Friday, February 26, 2010

Living Without the Truth

“Therefore say to them, 'This is the nation that has not obeyed the LORD its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.’” Jeremiah 7:28

Everyday we have the opportunity to bend the truth, make excuses for our actions, and take actions that we believe no one will ever know about. We live in a world that ignores the fact that right and wrong is a black and white issue because that wouldn’t be politically correct. Instead they preach shades of gray, white lies, and compromise until they are blue in the face. Don’t offend people. Don’t tell them they are wrong. Don’t rock the boat. There are no absolute truths. What kind of message is this sending?

The Gray Problem
Jimmy and I work as a youth ministry at Villebrook Baptist Church in Hazelwood, Missouri. The issue of daily compromise and no absolute truth confronts us everyday as we work with these teenagers. I call this the “Gray Problem”. In the world where these teens are growing up, truth is relative not cut and dry, black or white. It’s all shades of gray. So how do you teach them that Christians are supposed to be “of this world” (John 17:14-16) and that we are not to “be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2)?

Teach the Truth
The first thing you can do to combat the lack of moral absolutes is teach the truth. Well you may be thinking “I don’t teach so how does this apply to me?” If you aren’t a teacher, leader, or preacher this still applies to you! You must teach yourself the truth daily through reading the Bible. If you don’t take the time to teach yourself the truths of the Bible then you are going into the battle without a battle plan. Your moral compass is pointing in whatever direction feels right instead of pointing to God’s truth.

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” Romans 1:25

Live the Truth
You have probably heard the saying, “You are the only Jesus most people will ever see.” It’s true. Most people who aren’t Christians will never open a Bible or step through the doors of a church. They know all about God, religion and hypocrites. Why do they need to go to church? If you aren’t living the truth in your daily life then you are missing an opportunity to show people who Christ really is. However, you can’t live a life of truth if you don’t know what the truth is (see “Teach the Truth”). You also can’t live a life of truth if you say that you believe one thing but your actions are telling people a different story—that’s hypocrisy!

"The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." Lyrics from “Jesus Freak” by D.C. Talk

Prayer for Today
God, please help me to learn your truth by reading your Word daily, and help me to live in that truth daily so others can see a true picture of You through my actions as well as my words. Amen.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why NOT Me God?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article called "Why Me God?", and in it I discussed reasons people would question God for the things happening in their lives. As I considered this question I also thought, how often do we complain to God about the things that aren't happening in our lives? So this is my response to my own pondering (yes, I do talk to myself frequently).

Why Isn't the World Fair?
"Why not me God?" This is a question I think that I have asked about a million times. I particularly struggle with this question when it comes to having children. I am going to take a moment and share something really personal with you, so if you don't struggle with this please don't judge me but if you do then maybe you will know exactly where I am coming from.

These are my Struggles:
  • I am a good person, living a good life, and doing God's work, why can't I get pregnant?
  • Why do people who don't want kids have kids, and I desperately want kids but can't seem to have them?
  • Why do teenagers who aren't responsible enough and people who abuse children have kids, and we would love and care for our kids but we haven't been able to have any?
In short, why isn't life fair? Why do good things happen to bad people? Why aren't they happening for me?

Because God Loves
The reason life isn't fair and the only answer to my question is that God loves us--all of us--good, bad, and ugly. He shows His love by giving us grace and mercy and forgiveness. Although it's hard to hear, God has His reasons for doing things and not doing things and they will always work out according to His perfect plan and purpose.  Matthew 5:45b says, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." He often gives us things that we don't deserve--grace-- and He doesn't give us things we do deserve--mercy--because honestly we deserve punishment. Remember Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Take Heart
Although we don't understand God, His plan, or what He is doing or not doing in our lives, TAKE HEART! Read the promises He has given us through His word and remember...

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:11-13

To all of you who are struggling with these questions, know that you are not alone.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Recharging Your Batteries

You know you need to re-charge your batteries when:
  1. You are tired all the time
  2. You have no joy or enjoyment of what you are doing
  3. You loathe preparing for work/ministry/other
  4. You find yourself becoming angry that you are associated with a particular activity you used to love.
Lately, I have found myself with many of these burn out symptoms. I have also seen them in Jimmy too. It is scary and un-enjoyable to experience. Yet so many ministers and minister's wives experience burn-out. It can make you feel guilty for "hating" what you do or it can leave you feeling stuck or depressed. So what do you do about it? How can you fight it? What exactly is it?

What is Burn-Out?
Burn-out is emotional and sometimes physical exhaustion related to activities you perform or participate in. I hope that is a little clearer than mud! When you are burned out you don't want to have anything to do with the activity or people causing these feelings. This is a VERY bad thing when you work in any type of ministry. So...

How to Re-Charge Your Batteries
Recovering from burn-out can take time. Don't feel guilty if you can't find a "quick fix". I have found that the longer you continue to perform while burned out, the longer it will take you to re-charge your batteries and recover. Just the same as many other problems in life, early detection is key in fighting burn-out/recovering from it. Here are some of my ideas for re-charging your batteries:

Number One: Spend time relaxing both alone and with your spouse.
It's okay to take a break. Even if you are the only two in the whole ministry. Sometimes you just have to stop. Remember that a Need doesn't necessitate a Calling. God wants you to succeed and He wants you to Enjoy the work He has called you to do and He wants you to Take Care of yourself. You can do all these things by practicing balance. It's a hard thing to do but you have to know when to say "yes" and when to say "no".

Number Two: Don't be Afraid to Ask for Help
To prevent burn-out it is important to learn how to delegate responsibilities and lead your team toward a common goal. Dividing the pressure and responsibility makes a strong support team where each person has a more bearable load. In re-charging your batteries, asking for help means bringing other people in as re-enforcements. Maybe you need to ask someone else to teach so you and your spouse can go away for the weekend. Or maybe you need someone to listen to the frustrations you are feeling. Or you might just need a shoulder to cry on. Just don't be afraid to ask for help.

Number Three: Spend Time with God
This probably should have been number one, but I honestly want to believe that you didn't forget this part so I am leaving it for last. Your relationship with God is your lifeline. If you aren't tapping into this life giving and renewing force every day, you aren't taking your Spiritual Vitamins and you aren't getting the nutrients you need. God knows what you need, when you need it, and why you need it. He is faithful to meet your needs, but you must be faithful in seeking Him and asking for His help. He is there every step of every day. Don't ignore Him. Don't forget Him. Spend time with Him. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the healer of our souls and emotions. Don't forget to reap the benefits of spending time with Him!

Closing Thoughts
There is no perfect formula for re-charging your batteries after burn-out. Each person is different. What works for me probably won't work for you and vice versa. I simply wanted to give you some of the tools you will need to figure out a strategy that WILL work for you. However, I want to open this up to you....

How do You Re-Charge Your Batteries?
Please post your re-charge strategies below.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Managing Money Madness Pt 2: Living by Your Budget

On Wednesday we talked about making a budget and having a plan. Before you read this article you should have read “Managing Money Madness Pt 1: Budgeting” and worked with your spouse to construct your budget. Now I am going to talk to you about a practical plan for putting your budget into action. Dave calls this the Allocated Spending Plan, A.S.P. for short. Jimmy and I would never be able to live by our budget if we didn’t also have an A.S.P.

What is an A.S.P. ?
You’re A.S.P. is “playbook” for each pay check. A.S.P.s can be a little complicated and overwhelming when you are first starting out, but they can be one of your biggest tools. Every month after Jimmy and I have nailed down our budget, I sit down with the Excel worksheet I created (I like Excel because I type in the numbers and it will add them all up for me—that makes me happy) and I work out our A.S.P. so I will know how much we have available in each budget category for each of our paychecks.

Making Your A.S.P.
First things first, get out your budget and keep it handy. It will be your ready reference guide while you are working on your A.S.P. as you will need to check the totals for each category as you go along. Here is a link to Dave Ramsey’s A.S.P. forms. To download a copy of my Excel ASP form, CLICK HERE.
Since I am most familiar with my own form, I will give you instructions for either making your own from scratch or using mine.

Step One: In the first column write in all the categories from your budget.

Feel free to be specific. Also be aware that some categories may not be used some months, but that doesn’t mean that you have to delete them. Once you have double checked that you have all the categories you will need, move ahead.

Step Two: Create a column for each paycheck you and your spouse receive in a single month.
For Jimmy and I this means we will either have 6 or 7 columns a month (Jimmy gets paid weekly so some months he will have five paychecks and I get paid on the 15th and the 30th). Just a note, it works best for us if we count my paycheck from the 30th of the previous month as the first paycheck for this month. Do whatever works for you, but make sure you are consistent.

Step Three: Write the amount of each paycheck under its corresponding pay date.

Step Four: Determine what will be paid from each check.
This is the hardest part when you are first starting out. A couple of things to keep in mind are: #1 you need to make sure that you have designated the money to pay bills BEFORE the bills are actually due (after all the check needs to clear the bank before you can spend it) and #2 some categories may need to be divided among different paychecks. TIP: Start with your necessities (rent, food, gas, tithe, etc.) and then fit the other amounts in where you can.

Step Five: Double and Triple check that your paycheck and expenses in each column are equal.
You can’t spend more in a week than you make and expect for your budgeting to succeed. So this step is very important. Trust me it might leave you with some pretty funny numbers but it will all work out in the end. If you do have more expenses than you have paycheck for that week then try moving things around to equal things out.

Step Six: Make sure that your budget totals and the row totals for the corresponding category match. Example, if I have $255 dollars budgeted for my tithe then my total for the charitable row should equal $255. If your totals do not equal, go back and correct any errors then repeat steps 4 and 5.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have successfully finished your first A.S.P. !

What Do I Do Now?
Now that you have finished your budget and you’re A.S.P. you are ready to put your plan into action. When your first paycheck rolls around, pull out you’re A.S.P. and see what needs to be paid this week, what needs to be saved this week, etc. Different people have different methods of doing this. Dave Ramsey and I advocate using cash and the envelope system. To learn more about the envelope system, CLICK HERE. Once you know how much you are supposed to spend and what you are supposed to be spending it on, you can do it!

Closing Remarks
Remember this is going to take a little while to get used to and it won’t be perfect the first month. Make notes of things that you need to change so you will remember to make adjustments when you sit down to work on your budget and A.S.P. for next month. Most of all just do the best you can to stick to the plan. Lifestyle changes take lots of time and effort. The important thing is that you are trying.

Additional Resources
To download a copy of my Excel Budget form, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Managing Money Madness Pt 1: Budgeting

Yesterday we talked about Money Madness and how it all begins by losing perspective on the role money should play in your life and your marriage. Over the next couple of days (or however long), I want to provide you with some tools to help keep your perspectives in their proper place and to help you manage the money madness.

Tool Number One: Budgeting
Many of us have heard about budgeting and that it's important, but if you're like me I never actually knew how to set up a budget that works until a little over two years ago. Having a plan in place has tremendously reduced the money stress for Jimmy and I. It's not that we make more; it's just that we are better stewards of the money God has given us because we now have a plan in place to help us accomplish our goals.

What is Budgeting?
According to these are just some of the definitions of the word "Budget".
Budget –noun
1. an estimate, often itemized, of expected income and expense for a given period in the future.
2. a plan of operations based on such an estimate.
3. an itemized allotment of funds, time, etc., for a given period.
4. the total sum of money set aside or needed for a purpose: the construction budget. 

In Christiana terms, a budget is my plan for what to do with my money this month. Now that we have talked about what a budget is, we can talk about how to make a budget.

Making a Simple Budget
One of the things that helped Jimmy and I to get our finances on track was taking one of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU) classes. The course covers all the basics of budgeting, getting out of debt, planning for the future, investing, and more. It was a very useful class so I want to pause a moment and give you some links to more information about FPU and Dave Ramsey. If you want to know more about Dave Ramsey, click here. If you would like more information about an FPU class in your area, click here. Part of the reason I wanted to give you these links is because Dave has really helped us and part of it is because I want to refer you to Dave's simple budgeting forms to help you make your own plan.

Step One: Figure out How Much You Make Each Month
Add up all income sources for you and your spouse to get the total amount of income you will have for the month. I know that this is trickier for some because you are not salaried or you might work on commission. If you are in these situations, I would base your total income off an average of your income for the last few months. This might take a little research on your part but you can do it!

Step Two: List all Your Bills and Expenses for the Month
The first part is easy. Most of us know which bills we have to pay every month and about how much they are going to cost. So write them all out (I would also make a note of when payment is due--we will use this later). Now that you have listed rent/house payment, car payments, cell phones, internet, cable, credit card payments, school loan payments, etc. It's time to work on the expenses. This is a little tricky and may take some estimating. Do the best you can in estimating how much you spend on clothing, hair cuts, toiletries, medications, gas, food, etc. Don't worry you will probably change this later anyway, so just give your best estimate for now.

Step Three: Make Your Budget
Now this is the truly hard part. It's not that the dividing of funds is hard. It's seeing just how out of whack our finances can be that is hard. CLICK HERE for Dave's downloadable budget forms. They are easy to use and they can help you to think of areas you might have missed.

*Your budget WILL NOT be perfect the first time! Dave estimates that it takes 3 to 4 months for you to get most of the bugs worked out of your budget.
*Your budget MOST LIKELY will change each month although some items will remain the same.
*The key to a successful budget it to PLAN AHEAD. You might not need to have any car repairs done this month, but if you plan ahead and budget $20 a month for car repairs that you save until you do need them then when your car breaks down and costs $400 to fix it won't be nearly as stressful because you have been saving money toward such an event.

Now back to making your budget. The best option is to make what is called a zero based budget. This means that you plan for ALL money you make with a remainder of $0 unplanned. This means that you will even plan how much spending money you and your spouse will get to do whatever you want with it. I suggest that you start filling in the form by writing in your necessities housing, food, transportation, etc. Then work on your other priorities such as bills. Finally, use the remainder for savings, spending, etc. NOTE: DON'T FORGET TO TITHE! I personally believe that this should be #1. Jimmy and I have found that when we commit to giving God His money first, we will always have enough to pay for our necessities even if we don't always know where the money is going to come from.

Give It a Go!
So take some time and have a "budget meeting" with your spouse. Do your best to estimate your income and expenses. If you need helps or have comments/questions, feel free to come back and post or you can look for answers on Dave Ramsey's Website. Happy budgeting!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Money Madness

If you are married, I would bet a whole heck of a lot that you have had at least one fight with your spouse about money. If you are single then you probably just fight yourself about what to do with money. In today's world money is one of those things that you can't live without because we just don't barter in the US. You have to go to work and make money to pay the bills, buy the groceries, put gas in the car, and all the million other things you do. So what's the big deal? Money is necessary--a necessary evil, some would say--but it can't be the ruling force in your life, marriage, or ministry.

Why is Money so Maddening?
Today I was looking at the statistics and money is still one of the leading causes of divorce. Why does something so small as paper and coins cause so much stress and drama in our lives? I think the answer is two fold.

First, you need money to meet your basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. If you don't feel that you have the money you need to meet these needs and wants then things start to get hairy and many people panic.

Second, money becomes maddening when you lose the proper perspective of its role in your life. The Bible says, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Tim. 6:10) When we lose sight of the fact money is designed to meet our basic needs rather than to be an object of love and obsession, we give love too great a priority in our lives. It becomes maddening because the lack of money now is an issue of love and statisfaction. When you love money you let it define you. It is who you are. It shows your social status and importance in society. It is no longer just a tool. It must be obtained at all costs. This is where marriages get into trouble.

Why Money Ends Marriages.
This is just my opinion, but I believe that money is one of the leading causes of divorce when one or both spouses lose their perspective and begin to love money. Then the issues of mismanagement, lack of funds, who makes more, and who spends more become mangnified to the point that they become life altering issues. You become selfish of things and people when you love them. It is the same with money. If you love it and you don't feel you are getting your fair share of it you become angry. If you are living in anger, you can't live in love. In the realm of human capabilities these two emotions, love and anger, are very mutually exclusive. Why do you think Jesus says, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Matt. 6:24 & Luke 16:13)

Your Thoughts
I have given you my thoughts on Money Madness. Later this week, we will talk about ways to help manage your money and fight the money madness. But for now I want to hear your thoughts. Why do you think money is so maddening? Why do so many marriages end over money?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mentioning Mentoring

A few days ago, I was working in our home office when I heard my husband talking on the phone. It turns out that Jimmy was talking to one of “his boys”, the term he uses to affectionately refer to the group of young men he has invested the most in over the years. These are the students who have benefited most from the type of mentoring we discussed in “TIME and LOVE the Languages of Discipleship”. They spent well over an hour on the phone talking about life, what God is doing in their lives, the struggles he was having, and other things. I frequently hear these kinds of conversations in our home and I did not pay too much attention to what was being said, but my ears did perk up at one key statement that made me stop and think…

“I’m 34 years old and have been in the ministry for more than 10 years, but I still have older men in my life who mentor me and aren’t afraid to tell me if I am making wrong decisions in life or in ministry…” Jimmy openly shared.

The Apostle Paul on Mentoring
This simple statement made me take pause. It also brought to mind something the apostle Paul once said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12-14). Even Paul, who did SO many great things for Christ, did not consider himself to be perfect. He had men in his life that taught him what it meant to be a Christian and to serve Christ. Why do you think he partnered with Barnabas on his first two mission trips? He needed someone to work with him who had been a Christian for a while and “knew the ropes” so to speak. Paul also goes on to encourage the believers to “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Phil. 3:17).

Thoughts to Ponder
* Do you have someone in your life that is mentoring you?
* Do you consider yourself to be at a point that you no longer need someone to “tell you how to do things” and don’t feel you need a mentor?
* What does your attitude toward mentoring say about you and your ministry?
* How does your attitude toward being mentored affect how you mentor others?

Closing Remarks
Mentors may come and go in your life, but I personally believe you always need to have people in your life who are older, wiser, more experienced, and who aren’t afraid to get in your face about the important issues (if needed). The best mentoring relationships often grow naturally. Instead of spending all of your time seeking out the perfect mentor, spend time in prayer asking God to send this person into your life, develop relationships with people who are mentor material, and be willing to accept the leadership and challenges they will bring when your mentor comes on the scene. They may have been there all along and you just didn’t know it or just didn’t care.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

the Battle of Scripture Memory

Finally! I get a chance to sit down and breathe! I know we have all felt this way. Between church, family, full-time jobs/full-time parenting, and who knows what else so many of us have very little time or mind power to spare. We multi-task and work thru lunch so often we don’t know what it means to have a moment of peace. Here I am in the middle of one of those weeks, and I suddenly realized something…When was the last time I took the time to memorize scripture?

Really? What’s the Big Deal?

You might be snickering in derision at my big epiphany or you might now be wondering “What’s the big deal? I read my Bible. Why do I need to memorize it?” There are so many other things we give priority over this valuable spiritual discipline that very few Christians still realize just how important scripture memory really is.

Why Scripture Memory IS a Big Deal

Take a minute and hear me out. I believe there are two reasons that scripture memory is a big deal.

Number 1: God Commanded It

What better reason is there to do something than God telling you to do it?! In Proverbs 7:2-4 says, “Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Very few things were actually written down at the time that these verses were written and the things that were written down were of the utmost importance. Therefore, when God tells them to “write” His commands on the tablets of their hearts, it conveys a deep sense of importance and significance.

Number 2: It Gives Us the Strength to Keep Going

As I think about continuing on the path God has laid out for my life, I think of Ephesians chapter 6. Although the words “memorize scripture” never appear in this passage we do see the importance of Truth. In verse 14, Truth is compared to the belt in the armor of a Roman Centurion. A Centurion’s belt was 6 to 8 inches wide. It allowed freedom of movement. Most importantly, it held all the other pieces of the armor together and all of the soldier’s weapons were attached to it. In the same way, Truth holds us together and gives us the weapons we need to fight the daily battles that crop up in our way.

Practical Application

Although there are many other reasons that scripture memory is important, I just wanted to focus on these two because they speak for themselves. Now the question is, how can you practice scripture memory in your busy life?

* Tape an index card with this week’s memory verse on it to a place you look multiple times a day. Each time you look at this card take the time to read thru the verse. Some locations I have heard of are the refrigerator, the side of your computer monitor, the bathroom mirror, and in the shower (although I suggest laminating the card for this one).

*Write and copy the verse on paper 7 times each day for one week. I have heard this works best if you do it during your quiet time and you make all 7 copies at the same time.

*Memorize small but important pieces of scripture. It will be much easier to memorize John 3:16 & 17 rather than the whole chapter of John 3. Start small you can always go bigger later.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” Ephesians 6:13-14a

Monday, February 8, 2010

Working with Broken Families

Just about every youth group on the planet will have at least one blended family or family of divorce. This group is becoming larger and larger every year as divorce and remarriage become more common and accepted. I personally didn’t realize just how hard it can be to work with these families until we moved to our current church. I would estimate that 90% of our youth come from these types of families! It’s shocking!

In these families there are whole new dynamics, new problems, and new pitfalls to avoid. Often the roles of parents are confused and students are given too much freedom too soon. Or the other side of that coin is that they may have no freedom and receive no attention that they so desperately crave. So what do I do about it? I’m just the youth minister’s wife. What’s my role in all of this?

5 Guidelines I use when Working with Blended & Broken Families
1. Do your best to figure out the family structure. Who belongs to whom? Who are half-siblings? Step siblings, etc.? Who do the students live with?
2. Don’t take sides between the parents (if at all possible), but act in the students’ best interest.
3. Always listen but don’t take for granted that you are hearing the absolute truth. Everyone has their own take on the situation.
4. Show lots of care and attention but proceed with caution as their family situations are often volatile.
5. Love on them and be Jesus to them no matter how they might treat you. You may be the only witness in their lives.

Colossians 3:12 &13 “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Why Me God?

Wednesday afternoon I received a phone call from my little sister. She was barely able to keep form crying as she told me that she and daddy were taking my mom to the hospital because she was having chest pains, she was feeling clammy, and half of her face was numb. She promised that she would keep me updated and I quickly made arrangements to leave work and meet up with my husband so that we could drive two hours to be with both of my sisters, my dad, and my mom.

As the shock began to wear off, the reality began to sink in that very soon my mom could be gone. After all, my mom’s family has a strong history of heart disease. There were so many different things running through my head and so many emotions coursing through my body that I could barely decipher one from the next. Looking back on it I am surprised that one particular question never crossed my mind when it so easily could have. I never once asked, “Why me, God?”

Now before I go blowing my own horn or you begin thinking I come across a little too saintly to believe, let me tell you that in other life situations that was the very first question on my mind. When Jimmy and I experienced our miscarriage I not only asked God “Why?”; I also hated Him for the pain and loss the miscarriage caused. I believe all men and women either have already had or will have at least one experience in their lives that will make them wonder why God allows bad things to happen to good people and good things to bad people. So let’s look at a couple of reasons why God allows us to experience heartaches and struggles.

Why God Let’s Us Experience Heartaches and Struggles
God gave us Freewill
As men and women we are able to make our own decisions because God gave us freewill. However, some of the struggles that life brings us are a consequence of the freewill choices that we have made. We should constantly be struggling to follow God’s will for our lives. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We are also tempted because we are allowed to make up our own minds about what we will do, when we will do it, and how we will do it. God is just and He will discipline those who willing chooses to go outside of His will. Still He uses these unpleasant times for our benefit. This is clearly explained in Hebrews 11:12, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Struggles and Heartaches allow us to Grow
God uses the hardest times in our lives to make the greatest change in who we are and how we live our lives. In Romans 5:3-5 He clearly explains, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” If life was never hard would we really learn lessons like trust, faith, hope, and love? You don’t know who you truly are or what you truly believe in until you have been tested.

Our Experiences Allow Us to Help Others
Empathy. It is a strong but often over looked word and an even stronger feeling. I don’t think that I fully understood empathy for the longest time. As I mentioned before, Jimmy and I went through a miscarriage in our first year of marriage. It was during this time that I first began to understand what empathy truly meant. I had this one girlfriend, who also happened to be a youth ministers wife, who went out of her way to love me and listen to me and comfort me because she had been through two miscarriages herself and knew exactly what feelings I was up against. In fact, I am pretty sure there were times that she knew what I was feeling even when I didn’t. It was such a blessing to be able to call Lindsey because I knew she had been in my shoes. About a year later, I received a call from one of my other minister girlfriends and she told me she had had a miscarriage. I realized at that moment that the blessing of my struggle was that I would be able to help Kristin through hers. This time I was the one who knew what she was feeling. I could listen to her and truly understand what she was going through. I knew the things that would make her burst into tears at a moments notice. I was able to be her Lindsey. If I had never known that pain I could never have known the joy of helping her overcome.

Wrapping Up
So instead of asking, “Why me God?”, maybe we should spend some time taking the focus off of ourselves and putting it where it belongs—on God. Maybe we could even try to practice the verse that says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the Friendship Issue

A couple of days ago, I was having a really crummy day. I woke up in pain. I had to get everything ready for the day. I was disappointed that my plans had fallen through, and in short nothing was going right. I really needed a girlfriend that I could talk to, vent to, and who would give me a big hug in the end. The problem was that I didn't have a girlfriend like that readily available to me. The question is "Why not?". This is what I call the Friendship Issue.

What is the Friendship Issue?

Friendship is one of the best gifts that God has put into our lives, but why does it have to be so hard? Then you add the fact that you are married to a minister into the equation and it makes things infinitely harder. Why?

Friendship is harder when you are in ministry or married to someone in ministry for a couple of reasons.

Number 1:
You must surround yourself with people who are holding to a high Christian standard and won't bring you down all the time. You're getting enough people tearing you down without your friends doing it too.

Number 2: Your friends MUST be able to keep your confidences without it affecting the way that they view your church, your ministry, or even you. This is why I personally find it very hard to have intimate friends in my own church. In general, they can't separate your struggles from what's going on in the church.

Number 3: When you are in ministry you will probably relocate several times and distance can often cause problems in maintaining friendships.

How Do I Solve the Friendship Issue?
When I have days like the one above, what do I do? I am still learning this myself, but so far this is how I have learned to handle it. If you have any helpful suggestions I am more than willing to hear them as I am still learning in this area.

Number 1: First and foremost, I turn to God. I pray and tell Him how I am feeling. I ask Him to show me how to get through this.

Number 2: I have developed a small core of women (most of whom are other ministry wives) that I trust implicitly and who I know care about me. Most of all they know what I am going through because they have most likely gone through it to. These are the women I call when I need to vent, to cry, to share my joys, or to chat.

Number 3: Never be afraid to ask for help. If your tried and true friends aren't available, God can and will meet that need through someone else. Pray about it of course, but I am sure that you have a bunch of godly women in your life that have been wives much longer than you have and who are more than willing to listen to you and comfort you and help you. Just make sure that they aren't the church busy-bodies. Use common sense and good judgment but don't be afraid to reach out to these women. They may be the most unexpected blessing of the day.

Closing Thoughts

I know that this isn't a fool proof method and I know that many of us have and probably will be burned by friendships again but you can never stop making friends. If you cut yourself off from the world you won't be able to handle life. It is important that no matter how many bad hands life deals to us that we just keep on living. The best way to do this is through forgiveness, faithfulness, and friendship...but that's another story

"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out."

Monday, February 1, 2010

TIME & LOVE the Languages of Discipleship

When I was growing up I had many youth leaders that were single females, but never had the advantage of having a youth minister with a wife. Now here I am and I am the youth minister's wife and I am wondering what I can give to these girls that those youth leaders were never able to give to me. Looking back, I realized that more than anything I wanted a strong, godly female to take me under her wing, to spend time with me, to love me, and to disciple me. I think that I would have given almost anything to have that kind of influence in my young life! When I met Jimmy I loved the way that he would combine the discipleship, love, and time into one technique and that's when I began to realize that time and love are inseparable parts of what discipleship is. In fact, they are the languages in which the lessons of discipleship are communicated!

What is Discipleship?

As I thought about discipleship and what it means to be discipled, I would get the dictionary definition of discipleship. According to (because who has a real dictionary these days), the use of discipleship as a verb is obsolete! I couldn't believe it! I mean it literally says, "–verb (used with object) Obsolete. to teach; train." Do we really disciple so little that the very use of the word discipleship has become obsolete. What a shame.

Of course when you are looking for an example of what discipleship is what better example than we have than Jesus. I mean where do you think the word discipleship comes from? When Jesus called His 12 disciples, He called them to live life with Him. It wasn't a meeting that they had once a week for an hour or only on the Sabbath -- it was a life lived together, teachable moments, and so much more. So let's break it down and look at the two key ways that discipleship lessons can be communicated to your students.

Discipling with TIME
I have heard it said that once you have spent 10,000 of deliberate practice in your field; you can officially call yourself an expert. As Christians we should desire to be experts at following Christ, and as youth workers and spouses we should want our students to become experts in following Christ as well. I would hazard to guess that by now most of us realize that the majority of teenagers (and some adults) are way to commit 10,000 hours to anything other than video games and TV without someone else helping and encouraging them. This is where discipling with TIME comes into play.

When you spend time with someone you are building a lasting and influential relationship. If someone who you spend lots of time with asks you to do something or not to do something you are more likely to follow through than if some complete stranger asks you to do it. Why do you think that so many teenagers have problems with peer pressure? If you want to make an impact in the lives of your teens, you need to spend time with them outside of the church. Go out to eat. Go to the movies. Have them over for dinner. Spend some 1 on 1 time with them (or 1 on 2 if your spouse is available to hang out too). Let them know that they aren't lost in the crowd. They are important and you do care about them. I realize that it isn't possible to spend 1 on 1 time with every single student, but with a little prayer and observation God will show you the ones that will really benefit from the time you invest in them. Use the life moments and memories you experience together to teach them about what it means to live your life as a Christian outside of church. Show them how you deal with things like death or births or whatever life throws your way. The most important thing is that you are investing TIME in them. Now let's talk about LOVE.

Discipling with LOVE
I would hazard a guess that 99.9% of us have heard the saying "LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E" and now you're thinking "Didn't we just talk about time?". That's right we did so the great news is that you are getting a 2-for-1 deal today! Isn't that awesome! The reason I pull this out separately is that I want you to focus just a moment on the words you use to communicate must be words of love. Ephesians 4:15 says, "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." Without words of love we won't mature mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. God designed love to be the fertilizer of our lives. It helps us to grow big and strong and to produce fruitful crops. Words of love are vitally important to our survival!

The best thing about using words of love is that even when you have hard truths or corrections to communicate, when you use words of love the situation has the potential to come to a positive end. SO I encourage you to spend time telling your youth how great they really are. Encourage their potential. Speak the truth in love. Don't use negative nicknames or tear them down just because you can. Take time to grow and mature the seeds of potential that God has planted in their lives. Come on you can do it! It just takes a little genuine love.