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March 31, 2014

Lead Me On: Don’t Be Surprised

When your faith feels weak ... keep the faith anyway.

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I recently heard a sermon about a man who possessed incredible faith: Jairus. And his daughter was about to die.

Just as one would expect from a sermon, Jairus sought out Jesus, found him, secured a few one-on-one moments with him, and asked him for help.

Jesus said yes, followed Jairus home, said a few choice words, and ta-da! Daughter was healed. ACTUALLY daughter was brought back to LIFE.

Just like that.

Some. Faith.

I later read the story for myself, and Jairus' reaction to the whole encounter caught my eye (Mark 5:22-43).

He was amazed.

He was amazed?

I understand he was emotional about the healing of his daughter. I have a young daughter. I can't even apply this story to any context including her because it stops my heart. I'm about to bawl. My back muscles just seized up between my shoulder blades.

I get it. What Jesus did for Jairus' daughter was amazing.

But he was amazed? As in blown away? As in, what Jairus received from Jesus was bigger than he had been able to wrap his head around minutes earlier.

As in, what kind of faith is that?

As in, so what that we say we believe? Until a thing happens, we don't. I mean really, we just don't.

What was the Author's point with the story? Until you see, you hardly know what to believe—hardly know what "believe" even means.

But Jairus. He believed enough to go find Jesus. He believed enough to fall at Jesus' feet and plead earnestly with him. He believed enough to wait (wait!) while Jesus paused to address the needs of a bleeding woman. He believed enough to ignore friends' bad news that his daughter had died and really bad advice to therefore abandon the effort to get Jesus to help.

He believed enough to listen when Jesus told him, "Don't be afraid..."

In the end, he was amazed. In fact, the NIV says he was completely astonished. Actually, it says "They were completely astonished" as in him plus his wife plus three apostles who by that point should not have been shocked by a single rabbit Jesus pulled out of his hat. They'd seen big things already. Huge.

And?

Astonished. Amazed.

Don't be so surprised by the teeny tiny skinny thread that is our faith. It's hard, this journey. It's confusing.

As much as we think he will, we largely think he ... might not.

Jairus saw it coming but he still didn't see it coming.

It's overwhelming to do this one thing: believe that something amazing could happen.

We tell our kids and the people we lead that this is a matter of faith. Confidence. Walk boldly. Believe. This summer, I watched my 8-year-old son's football coach holler confidently during a pregame pep talk. "We're better than those guys!" he said. "We're gonna beat those guys!" he said. "It's gonna be great!"

I thought to myself, How wonderful to have such bold confidence. A pep talk from me would say something like "I'm curious to see how they perform. I wonder how you will perform. Who's going to win? We're about to find out."

Judge me if you want to, but that Jairus story says to me there is an Author who wants this point made known: So what? So what that some of us can't muster a vein-popping I-know-what'll-happen-I-believe-it'll-happen-let's-go-make-it-happen kind of faith?

We believe enough to go find Jesus. We believe enough to fall at his feet and plead earnestly with him. We believe enough to wait (wait!) while Jesus pauses to address the needs of a fellow hurting, wounded friend (but dude—chop, chop).

We believe enough to ignore friends' bad news (kinda) and really bad advice (ish ... we ignore-ish this stuff).

So what does that get us?

It got Jairus a page in his book. In a couple of gospels as a matter of fact.

Oh. And his daughter. The muscles between my shoulder blades just unseized. Did someone add oxygen to the air? He got his daughter back.

If you're in a weak moment, look at it this way—you can always give up tomorrow. Today, don't. No pressure. Just ... don't. Wait. Don't listen to give-up advice even if it makes perfect, logical, loving sense to just quit.

Believe that something amazing could happen.

I wish you would.

Because if you do, then I might be more likely to too.

And I would like the chance to be amazed.


Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has managed marketing and media relations needs for clients such as Microsoft, Wells Fargo, and UPS.

March 27, 2014

Equipping Women for Ministry

An interview with Sue Edwards, associate professor of educational ministries and leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary

Sue Edwards


Tell us about your role at Dallas Theological Seminary.

I've been there full time about 10 years now. That's been a wild and crazy journey, something I never, ever expected. When I got my doctorate, I didn't ever think I would do this.

I teach, but I am a practitioner. I teach how-to courses: how to create ministries that are transformational, how to teach the Bible in Sunday school context, how to use resources that are not just lecture, that engage particularly younger audiences with a variety of methods. I teach "Women Teaching Women," which is a preaching course for women. In other words, how you prepare to teach the Scriptures. Pull truth out of Scripture and connect that with what women need to hear for the word to really transform them. And then I teach courses in adult ministry. It's a variety but all pretty practical.

What did you do before you taught seminary students?

I was living in Dallas, had a couple kids, and somebody said one day, "There's a good seminary down the way." I was teaching Bible at the time, so I knew I could be a better Bible teacher. So I went to seminary in the 80s and was one of the first women there. I never dreamed that I would ever be—oh my goodness—teaching there.

I spent about 30 years in the trenches, as a minister. I was a pastor to women in a large church. My heart has always been working with women. I didn't grow up in a Christian home; I came to Christ in my mid-twenties, through women's Bible study. I was an absolute wreck, a mess, and women came alongside and mentored me for about 15 years. I know the power of women in other women's lives. I think you're naturally drawn to what you see can really make so much difference. I wanted to give that gift to others.

What are the most important things you want to accomplish in helping prepare women and men for ministry?

First of all, I want to help them understand the grace of God and to be healthy spiritually, emotionally, really walk tight with Jesus, get what it means to be dependent on the Lord. That you do ministry with Jesus. There's nothing more important than that. Then I want to give them tools to help them create ministries that really change people's lives. Learning is so much more than just getting information in your head and vomiting out a bunch of facts. It's changing your life so you can then lead well to change other people.

What do women in seminary most need to know about church ministry?

They need to know to really depend on God. We need to help them learn how to walk people through change and conflict. We have to help people in their relational skills, help people know how to lead well. And about shared leadership, how to do leadership with others and really empower them so we create authentic community where real issues are being dealt with and we're not playing church, which is a lot of what we see today. I think that's what they would get in my classes. We've got to be real about things that are going on, create an ethos of honesty. Too many churches are just creating people who are legalistic, playing the game. I'm trying to help people move away from that.

You co-wrote a book called Mixed Ministry, about men and women doing ministry together. What do men and women need to do to work better together?

The struggle that keeps a lot of women out of ministry, to be able to serve alongside brothers, is that we have walls that are so high because of sexual fears. So many men have been taught by other men to just be afraid of women, that women are the enemy, women are temptresses. So we don't have a community as a result. Sixty percent of people in our churches, and the majority of people doing ministry are women—and overseas it's more—and yet we have this huge wall dividing us when we are called to work together as brothers and sisters. The whole picture in the Bible is family. We are family. So the book tries to say, "Look, we want you to see these men as your brothers. We want men to see us as sisters, not as sexual objects."

I've had students read this book in my elective courses, come in and say, "Oh my goodness, I see that I need to change the way I think about women." But our whole culture, everything in it, is giving us a different message. Yes, we have to have wisdom, so half the book is really about lowering the walls, working together, changing how we see each other and how we think. The second half is having wise walls—but you can't make rules about this.

Why do we all have to have these huge boundaries? What it does is close doors for women: can't serve, can't be hired on staff, can't use their gifts. We shut down 60 percent of our gifts, our labor force, out of fear because they're women, and Satan is just doing the happy dance.

Guys will go, "I'm fine, I don't need this book." A lot of them will not even talk about it. I have them read the book, and I think it's eye-opening for an awful lot of them, trying to create a different kind of thinking toward women, a healthy thinking. The biggest boundary is health within my own soul, my own mind toward others. And if that's there, then I can work with anybody and I can even go in a room and close the door. We need to see each other as sacred siblings, as brothers and sisters.

You've also created a new Bible study series for women. What's that about?

It's called the Discover Together series. My conviction is that women need to get into the word for themselves. It's not a commentary that I wrote of what I learned, but it's questions and just enough information that women can actually get into the word for themselves. I have little QR codes that you can scan to watch short, one- to three-minute videos that complement something in the lesson. I want real teachers to teach and I want it to be more discussion and conversational. And then I have a website, where women can do a study together, one lesson every week.

I hear you're also working on a book about older women mentoring younger women. Can you share an insight from that project?

The name of the book is Organic Mentoring: A Mentor's Guide to Relationships with Next Generation Women. It's scheduled for release in July 2014. I'm writing with Barbara Neumann, who did her doctoral research interviewing younger women about what didn't work with mentoring relationships. The kind of mentoring that my generation is comfortable with is very formal: it needs to be every week, we choose you by matching you up with interests, we study something together because we as mentors don't feel like we've done our job unless we teach you the Bible.

What we found was this: Women said, "We want biblical truth, but what we are searching for is for you to help us, journey with us. Help us apply truth from Scripture to our own lives, but help us process it and figure it out for ourselves. And we don't have to meet every week, and it doesn't have to look a certain way, and we don't need you to be the Bible answer woman or the woman on high who tells us what to do and tries to mold us into another you. We're looking for something very different."

The exciting thing is that the reasons our generation says we can't mentor—too much time commitment, I don't know enough about the Bible, I've made mistakes in my life—are the things younger women don't want anyway. So we're hoping to encourage an army of older women to get in there and walk beside younger women who are hungry, who are wide open, but not with the style or approach that my generation assumes is best because that's the way we were mentored.


To learn more about Sue's new Discover Together Bible study series, see DiscoverTogetherSeries.com.

March 24, 2014

Let the Gospel Be Slow

Recognize how impatience hurts your leadership

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We are an impatient culture. Our hyper-fast technology has wired us to expect everything instantly—even transformation. While it's understandable to demand hyper-speed from our electronic devices, it's utterly unreasonable—and ungracious—when we have those expectations of ourselves or of the people we lead.

Though we all wish that it wasn't the case, profound and lasting change happens slowly. This complicates leadership. In order to lead well consistently, we need to be mature in our faith, "needing nothing" (James 1:4). We need to love well and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. However, all of us—as in all of us—are lacking and need to change. Regardless of how smart we are or how much motivation we have to grow, this change takes exponentially more time than any of us would like to admit.

I am a highly sensitive introvert. Due to some family dynamics and unfortunate circumstances early in my life, fear became a constant companion. It did not go away when I started to follow Jesus as a college freshman, or when I got married, and certainly not when I started leading. Though I became increasingly aware of how fear crippled and limited me, I simply could not shake it. It took a few years of counseling (and repeatedly confessing my lack of trust in God) before I could begin to untangle the behaviors and thoughts which actually contributed to my fear. This has been a 20-year process, and I am not yet completely free*—despite the fact that I desperately wish God would eradicate it from my life!

How Impatience Adversely Impacts Us

Type "church growth" into your search engine and literally thousands of sites will pop up. Upon close inspection, many of them belie the human tendency to want bigger, better, faster. Even in our spirituality. A pastor recently received a flyer in the mail boasting, "Make new converts into disciples in just 12 weeks!" When we homeschooled our boys, we did an extensive unit on plants and chose radish seeds for our experiments because they have a very quick and predictable growth cycle. Humans aren't radish seeds. We cannot quantify or schedule our maturation. When we try to impose an inorganic timeframe on our development, we run the risk of creating and perpetuating a false self and possibly sowing into self-hatred.

The false self is a façade that I don when I think someone won't approve of or like me. Not that this has ever happened to me (insert smiley face), but let's say, hypothetically, I'm not sleeping well because I'm anxious about preaching on Sunday. If someone asks how I'm doing, for me to reply, "Great! I'm so psyched to be sharing God's Word this morning" reveals my false self. My true self would humbly admit, "Actually, I am not doing so great. I feel anxious and I didn't sleep much. Would you pray for me before I go up?" This does not mean that we should reveal the depths of our heart with everyone but that routinely hiding or concealing an area of weakness causes us to lose track of who we actually are. We are more prone to hide behind the false self if we are uncomfortable with where we are in our process of growing toward Christ.

Self-hatred is both tricky and pernicious. If I measure myself against another's progress or perceived gifting and find myself lacking, I can easily become self critical. Though such harshness is not necessarily equivalent to self-hatred, it's a slippery slope. "Why can't I teach as powerfully as Joyce Meyer?" morphs into "I'm not really a very good speaker" if I fail to put the brakes on my faulty logic and ask God for his vision of who I am and how he has seen me grow.

How Our Impatience Can Impact Those Who Volunteer with Us

Parenting has rounded out my perspective on good leadership, including having godly expectations of others. Our firstborn son learned how to ride a bicycle days after he turned 5, in about five minutes. Our third son, who is the most natural athlete of all three boys, refused to even get on a bike until he was 8 and needed about a dozen lessons (and even then, there were gnashing of teeth and the shedding of many tears). Had I expected him to pick up this skill as quickly or as early as his brother did, I would have felt angry and he would have felt my disapproval. Humans can sniff out disapproval the way dogs can sniff out buried bones, especially from authority figures.

Leadership, like parenting, is neither convenient nor easy. We often have to dig deep and rely on the Lord to resource us as we partner with young and/or immature individuals. Feelings of frustration or impatience are completely normal, but if you find yourself in that space more often than not, hit the pause button. Dialogue with God and some trusted others about what might be going on for you. Are you expecting too much or yourself or of others you rely upon? Have you promoted someone too quickly and are you now having to pick up the person's slack? It is imperative that we contain any frustration or impatience as we wait for others to grow up.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote, "Blessed are those who trust in the Lord ... they are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

It takes most trees 30 to 40 years to reach their full height. We are ever so much more complicated and complex than anything else in the natural world. As such, we would do well to remember that God intends for us to spend our entire lives growing up into the fullness of who he created us to be.


*In truth, I may never be totally free from fear this side of heaven. Some areas of struggle, such as mental illness issues, may be with us for our entire lives. I do not believe God feels frustrated with how long the process is taking me. In fact, I think he is actually pleased that I have not quit or given up!


Dorothy Littell Greco spends her days writing, making photographs, and supporting others along their God journeys. She and her family live just outside of Boston, MA. You can find more of her words and images at www.dorothygreco.com or www.facebook.com/DorothyGrecoPhotography.

March 20, 2014

Don’t Be Fooled by Counterfeits

Is it really God you’re following?

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Walking beside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called to four fishermen, "Follow me." Simon and Andrew "left their nets at once and followed him." James and John "followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind." All four responded to Jesus immediately (Matthew 4:18-22).

As they physically walked behind Jesus from place to place, they found that following him means so much more. For example, if their feet followed, but their hearts did not, God didn't count it as "following."

Still the first disciples had a visible, tangible starting place for learning to follow Jesus. Because our Lord doesn't walk the earth today, we may talk about following Jesus without knowing at all how it looks. We may think we're following him when, in fact, we've been fooled by counterfeits.

Following God is not following your heart. While it sounds inspiring to say, "Follow your heart," it's deadly to run indiscriminately wherever your desires lead.

Moses said, "Remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined" (Numbers 15:39, NKJV). Solomon wrote, "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26, NKJV).

Following God is not following your own understanding. Many people think it's foolish to pursue uncontrolled emotions—but safe to follow wherever rational thought leads, especially rational thought based on Scripture. The Jewish religious leaders thought the same thing. They studied the Scripture diligently and taught it meticulously. But when Jesus appeared on the scene, they didn't even recognize him, much less follow him.

"Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track" (Proverbs 3:5-6, MSG).

What a paradox: Don't follow your heart. Don't follow your own understanding. But do employ both your heart and your mind in following God.

Following God is not blindly following others. God can and does speak to us through other believers. Proverbs 19:20 says, "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life."

While it's good to listen to godly counsel, it's crucial to know which advice truly reflects God's heart. Job's friends spoke true principles. Ah, but they did not rightly apply those principles. Their counsel only frustrated and disheartened Job. Ultimately, God told Job's friends, "You have not spoken accurately about me" (Job 42:7).

If you can't recognize the voice of God speaking to you, then you won't know when he is or isn't speaking to you through others. If the only way you know to make decisions is to ask someone else or to copy what they do, you've fallen for a counterfeit.

Following God is not following rules. I once asked a wise man, "Why doesn't God just give us a road map for life?" He answered, "Because then we would keep our eyes on the map, instead of on Jesus."

Jesus himself blasted the religious leaders of his day for trying to follow God by the checklist method. Like a roadmap, a checklist presents us with a predictable path. Do this. Don't do that. Check. Check.

Checklists work so well (we think) that we turn them into traditions. When we equate following a particular group's rules with obeying the Word, we can settle into a comfort zone where generation after generation remains.

Settling doesn't equal following. And anything we can follow on autopilot is a counterfeit for following God.

Following God isn't following current fads. Just because it's new, just because it's trending, doesn't mean God's in it either.

In Mark 7:6-8, Jesus cried, "These people...just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy, ditching God's command and taking up the latest fads" (MSG).

Today, much that presents itself as Christian teaching lets us pretend to follow where we have no intention to go.

Your own heart, your own mind, the advice or actions of others, the traditional ways, and the unconventional ways can all lead you away from where God is going, while assuring you that you're following him. But you, don't be fooled by counterfeits.

Instead, look to Jesus himself. Though you can't see him with your physical eyes, he is just as able to teach you to follow him today as the day he enlisted four unlikely followers in Galilee.


Deborah Brunt explores key truths for living life. She's the author of 1,500 published articles and eight books, including two e-books in the E-Blessings Series, The Elijah Blessing: An Undivided Heart and The Esther Blessing: Grace to Reign in Life. Visit Deborah at her website, www.keytruths.com and her blog, http://keytruthsblog.wordpress.com.

March 17, 2014

On Taking the New Guy to Lunch

Does camaraderie with a male colleague have to be a landmine?

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I have great sympathy for the new hires at our church. Our building is a maze of classrooms and closets, navigating IT takes a decade, and recalling names of all our staff is a bit numbing. It’s a big, bustling place, a jovial family complete with fierce loyalty, inside jokes, and an expected dose of dysfunction.

One of our recent hires, new to our city, looked particularly bewildered as he walked in after his new commute. In a moment of sympathy and eagerness to get to know him, I asked him to lunch. We both stared at one another for a second. Both wondering if silently if our scooting out to lunch together was okay.

I’m the token female pastor on staff and he’s the new dude. When I said, “Hey, do you want to grab some lunch and get to know one another a bit?” I was awash in unexpected paranoia. Was I too forward? Can the girl pastor take the new guy to lunch and it not appear scandalous? Was I over-thinking this? My friends who work in corporate settings do lunch with guys all the time. What was my big fuss?

I wondered if perhaps I should take a few other colleagues along. But some of them chat too much, others have an agenda. I wanted to know my new colleague without interruption. Most of my male teammates already had their lunch with him, no problemo.

Did I need to call his wife, whom I hardly know, and tell her I’m taking her husband to lunch? “Really, I’m totally normal and not at all a threat to your marriage, I promise I’m not hitting on him. Are we cool?” Would parishioners see us out, huddled around sandwiches, and wonder what sort of shenanigans their tithes are covering?

If I took him to lunch, who should drive? Who should pay?

If this seems like quite a bit of hyperbole, I guarantee you that many churches with a healthy ratio of men and women on staff deal constantly with these basic questions. Can they do lunch together? Can they meet together? And gosh, what if they have to travel together?

Churches often have rules on mixed-gender meetings. A pastor once told me his elder board prohibited male and female staff from offsite meetings together. He winced and shared how lonely his female colleagues felt as the men brainstormed together over coffee and sandwiches without them. The two lone women on that team were consistently left out of those impromptu moments where notes get scribbled on napkins and new ideas take shape.

This is understandable to a point, considering church history. Avoiding sexual sin is not exactly our strong suit. And yet what happens when paranoia prevents us from forging ahead into a healthy future as men and women serving together?

Are we so fearful of temptation or scandal that the church is no longer able to model healthy male-female friendships? And if we cannot model this, who will? The Kardashians? In many settings the safe response has been to segregate and avoid the lunch. But this simply avoids the issue; it does not honor the fact that men and women can indeed act wisely and respectfully with one another. This is reactionary, short-sighted thinking, like middle-school parents sending kids off to a dance for the first time. And what is the end result? Should we separate our congregants to separate sides of the pew come Sunday morning?

“Better safe than sorry,” my pastor friend used to say at the idea of a mixed-gender lunch. Another pastor once challenged him: “If the church cannot be a place that models healthy relationships between men and women, where is the hope of Jesus in redeeming our relationships?” If anything, the church should be on the front lines of proving Billy Crystal wrong in his famous quip, “Men and women can’t be friends.” Where are the models of ministry that prove this mindset wrong?

I forged ahead and had that lunch. Our church trusts us to act like the responsible colleagues God set us up to be with one another, so I drove him to my favorite spot. We swapped stories about our kids, our spouses, and our dreams for ministry together. We laughed about the oddities of our line of work and winced at the challenges ahead. And then we headed back to the office, better partners for the journey we share and better able to bring Kingdom purposes to light. Not because we avoided the lunch, but precisely because we shared a meal and ideas together. Modeling good ministry for any who cared to notice.


Tracey Bianchi is pastor for women and worship at Christ Church of Oak Brook in Oak Brook, Illinois.

March 13, 2014

Don’t Hide from Hardship

A devastating diagnosis showed me how God uses weakness

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I wept as I heard the diagnosis four years ago: “You are losing your hearing.”

Questions about my job, relationships, and life in general permeated my brain. Every “what if” plowed over me, and they were mowing me down quickly. Everything seemed a blur that day. But God spoke to me in a way I was sure to hear.

I’d spent eight years in the classroom, and both the doctor and I were stunned that I had done so without complication. The doctor stated, “Your brain adjusted to your loss. Although you couldn’t hear, your brain taught you to read lips and monitor body language so that you believed you were hearing what was happening.” It still amazes me that my brain knew to do that. But it shouldn’t be a shock. God did not create us as simple beings. He created us to know him, reflect him, and hear him. He created us to crave him.

Last fall I sat among some of the greatest leaders in Christian counseling at the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference. There was a dominant theme throughout the conference: Our brains are wired for God. We crave Christ and our brains know it. As I listened to these speakers and presenters, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to my hearing diagnosis and the journey I have been on the past four years. Although I now wear hearing aids, the frustration of not being able to hear is still fully present. But what I have come to recognize is that God wired my brain to work in such a way that I would understand that his grace is all I need and that the voice of Lord will rise above everything (2 Corinthians 12:8-10; Psalm 29:3-5). In the midst of my pain, he began to show me how my hearing was a human weakness but a conduit for his supernatural strength.

As I reflected on the hearing diagnosis, I evaluated how God’s hand has been ever present through this weakness. While I am no longer in the teaching profession, God has given me the opportunity to flourish in my first love: ministry. I currently work at a church where I counsel others and help people connect through serving and small groups.

Although I struggled with accepting this call because of my weakness, God has shown me how he uses it. Due to my hearing loss and my brain’s adjustment to a pattern of lip reading and monitoring body language, I am constantly aware of the atmosphere of a given environment as well as the mood of individuals. Whether in an individual counseling session or a small group, God’s use of my weakness helps me monitor individuals and notice things that I may not if not for my loss. I actually hear people better now than with my normal hearing because God allows me to hear more than just a person’s words. He allows me to see hurt in a new way.

This weakness has also required me to focus when someone is talking to me. I cannot play on my technology or have my back turned while multi-tasking and actually concentrate on someone’s words. I must look at the person and engage so I can pick up every word. These moments are another way God reminds me, “My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Leaders often have difficulty facing “weakness.” We do not want to embrace its reality. I hid from the reality of what was happening to me and wanted no one even to know I wore hearing aids. Maybe you are hiding from your weakness. You don’t want anyone to know you battle depression. You keep people at a distance because you don’t want to be reminded of your physical ailment. The list could go on and on. Because we view our weakness in a negative light of imperfection, we beg for its removal. Maybe we become angry or bitter with God, even as Christian leaders. What would happen if instead we viewed our weakness through perfection: through Christ? Our weakness is not a surprise to God. He is made perfect through our weakness. His glory is reflected, not our weakness.

This part of my journey has enabled me to be amazed at God’s design of us. There is no accident to our creation. He has fearfully and wonderfully made us, crafted us with perfection. His plan is perfect, and we will reflect his glory. Like Paul, I have begged for this weakness to be removed. But also, like Paul, I “take pleasure in my weaknesses...For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).


Peri Gilbert is the life group coordinator at The Simple Church in Bossier City, Louisiana.

March 10, 2014

Lead Me On: Discernment for Dummies

Believing the truth is a team sport

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Raise your hand if you can get behind a cause called "Discernment Is Not for the Faint of Heart."

For honorary president, I recommend Tamar.

Tamar was a woman who showed up early in the Bible. She married Judah's son. He died. She then married Judah's other son. He died. Judah promised she could marry his third son. But he lied.

And Tamar decided, "I'm not taking this any more."

Tamar was a widowed woman circa 2000 BC. That made her fish chum on the food chain of that culture. But that didn't excuse Judah, who knew as much as there was to know about God at the time. He was supposed to be one of the good guys. Tamar discerned that she was not being treated right, and that gave her strength to do something about it.

Buckle up because it was not pretty.

Tamar pretended to be a prostitute, and father-in-law Judah hired her for her services, not knowing it was Tamar because she hid her face.

Months after this incident (don't let me lose you here), Judah was told that his daughter-in-law was pregnant as a result of behaving like a prostitute and, appalled, he commanded that she be burned to death. BUT THEN Tamar pulled out a seal and staff that Judah had left with his "prostitute" that fateful night and ta-da, caught ya, buddy!

Guess what Judah said to all that? (Drum roll, please...)

"She is more righteous than I am," said Judah. (Genesis 38:26). She's in the right here. And back when I had the chance, I should have kept my word to her.

Um, say wha?

The Judah before this incident was a relatively self-absorbed man. He had a conscience but not strong character. The Judah after this incident was a man who selflessly defended people unable to defend themselves (Genesis 44:18–34).

Tamar's behavior may look cuckoo, but it was a first crack that began changing Judah from jerk status to…not so much. And that is a lot to accomplish when you have no power over anything at all—except your own mind and its discernment of truth.

A tip we can take from Tamar? Some propaganda might not be telling the truth. Even if it shows up in a should-be-trustworthy package otherwise known as Father Abraham's great grandson Judah.

The apostle Paul understood this. "Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn't God, for he is the one who called you to freedom." (Galatians 5:7–8)

Nobody's saying Tamar's behavior should be held up as a model for how to handle tough times. But Tamar's selling-her-body-on-the-roadside business does show us that real life is rough. And God honored her faith and her determination to do what she could.

Which means discernment might take more nerve than we thought.

Mark Twain made this point in his fictional depiction of Huck Finn and a runaway slave named Jim. While Huck and Jim headed for the northern states, Jim began talking about what he would do once he was free. His first plan of action? Buy his wife.

Buy his wife what?

No. Buy his wife. From her owner. Then he planned to scrimp and save to buy his children.

As the reader, we ache for the injustice that had indefensibly broken Jim's family and crushed Jim's dignity. However, Huck felt something else rising inside him as Jim spoke.

He actually felt that he should not help a slave.

He felt rotten and wrong for undermining the system of slavery.

And he did not like hearing someone like Jim break out of his stereotypical role and speak so...freely.

"Just see what a difference it made in (Jim) the minute he judged he was about free..." thought Huck distastefully. Huck made plans to turn Jim in.

Some long, honored traditions are not grounded in truth. But the long and honored parts of them make it very, very hard to discern our way out of their persuasiveness. Even for Huck, who hated being "sivilized" and considered himself free from honoring such traditions—cultural, religious, or otherwise.

Rejecting false truths should be a habit we start tackling at a young age, but I can see why we do not jam our VBS schedules with literary fillers like Huck or even Bible stories like Tamar. Her story is rough, for sure, and it forces us to discern a certain "s" word in a rather raw manner.

You know. Strength.

For some reason, strength is a tricky word. When Jim began speaking with strength and confidence about his plans for his own freedom, Huck said, "I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him."

Why did Jim's strength weaken Huck's discernment? Where was Huck's discernment?

Our earthly way of clinging to traditions, even bad ones, began to undermine Huck. However, when the time came, Huck did not give in to the deceptive propaganda of the day. Lucky for Jim.

Neither does God. Lucky for us.

For example, we can look at Jesus' lineage outlined in the book of Matthew. At a time in history and in a culture where women were not named in family trees, the Author of the Bible went another way. The list started out traditionally, then four dads in, God mentioned a mom: Tamar.

The poet Arsène Houssaye once said, "Tell me whom you love and I'll tell you who you are."

The God of this Bible loved Tamar.

He positioned Tamar's story to highlight her as an action-oriented, noteworthy person. Even though her behavior was graphic, God gave Tamar her place and her page. That should give us a clearer, more practical vision of who this God is.

Does it?

My trouble with discerning God starts with a phrase that goes something like this: I DON'T KNOW HOW. I look at Tamar's example and still struggle with how to specifically stand firm in my own walk of faith. But Tamar does not stand alone.

We have each other.

Something happens when we see others connecting to God and doing what he says do. They "...affirm that God is true" (John 3:33).

We are in this thing together. When any one of us stands firm in what we get from God, that firmness helps all of us discern the same in our own lives. It does not look like politics. Or trends. Or religion. It looks like Tamar. It looks like God's church.

Here's to our real-life schooling on "Discernment for Dummies." I'll sign up.

After you.


Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has managed marketing and media relations needs for various clients such as Microsoft, Wells Fargo and UPS.

March 6, 2014

You Are the Missing Link in Your Ministry

To make an impact with women, we have to be willing to connect on a personal level


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You spend hours in planning meetings, trying to put together wonderful events for the women
in your church with the hope of helping them live productive Christian lives. Yet time and again, they don’t show up. Your leaders have done all they can to get the women in church excited and nothing seems to be working. You’ve prayed and you’ve fasted and the only logical conclusion left is to dissolve women’s ministry altogether—after all, there’s no need to separate men and women; Jesus didn’t appoint a director of women’s ministry to assist him in feeding the five thousand.

In Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John C. Maxwell illustrates the points of success, which boil down to connection. How well we connect is the foundation that relationships are built on, and that includes relationships with our spouses, children, co-workers, business partners, and people in ministry. If we want to make an impact we have to be willing to connect on a personal level.

Something Is Missing

A while ago, I attended a church that produced weekly bulletin announcements for the congregation. I would often respond, with much anticipation, to requests for people to serve in women's ministry. However, my anticipation turned to aggravation while I waited for responses. I finally contacted the church secretary to find out why I was not hearing from anyone, and I was told it was due to the busyness of the year. Okay, I can certainly understand busy seasons at church; however, I was slightly confused as to why announcements were created, printed, and distributed if no one was prepared to respond to people interested in serving.

Communication gaps appear when we do not make ourselves available to people. I formed an opinion about this particular church as I felt they weren't compassionate, and my desire to participate in events, outside of regular service, began to fade. Jesus may not have appointed a women’s ministry director during his day, but he also did not sit in coordination meetings. He was often on his way somewhere when he was stopped by people who wanted prayer, healing, or deliverance, and he took the time to connect with them. Jesus blessed the woman caught in the act of adultery, he spoke to the woman at the well, he healed the woman crippled for 18 years, and he freed the woman of her 12-year issue of blood.

Social Media Taught Me a Few Things

As social media have grown, I have attempted to indulge in them myself. I have a Facebook account, and I recently started a blog and tried my hand at Twitter—again. I tried Twitter five times prior and each time deactivated the account because I did not understand how to use it. For this latest attempt, I decided to study the “how to” section Twitter offers to learn how to increase my followers. At the same time, I started a blog and decided to study the “how to” section as well—and to my complete surprise, both “how to” sections emphasized the same point: connection.

If I wanted my Twitter account to grow, I had to connect with others: re-tweet a great post and comment as well. Prior to my reading the “how to” on Twitter, I had a solid 49 followers for two weeks. After following the advice, within one week the number jumped to 130. That’s 81 more followers I can potentially reach with my ministry. I followed the same advice for my blog. I started reading other blogs and commenting specifically on what they wrote to inspire them and let them know they inspired me. Within one month I had more than 50 subscribers. Once I decided to reach out to others, I saw my ministry grow. Prior to this, I was sitting back waiting for everyone to comment on my wonderful blog and follow me on Twitter simply because I have a wonderful ministry.

It is my belief that the Lord prefers we not deactivate our ministries and instead learn how to bridge the gap. The Christian homeschool group of which I am a board member has weekly outings for kids and parents to socialize. On a recent outing at the playground, a mother I did not recognize arrived with her children, and I assumed the mother would join the group as we were seated directly in front of her. As I began chatting again, I spotted her sitting on the opposite side of the park—alone. Maybe she wasn’t there for our group, I thought, but I decided to walk over and ask. Turned out she was there to meet us; she was new to homeschooling and new to our group. I invited her to sit with us and introduced her to everyone, and before long she had begun conversing with others. Had I not been aware of her or gotten up to see if she was with our group, she more than likely would have left feeling very discouraged.

I am a very shy person, and had this incident occurred a few years earlier, I would have been too concerned with looking foolish and would not have reached out this mother. I would have decided that if she wanted to join us, she could make her way over to us. However, I now understand the importance of connecting as a leader and I put my feelings aside to reach out. We all have a desire to belong, and on that day this mother needed to belong. The women in your ministry would love for you to go out of your way for them to belong.

Leave a Legacy

In Leadership Is an Art, Max De Pree explains that the signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the women you’re serving reaching their potential? Are they learning, growing, serving, and graceful? If you’ve put forth the effort to connect, these questions can easily be answered. However, if you’re constantly behind a door not allowing anyone in, you should not be surprised by lack of participation. Events get planned based on great ideas or based on what another church is doing, instead of planning events based on the needs within the body. We are often doing all we can to pull women in, yet doing very little to put ourselves out. Enjoy an afternoon snack with women other than those in leadership, show support by attending their events, let them know about your journey with Christ—be vulnerable. Give them hope for their future.

You may have great vision for your ministry, but vision alone won't erect change. Vision met with passion for your women to live in victory will stimulate the benevolence missing in leadership. Jesus wasn't waiting for people to flock to his side; instead he was out walking—in the sun, in the dirt, up the hills, changing lives forever. He ate with sinners, touched the leprous, opened the eyes of the blind. He continuously put himself in position to connect with people so they could live in victory. When you demonstrate you care for your women, they will respond by caring for you. You will get to know their needs, and then God's ministry will grow.

Dream big and look beyond what you see right in front of you. The women’s ministry you lead will leave a legacy and it’s up to you what kind of legacy. Will it leave a legacy in which women feel depressed, discouraged, and hurt, never knowing how amazing Jesus is? Or will your ministry’s legacy be so powerful that souls are saved each week? Women will be sold out for Jesus: praying relentlessly for their husbands, friends, families, neighborhoods, cities, schools, government—so strong and powerful that the Lord comes and breaks the chains that once held people bound. All because of you and your willingness to step down from the leadership ladder to connect—and make a difference.


Saleama A. Ruvalcaba is a Memphis-based writer and speaker. She is a wife to Omar, mother of four, home educator and Bible student. She writes devotions on her blog at http://www.salruv7.com.

March 3, 2014

Soul Care, Part 2

An interview with Executive Director for Engage International, Mindy Caliguire

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What are the top three things women leaders need to know about soul care?

On thing is they just need to decide what they want. That may sound a little too simplistic, but a lot of times we think that spiritual formation, or living from a place of soul health, is going to require some radical change. And in some people’s lives maybe it would, but often the more radical change is inside us, declaring, I don’t want to live this way anymore. When we decide what we want, that unleashes all kinds of spiritual resources to help us solve it. It requires desire and vision well within reach of a woman leader.

The second thing is that it’s their responsibility. They’re not victims of their environment. I stayed in a victim place way too long, and I blamed everybody else for my pace of life, what was not working, etc. Some of us feel like everything is outside of our control or outside our power.

The third thing is that it changes constantly, at least in my life. There is not some fixed solution or prescription. For example, just the other day, something came up that made me think, Wow, that’s the kind of thing that I might devote some fasting to. I don’t think I’ve fasted in six years, whereas it was huge in some seasons of my life. So some things come and go as needed. Sometimes silence is a huge part of our life and then other times it’s very much about study or meditation, any number of things.

Can I add a fourth? I believe it has to involve community. I don’t know that we know who we are outside of that.

We sometimes actually contribute to one another’s decline rather than help one another care for our souls. How do women drain one another sometimes, and how can we turn that around and be life-giving to each other instead?

My friendships with women are how I stay the course. We can give life to one another in a variety of ways. What drains me is people who have no hope in God. Now, we all lose hope at times so it’s not like I want little bubbly-miss-whatever awkward person to constantly be in my face. What I mean by that is the sisterhood of those who have the kingdom perspective, whether it’s in hard and aching times or in awesome times. It’s really fun doing life with these women and I’m very blessed to have so many of them. We drain one another when we look to each other to be God instead of looking together to God. That’ll suck the life out of any relationship, man or woman. I mean, you don’t actually sit down with coffee and tell somebody, “I’d really prefer for you to be God for me today,” but when we act that way toward someone, that’s draining.

Now, how do we give life to one another? Just being for somebody else, celebrating their victories. Another way is if somebody’s being quite shallow, when you can’t lift a conversation higher than an earthly perspective, sometimes our gift to one another is to help lift each other’s sights to what’s actually going on, where God is at work.

Another way to give life to one another is to really pray for someone else. Pray for her ministry, for her leadership, for God’s anointing over her life, God’s favor over her work. Most of my deep friendships are marked by what I think of as a culture of prayer, which is how it becomes clear that God is really the third party any friendship. I find it life-giving when I’m at a speaking engagement and an hour before I’m ready to start, one of these women just sends me a text. She’s a huge leader in her own right and she’s sending, “Hey, just praying for God’s power to work through you tonight.”

Recognize that others need you. I’ve disappointed people, and probably missed opportunities because I was so stuck in my “Who am I to help her?” attitude. I certainly don’t advise anyone to inflict yourself on others, but see yourself as a minister, especially to the other women leaders around you. How can you put wind underneath her wings? How do you help draw her back to God? How do you help lift her sights?

Is there one practice of soul care that you would recommend to every woman in ministry?

There’s a Quaker writer named Thomas Kelly who wrote a book called A Testament of Devotion, and in it he describes what he calls “inward prayer.” It’s kind of a similar thing to the idea of practicing the presence of God, the brother Lawrence mentality.

Kelly wrote, “There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”

I think as women we are good at that. Good at multi-tasking, good at being present in the moment, but at a deeper level also usually processing something. How can we take that deeper level and more routinely reconnect with God in the moment? So as we are in a meeting, as we are making a decision, as we are crafting a hard email, as we are teaching, as we are doing what we are doing, how do we cultivate our soul’s ability to stay present to God, connected with God, aware of whatever God might be speaking into that moment, trusting that his will will be done. I say that to every leader, but I think for women in particular, it’s a wonderful discipline to be able to just tune that interior conversation quite directly to God and turn over to him the questions, the concerns, the gratitude, the worship.

That’s the one practice I would recommend. In a sense it doesn’t take any time but it takes all your time.

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