A Firm Foundation.

Even though leaving high school, for me, was more than 10 years ago now, I remember it well. Hindsight is always 20/20 and looking back, I know for a fact that I was a naive know-it-all who, in reality, knew nothing at all. 

Unlike many of my peers, I went straight from Christian school to Bible school. I skipped any form of public high school/secular college completely. By the time I finished my first semester in Bible school, I knew I had so much left to learn. Even though I had grown up in church, attended Christian school the whole way up, and was actively involved in outreach programs, my first semester of Bible school was an eye-opener about how little I truly knew about God, His Word, and what it means to live for Christ.

How sad, isn’t it? To have that much influence in my young life and yet to go into the world and feel unprepared… it blows my mind even now. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have some great mentors in my life – on the contrary, I had some of the best! But, for some reason, a lot of the teaching I received remained fairly rudimentary and superficial. 

We watched “God’s Not Dead” last night for the first time. While the premise was good and I thought the movie was well-done, it begs the question: Are the young people we are raising up in the church prepared to defend their faith by the time they graduate? 

I have a purpose statement for the kid’s min at our church and it concludes with talking about wanting to give them “a firm foundation that can be built upon” when they enter youth group. Every change I’ve made this year in the different programs centers on that premise. They must have a firm foundation – anything less simply won’t stand. 

My goal is to not just raise a generation of children in the church who are good church attenders and can win Bible drills and spout off a bunch of good verses. My goal is to help them make their faith their own. Why do we believe the Bible is true? Why is important to make good choices? Why do we want to live for God? What good is the Bible in every day life? Where did the Bible even come from? 

Kids are growing up far too passive when it comes to church and God. It’s an extra-curricular – if we make it, great! If not, no big deal, we’ll come again next week. The stories are too familiar; the verses are just rote repetitions for prizes. Where is the heart in all of this? God doesn’t care how quickly we can find a verse. He cares about deeply we apply it to our lives.

The main character in “God’s Not Dead” obviously knew his material when he defended his faith. My fear is that we’re raising an entire generation of kids who wouldn’t know the first answer if someone questioned them about the core of their faith. My fear is that they will leave the safety of the church building and succumb to the culture surrounding them because their foundation won’t be strong enough and it’ll crumble under the pressure. I fear that our kids and teens have no clue – and simply don’t care – about why they believe what they believe. 

This must change. 

We must begin to bring “church” – fellowship, community, learning – back to the forefront of our families. We must lead by example and make God number one priority in all we do with our children. Baseball practice is Wednesday night? Sorry kiddo, church is more important than being able to hit a ball in third grade. Football game Sunday morning? Well kid, let’s see how well your team does without you because you need to be in church with the family. That extra-curricular is going to interfere with church attendance for a solid month? Not worth it – your spiritual well-being is eternal.

When will we stop making church optional for our children and teens and start showing them – by example – that it’s a priority? When will we stop “living for the dot” and start “living for the line”? If you don’t know the phrase, watch the video at the end by Francis Chan. He doesn’t use that phrase – that’s one that was used in cultural training that has stuck with me – but it’s the same idea. 

The fall programs at our church begin on September 7 and I just feel burdened more than ever for the kids that will attend. I don’t want them just to come, sit in class, and go home. I want to see visible change in their lives. I want them to walk away with the full-on knowledge that God is REAL – He is NOT dead – and that their lives need to reflect this truth in all they do. 

While I somehow doubt that college freshman with no Bible school under their belt will all graduate with as much knowledge as the main guy in “God’s Not Dead”, the goal has been set before us. Their faith must be their own. Their faith must have a solid foundation. Their faith must begin while they’re young. 

Here’s the video I was talking about. Take it to heart and think it through. Priorities are what our lives revolve around, so what are yours? And how are those priorities affecting the family you’re raising? 

Weighing In.

The world is mourning the loss of an icon. Not just an icon – someone that has been given the title of, “The Funniest Man in the World.” In a day and age when comedy is relative, it’s a huge thing to be considered “funny” by the entire world. To cross those cultural divides in humor is a big thing. 

And he’s gone. 

I believe it’s the irony of how “the funniest man in the world” died that is getting to everyone. The man who could make the world laugh could find no humor in his own life… and decided to end it all. 

Unexpectedly. Quietly. Abruptly. 

I’ve been watching a few debates online about the whole situation. Did he die from depression or suicide? Is depression similar to cancer or is it the result of sin? Was there hope for him or was he lost from the get-go? Was suicide his only way of escape? Is he really “free” from it all now? 

Honestly, I don’t want to get into all that. It’s too heavy for me. I, like you, am mourning this man who was such an integral part of my growing-up years. I have caught myself crying as if I was related to him. My husband officially thinks I’m insane as I sob through news reports and cry at the thought of never seeing him again. I suppose, for me, it’s a selfish cry. He made me laugh. But, at the same time, I find myself crying because the whole situation is just so. sad

We found out recently that the county we live in is one of the saddest counties in America. Meaning, the people within the county are just plain sad. Suicides among teens has been so high over recent years that public high schools are inviting in Christian youth pastors and counselors to meet for free with the teens just to help curb the trend. Now, they’re saying on the news that a huge percentage of the U.S. population is depressed and that there is a suicide every 13 minutes

In every tragedy, I watch to see how God is going to turn it around for good and focus all eyes on Him. This is no different. I firmly believe that Robin Williams’ suicide is a wake-up call to believers worldwide. We live in a world that is increasingly hopeless. The generation in high school today is clinically depressed and suicidal, hating themselves, hating each other, and growing up with a complete void of the sanctity of life. Abortions are as easy as an over-the-counter pill. Hope is fleeting. A mere word in our nation’s vocabulary that is quickly losing its meaning.

And what are we doing? We are literally sitting around watching it happen. We are debating amongst ourselves whether depression is sinful or clinical. We are judging and scorning those that have everything, yet suffer depression. We label the teens as a hopeless generation simply because we don’t understand them – and don’t want to. 

We are hoarding our hope in a time when hope means everything to humanity. 

Have you watched the news? We’re in crisis-mode out there! People are hopeless because they turn on the news and are bombarded with hopeless situations. 

It’s time for Christians to wake up and answer the call of, “What’s the point?” Quit sugar-coating Christianity and proclaim the truth to humanity!

God created you.

God loves you!

God has a purpose for you: To bring glory to HIM. 

God has a home prepared for you in heaven – for all eternity.

He desires a personal relationship with you. He longs to walk with you through the storms of life and to not only hold your head above water, but to allow you to walk on top of the waves with Him.

You are special. You are loved. You are unique. He has written down the days of your life in His book, He has plotted the course of your journey, and He collects your tears in a bottle. He leans from heaven to listen to your prayers and He watches over you while you sleep. 

Lay your burden down at His cross and leave it there. Exchange your sadness for His hope for life. Allow Him to breathe new meaning into your existence. 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today is the day of salvation. Share your faith with those around you. Let them laugh, scorn, mock, and reject. Your job is not to convince; your job is to share. Quit hoarding your hope. 

I mourn the loss of Mr. Williams and my heart aches for the family and friends he left behind. I just pray that this is an awakening for the rest of us that we need to share our hope – even with those who laugh the loudest – because we don’t know who needs it the most.

Yummy Food.

Pretty much on a weekly basis, I make sure I have turkey kielbasa in my fridge. It makes for an easy, quick meal, so I just keep it on hand. I almost always have canned tomatoes, too, since they don’t spoil and supplement meals nicely. On my almost-daily Pinterest sweep of recipes, I found one that looked really good – filled with kielbasa, tomatoes, and cheese.

Last night, I decided I would give it a shot. Only to open my fridge and THEN remember I had opted to buy bacon instead of kielbasa and had somewhere along the way used my one can of tomatoes AND the tomatoes I had in the fridge were a lovely shade of green. shoot.

My husband’s advice? “Improvise! If it turns out bad, we’ll order pizza.”

Here is what I did – and oh my was it amazing. Feel free to tweak as needed… obviously, I did! Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • Bacon (I used close to 10 slices)
  • One small onion, diced
  • One can of (rinsed) white beans
  • One cup of shredded zucchini (this would be optional; I had it on hand and thought it was a good way to add veggies – it basically melted; you couldn’t even tell it was in there)
  • Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder (to taste)
  • One can tomato (bisque) soup
  • One-two cups of chicken broth
  • One package of cheese filled tortellini pasta
  • Two tablespoons cream cheese
  • Handful of parmesan/mozzerella cheese
  • Scallions (garnish)

Fry up the bacon in a deep skillet. Pour off the grease from the pan; crumble up and reserve the bacon.

In the same pan, add the onions. If needed use a little bit of chicken broth to lift the bacon bits from the bottom of the pan. Try not to add extra oil; the grease from the bacon should be plenty of oil. Once the onion is fragrant and just about cooked, add in the zucchini, salt, pepper, and garlic. Saute for a few minutes, then add the beans, tomato soup, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil; add in the pasta. Stir frequently and add chicken broth as needed to cook the pasta, but avoid adding so much that you make soup. Bring it to the consistency you like. Stir in the cheeses and sprinkle the scallions on top.

It’s Not About You.

I’ve ranted on this topic before, though not very eloquently. Yet, I felt the topic needed to be revisited.

What topic is that?

Christian girls in bikinis.

It’s summer and though my bathing suit has yet to be donned, it seems Facebook has nigh unto imploded upon itself with pictures of girls in their new summer bikinis. While not unusual, it still never ceases to bother me.

I haven’t been able to put into words exactly why – nor have I been able to put Biblical backing behind it – for years. But, finally, today in church, some footing was given to my stance. I wanted to share it here, for what it’s worth.

Just recently, this issue came to the forefront in my own life as someone, a believer, that I would deem more of an acquaintance than anything posted, what I would consider to be, inappropriate pictures of herself in a bikini. They were skimpy enough that I asked my husband to not view my Facebook feed until I could get rid of them. A few days later, she ranted that if people didn’t like her pictures, they could simply unfriend her. I didn’t, knowing that that would give off the wrong impression and never open her up to a conversation about the issue, though like I said, we’re barely acquaintances, so I’m not sure that will ever happen anyway.

As I contemplated this issue, though, I began to realize that it’s much more of a discipleship issue than simply Christian morals. I firmly believe that if Christian girls were discipled better, this whole bikini issue wouldn’t be quite so blatant.

Here is the Scripture I feel makes it clear that bikinis are not acceptable if you proclaim the name of Christ:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. -1 Cor. 10:23-33

Okay, this is somewhat deep, so bear with me.

Paul is talking about meat offered to idols, yes. This was a big cultural issue back then. While in and of itself, the meat was still just fine, the fact that it had been used in a sacrifice to idols made it questionable at the very least. If someone had a strong conscience and understood that idols were not real, then it wouldn’t bother them. However, if someone had been, for example, newly saved out of idolatry, then this would be a much larger struggle and they may have difficulty eating this meat with a clear conscience. Paul is saying two things – one: Just don’t ask. If it might be questionable, don’t ask, then you don’t have to worry about it. Two – If you find out it was offered to idols, simply don’t eat it. Not for your sake; for the other person’s sake. Why? Because it’s not about you and the last thing you want to do is make someone else’s faith stumble.

So, how does this translate into our present day culture? Look at the bookend verses of 23-24 and 32-33:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others… Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

These verses explain Paul’s main point; the meat was just his primary example.

Yes, you have every right to wear a bikini. We live in a “If you have it, flaunt it,” world and girls simply love to embrace that over the summer. It’s true – you can do so. However… it’s not about you. 

Think about it: When a bikini picture is posted on Facebook or Instagram or wherever, what demographic tends to “like” it the most? Your girl friends… or the random boys? What are the majority of comments  – “Oh, what a cute bathing suit!” “What a pretty beach!” Or… “Nice body.”

If the majority of “likes” and comments are focused on your body and are coming from the opposite sex – that’s lust. And lust is sin. Therefore, you, by way of your itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot bikini, are making guys sin. That’s a big deal, my friend. And it’s wrong.

See, it’s not about you.

If you know Jesus as Savior, then it’s about Him. You are a reflection of Him. Your job is to point people to Him. You are to imitate Him. Causing men to lust after you is simply not a reflection of Jesus Christ.

Is it permissible? Absolutely. Do you look hot? Of course! Should you do it? I would argue – no.

It bothers me that I have to hide my Facebook feed from my husband because of Christian girls posting pictures in skimpy bikinis. My husband, praise God, is devoted to me, but he finds it obnoxious, too, and has been known to report said pictures as pornography. If he’s feeling the need to do that – to Christian girls’ pictures - my question then is, how is this okay?

We need to step out from the world. Not only should our words and actions be different, our dress should be, too. My husband told me recently that girls dressed inappropriately do not make guys’ merely think about sex; they’re already there. They think she’s ready and that becomes their primary goal. Once they have sex, then they’re done. They really are NOT interested in anything else… from her. Sad, huh? How cheap we sell ourselves for a simple Facebook “like” and a Friday night date.

Remember: It’s not all about you. It’s about Him. Reflect Him well. You don’t need to dress like a nun, but you do need to cover a bit more of what your mama gave you in respect for those around you.

My version of 1 Cor. 10:33 in NLT says:

…I don’t just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them so they may be saved.

It’s not about you.

Is God Good?

After coming to grips with the fact that there is a God and that He is alive, I believe the next basic question we all must answer for ourselves is, “Is God good?” 

We are indoctrinated with this from childhood. I just taught my three year old the song, “God is good to me! God is good to me! He holds my hand, He helps me stand, God is good to me.” As teens, I remember beginning youth group with the chant, “God is good!” “All the time!” “All the time?” “God is good!” 

But, at some point during life, reality strikes. Hurt happens. Pain happens. Death happens. Life does not go as we planned, dreamed, imagined, or hoped it would. We say goodbyes too soon. We lose friends, spouses, children in horrible, untimely ways. We live in a world riddled with cancer, disease, pain, and hate. Our world is a strangling place to live. The idea that “humanity is basically good” is completely false; we are inherently evil and that is evidenced no matter where we go on planet Earth.

If you haven’t already, you will soon be smacked in the face with the question, “Is God Good?” 

One of the most fundamental of questions, yet we refuse to analyze it. We just accept that either yes, He is good, or no, He is not. The answer to this question defines your faith in God, for if He is good, then He can be all of His other attributes – loving, kind, long-suffering, gentle, forgiving, etc. However, if He is not good, then He simply cannot be any of what the Bible touts that He is.

Fundamental:

Is. God. Good?

This week, I poured over a new novel. I discovered an author a year ago who’s been on the scene for a while: Joel C. Rosenberg. My sister introduced me to his novels on Iran, which I couldn’t put down. I finished “Damascus Countdown” on my Kindle just recently and an advertisement came up for his newest work: “The Auschwitz Escape.” I’ll just be honest: I’m cheap. I couldn’t afford it on my Kindle just yet, so I reserved it at the library. Being #6 on a waiting list for a book not even in the library system yet, I figured I’d have to wait a while! But, I was pleasantly surprised that only a few weeks went by before I got the email that it was my turn for this new book.

I got it Tuesday. I finished it on Sunday.

I’ve read a lot of stuff on World War 2. I am an avid, shameless fan of Brock and Bodie Thoene and have learned more about World War 2 and Jewish history from their books than any class I’ve taken or history book I have ever picked up. I have read numerous biographies, autobiographies, and historical accounts on all different sides of WW2, yet it never ceases to fascinate me.

I loved how he interwove factual history, timelines, and data while creating a fictional story of intrigue. It was incredibly realistic and read like an action movie that you simply could not stop watching. Or… reading.

A few chapters in, though, I began to start thinking to myself, “Is God good?” Mr. Rosenberg goes into substantial detail when it comes to some of the atrocities that occurred in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Germany, and Europe during this time of history. It is not pretty. In fact, it’s downright appalling to read and imagine, especially when you recognize that it is history, not fiction, that he’s really recounting.

You cannot read an account like this and not wonder how God could let this happen – to His people! These were not just arbitrary individuals – they were God’s chosen people! How could He “stand by” and let this happen? How can a “good God” let so many of His people die such horrific deaths? Why did He not step in, rend the universe, enter time, and rescue them if He loved them so much? Why did He allow children to be thrown into gas chambers, men to be experimented on alive, and women to be gang-raped?

Is God good?

I thought maybe this was just the way my mind was going with the book, but somewhere towards the middle, this question began to be addressed. The main character struggles with the concept of there even being a God, much less a good God. Mr. Rosenberg lays it out so realistically, though, that you don’t feel like it’s a stretch or made-up fiction. It’s a real question that was addressed in a very real manner at a time when the answer was pivotal to humanity.

I don’t believe the answer to this question can be taken lightly. In a way, it is this basic concept that my preschooler can grasp, yet it resonates much deeper than that.

God is not good the way we measure goodness. God is outside of our time, space, and knowledge; He does not answer to us and our way of doing things. He sees the entire picture, not just the moment. God promised He would spare a remnant of His people throughout time – and He has kept that promise. Though we look at the heinous acts of the Holocaust and wonder where God was- God stands above us, pointing to His fingerprints and footprints throughout the entire episode. 

Ultimately, did evil win? Absolutely not. Hands-down, evil did not win. Evil didn’t even come close to wiping out His people or destroying the human race. They tried to destroy any trace of God and His people and all they did was make His name resound stronger and louder than ever before. Look at Corrie ten Boom: after surviving a death camp, she dedicated the rest of her life to rehabilitating Nazis. Through simply her testimony of forgiveness, an untold number of people came to Christ who otherwise may never have heard His Gospel.

Is God good? 

I can’t answer that question for you. I can just say that for me, deep in my heart of hearts, I can say that yes – YES, He is good.

He may not work the way I want Him to, but that does not make Him not good. That just makes me not God.

“God is good to me! God is good to me! Although I’m small, He hears my call. God is good to me.”

Celebrating Easter.

Growing up, Easter was a big deal in our house. It wasn’t because of the baskets, candy, dyed eggs, or Easter egg hunts, though. It was simply because my parents made a big deal about what happened that first Easter morning long ago. Christ arose! And that fact alone was cause enough for us to celebrate.

We would anxiously await Easter morning – my sister’s and my new dresses hanging up in the front of our closet, new shoes at the ready by the door, Easter hat hanging by my bed. We’d dress while it was still dark outside, shivering in the spring chill that would invade our Vermont home. The house would be dark and quiet; normally my father was already at church before we awoke. Each of us would receive one chocolate bunny that would be sitting on top of the TV stand, waiting for our return from church that afternoon.

Once we were dressed in our new Easter best … and then bundled up into winter coats (it was Vermont in the spring after all), we’d head off to church. In the chilly, still morning, we’d huddle with a small crowd out behind our church, overlooking beautiful mountains, the sun barely peeping its head out – and we’d sing, “He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!”

The (short) sunrise service would end and we’d hurry inside, throwing the blankets aside once we hit the warmth of the church building. The church ladies would hastily set out the Easter breakfast – the special “Jesus” Easter breads, cinnamon rolls, dyed hard-boiled eggs, sausages, maple syrup (again, it was Vermont!), and fruit. We children would have free reign of the church building, helping ourselves to as much Easter food as we could stomach, enjoying every minute we had together as friends.

Sunday School would be full of laughter and fun as we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord. And then we’d be off to “big church.” I was a trumpet player when I was younger and my favorite Easter involved hiding in the balcony above the congregation with my trumpet teacher. When the chorus began, “Up from the grave He arose!”, we jumped up and joined in with our trumpets! I’m pretty sure the older crowd thought the rapture was finally happening!

After a glorious morning celebrating the resurrection, we’d head home, exhausted and starving. Mom would have a beautiful Easter meal ready – one year in particular we enjoyed lamb! – and then we’d crash.

No baskets. No egg hunts. No Easter bunny pictures. Yet, perfectly satisfied.

Now, I have children of my own and my husband and I are racking our brains trying to figure out how to “be in the world, but not of it.” We want to celebrate this holiday that truly is the pinnacle of our faith and the very reason we have a faith at all. But, we also understand that our children are heavily influenced by the world and the culture of today. So, do you neglect everything the world has to offer and solely focus on Christ? Or do you embrace the world and, in the process, get distracted from the purpose of this weekend? How do you balance? Can you balance?

My husband comes from a background of no religion. His family thrives on Easter bunnies and Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets and Easter candy… So, we know they will call Sunday with the questions for my daughter of, “Did you meet the Easter bunny? What’d he bring you in your basket?” This is mixed with my side of the family who will look at us like we’re insane if we let them hunt eggs or receive a basket. Balance seems like a pipe dream right now.

We are far from perfect and we have a long ways to go before we “perfect” our Easter family traditions. But, in our attempts to make Jesus central, yet live successfully in this world, here are some strategies we have come up with. They will be tailored as time goes on, I’m sure. I know better, more creative ideas are out there, but you’re reading a post from someone so creatively-challenged that glue and scissors is the extent of my arts ‘n’ crafts supplies. But, for what it’s worth, here are our Easter activities:

  • We begin talking about Easter weeks in advance. We don’t save the Easter story until the week of; we begin in advance with stories before bed from Jesus’ life and conversations throughout the day of what Jesus did for them.
  • In the evenings before bed, I read from their children’s Bible the stories beginning at Palm Sunday and ending with the ascension. I try to do this daily during Holy Week, with an emphasis on a different part of the story each day.
  • I have a few crafts we’re doing this year. We did one just now that involved making three crosses and putting them on a hill. Tomorrow, I’m going to do this one which is making a sunrise with food coloring and a coffee filter. I’d also like to try this one this weekend, if we have time – an egg that opens up to a cross.
  • Last year, I made resurrection rolls with E for the first time. It’s so simple, yet such a vivid, tactile activity to help them get a glimpse of what happened over Easter. We’re going to do that after lunch this afternoon, this year with baby brother.
  • We’re prioritizing church services – making it a lifestyle, not an extracurricular. Thursday evening was a worship/communion service at church and we found a sitter so both of us could go, but the children knew where we were going and we talked about it with them when we got home.
  • Sunday morning is the sunrise service and even if the kids are still in pj’s when we go, we’re going! We’re making it a priority for the entire family. Yes, they will be exhausted, hungry, and grumpy by the time church is over around noon, but it’ll be worth it to instill in them the importance of this holiday.
  • After naps on Sunday, we’re going to have an egg hunt, but just for a few specific eggs that will help tell the Easter story. This blog has a good plan for making this happen. After they find the eggs, we will gather them together and have them open the eggs and pull the item out so we can go through the Easter story with them. I might skip the last egg; that’ll depend on what my husband thinks we should do. I’m okay with the last egg being empty being the “big surprise” of Easter, but we’ll see what he thinks.
  • Sunday evening is our family meal with my parents who live close by.

I firmly believe the extraneous things the world has added to Easter are completely unnecessary. What God did for us so many years ago is sufficient for a giant celebration, year-round! We have hope for the future, a reason for living, and a Savior Who loves us. What more could you ask for? Seriously, how does a giant, creepy bunny with colored hard-boiled eggs even begin to compare with eternal life and completely forgiveness? Let’s change the next generation’s expectations of Easter. They certainly don’t need a reason to accumulate more “stuff”. Let’s teach them the true meaning and get them excited about Jesus! For without Him, Easter wouldn’t exist anyway.

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

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