, can you bring me a family? That’s all I want for Christmas.”

His request was so sincere I felt my heart burst inside me. My husband was speechless. The little boy looked up at him with such an imploring gaze, I had no idea how my husband would respond. I watched the tears roll softly down the little boy’s face, wetting the front of his plaid shirt. My husband wrapped his arms around the child and gave him a big hug. He looked over the top of the boy’s head at me and said softly, “I’ll see what I can do.”

I had to leave. I went to the restroom and locked the door behind me. The tears came so fast, I wasn’t sure I could stop them. There I was, trying to forget about not being able to be with my family, totally not even acknowledging that at least I had a family to try to forget about! I had lamented being away from home, living on a missionary salary and not being able to have the huge Christmas celebration I was used to, and not wanting to be in the country over the holidays – period! Humility poured over me like a tidal wave. How selfish could I possibly be?

When I finally composed myself and emerged from the restroom, my husband was already changed out of his Santa suit and was frantically looking for me. He caught my arm and dragged me to the punch bowl, out of ear shot of a couple other volunteers.

“Did you hear that request?” his eyes were red-rimmed. I knew he had either been trying to not cry, or had just composed himself from crying.

“Of course I heard!” I bit my lip. I was not going to cry again. I looked around the room for the boy, but he seemed to have disappeared.

“Well, what do you think?”

“What do you mean, ‘what do I think’?”

“I mean, what are we going to do about it?”

I jerked my head around to look him in the eye. “What?”

“You heard me. How do we fix this?”

If his eyes hadn’t been so serious and his grip on my arm so strong, I would’ve had a hard time believing he was serious. “Fix this? You want us to go find the poor child a family? Wouldn’t we have to find every child in here a family if we did that? You know that’s not possible.”

“Not find him a family. Be his family. We’ve talked about adopting. Why not now? Why not him?” his eyes held my gaze and searched them for my answer. I was so stunned I wasn’t sure how to respond at all!

Be his family? We don’t know anything about him! We aren’t ready to be parents – much less to an eight year old! I…” my voice cracked. I couldn’t go on. My husband’s eyes glazed over. He looked dejected, almost like I’d rejected him. I felt awful for answering how I did, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around being the solution to this boy’s problem.

“Think about it. What’s different from adopting a newborn baby that we know nothing about, and adopting an eight year old we know nothing about? Either way, we’re starting from scratch. I would dare say I know more about eight year olds than newborns, too! Why couldn’t we do this?”

He was serious. So serious, I was almost scared. But, he had a good point. We had no other children; neither of us knew a thing about babies; both of us wanted to adopt at some point in our lives. Our hearts had always been that we would take care of and work with children. If there was a way we could help a child to grow up to know, love, and obey God, we would find it. Why would adopting an eight year old not be one of those ways? My mind was spinning.

The rest of the evening went by in a blur. We passed out packages; sang Christmas carols around an old, out-of-tune piano in a language I wasn’t completely familiar with; ate a ton of food that was so far from traditional, I’m still not sure how to categorize it; and left knowing we had the biggest decision of our lives yet to make.

Neither of us could sleep that night. We woke up Christmas Day feeling more tired than the night before. We opened our few packages sent from home, watched “White Christmas” on our laptop, and ate the cranberry sauce someone from home sent us – straight from the can. By mid-afternoon, our emotions boiled over and we finally started honestly discussing this new dilemma.

Three days later, we still hadn’t reached a decision. I was due to return to the orphanage in just two more days in order to help teach a new weekly Bible Club there. I knew I could not face the brown-eyed boy in the John Deere plaid shirt if we didn’t have an answer. Even though the child hadn’t asked us directly to be his parents, my husband felt God had. So, why didn’t I feel like God had asked me the same question? …

Look under the tab “My Writings” for the conclusion of the story…

To Santa or Not to Santa…

Just so you know that I’m not anti-Santa…..

P1020575

Okay, now that we’ve got that cleared up…

I’ve been reading a lot online lately about Santa and whether or not Christians should “do” Santa. I thought, hey, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents on the subject and what we do as a family:

As you can see, I’m not opposed to Santa. Saint Nicholas was a real man who did really great things.  The story is fun for little ones to imagine and it certainly isn’t evil or wrong. Where I think people stray is when Santa is used as a bribe to keep children obedient over the holidays and when Santa and all that surrounds him replaces the true story of Christmas and becomes bigger than Baby Jesus.

Let’s be real for a second here. I know people who seriously say, “You need to behave or I’ll tell Santa and you won’t get presents this year!” Really? You really won’t give your children presents because they were naughty in December? I know of no one who will follow through with that ominous threat.

Another thought: since when is Christmas all about receiving gifts anyway? Most of us are trying to teach our children that Christmas is about giving to others… and yet we’re telling children that if they’re bad, they get nothing? Doesn’t that go against everything else we’re trying to teach?

Back in Bible School, I remember one Christmas devotional where the speaker said, “The world has to keep adding to Christmas to make it even better. But, the real Christmas story has stayed the same for thousands of years. We don’t need to add anything to it.” He’s so right. Santa has grown into this fat guy who lives in the North Pole with elves and drives a flying sleigh with flying reindeer. Then there’s all the extraneous stories – like Rudolph and Frosty (I still don’t understand how Frosty fits into it all) and Buddy the Elf. Now, there’s Elf on the Shelf in the mix. The world has to add to it in order to keep making it bigger and better.

But, the true story – the real reason Christmas exists at all – is actually a simple story. A quiet story that took place in the middle of the night. The telling of this simple story barely fills three chapters in the entire Bible. Simple. Humble. Quiet. Beautiful. That’s it. No flying reindeer or singing elves. No jolly man in a red suit who eats your cookies and climbs down your chimney. A barn. Some animals. A young mom, a new dad, and a tiny baby. The end.

So, where does Santa fit in this? Well, to be honest, he probably doesn’t. Saint Nick is a fun story, told the world over, that encourages a child’s imagination and makes Christmas “magical.” Necessary? Absolutely not. Fun? Yeah, I guess.

What we do at the moment is keep Santa out of the house as far as decor goes. No Santa on the roof, on the tree, or even as a candle. No Santa-shaped sugar cookies and no Santa hats. What E. learns about Santa she’s learning from cartoons and a couple random books we were given. We are not encouraging it, but neither are we denying it. She has a huge imagination, but is generally smart enough to know the difference between real and make-believe. If she goes through a stage where she believes Santa is real, so be it. Brian always gives a “Santa Gift” – one gift from Brian that’s for the entire family that I know nothing about. He labels it “From Santa”, but that is the only present “from Santa.” We will not be putting out cookies and milk, and when she asks, we tell her he’s a nice story.

We will tell her who Saint Nick really was and why he’s so celebrated today. We will let her believe, but we won’t use the myth as a bribe for her to be good nor will we threaten her with it when she’s bad.

Christ will always be central. Advent is done daily. We talk every single day about Jesus in a manger. We color nativity pictures and read different children’s versions of the Christmas story. Christmas Eve will be spent in church at the Christmas Eve service and the Christmas story will be read Christmas morning before presents are opened. We will sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and we will give gifts to others.

Santa certainly won’t hurt her imagination and he isn’t a bad thing to have around. But, all that glitz, glam, and magic have absolutely nothing to do with the true story – and they never will… because it’s not about you and me. It’s about the fact that God became a baby because He loves you and I so very much.

E. summed it up the other day in the car: “But Mommy, if Jesus is God, why was He a baby?” Oh, sweetpea, because He loves YOU. That is what Christmas has always been and always will be about.

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