Laudable Linkage

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Are you enjoying the last few days of visiting with family, as we are? Or chasing end-of-year sales or gearing up to go back to work on Monday? If you have some leisure, these recent online finds have much good to share. Maybe one or two will pique your interest.

A few related to Christmas:

Handel’s—and Jennens’s—“Messiah“, HT to Challies. I didn’t know that Handel only wrote the music, not the words to his famous oratorio, “The Messiah.” Here’s a look at the man who wrote the libretto and why he did.

An Idaho boy married the girl he sent an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox to, HT to Laura. Sweet story!

Competing with Christmas? I like this idea of leveraging the “fun” aspects of the season rather than seeing them as a competition for the spiritual side.

Wise Men: Gentiles Who Sought the Savior. I enjoyed this look at the Magi, the reminder that salvation has always been available to Gentiles, and the contrast between the reaction of Jews and Gentiles at Christ’s birth. I was particularly intrigued by the “bookends” Chris pointed out in the gospels. For instance, myrrh was a gift brought to Jesus at His birth and ointment was poured on Him not long before His death; He was called the King of the Jews by the wise men but not called that again until the crucifixion. I had known those as separate facts but never thought of them as bookends.

When Love Is Hard to Give, and Harder to Receive.

A Weary Mom Rejoices. When the world seems too much, it’s good to rest in the only One who can do anything about it.

That Might Preach, But…it might be not accurate, or the main message of the text. HT to Challies. “In our desire to make Scripture ‘preachable’ we import uncertain meanings into the text, while ignoring glorious truths that are actually there.”

A Fragrant Offering, HT to Challies. “It is through our willingness to bear the sufferings of others that people will see Christ. As we do, we become a pleasing aroma to God and the ones we love. The prevailing aroma of Christ pours forth in and through us.”

Still Looking for That Better Country, HT to Challies. Really interesting perspective from a missionary living in a country she’s not a citizen of, comparing that to our living in the world yet being a citizen of heaven, warning herself against the settling-down that can take place as she comes to her own country.

To Serve God in Heaven Will Be a Great Reward, HT to Challies. I’ve often wondered about that phrase concerning serving God in heaven. “Service is a reward, not a punishment. This idea is foreign to people who dislike their work and only put up with it until retirement. We think that faithful work should be rewarded by a vacation for the rest of our lives. But God offers us something very different…”

‘Advertising breaks your spirit’: the French cities trying to ban public adverts, HT once again to Challies. Yes! I can’t condone public vandalism in the name of stopping advertisements, but I agree with pushing back against being assaulted by advertising in every nook and cranny.

And finally, interesting footage of a seagull who stole someone’s GoPro. I’m amazed the owner got it back!

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest round-up of noteworthy reads:

Lies That Keep Women from the Word: Busyness Is Not the Problem, HT to True Woman. “Imagine if you thought that in order for a green bean to nourish you, you had to eat it in a calm place with nice lighting and no kids. What if a shower cleaned you only when you had a journal on hand to write about it? Or what if toothpaste worked only in Instagrammable moments?” Silly, yet we do the same thing with Bible reading. Good stuff here.

A Different Kind of Christmas List. Doing all the things leaves us exhausted. Choose the ones that mean the most to you and your family.

The Christmas Rush. From the first Christmas to now, people rush by the most important aspect of Christmas.

Someone Needs to See You Suffer Well. “Don’t assume your suffering is a detour. Suffering may hinder or even halt a hundred things in our lives, but God loves to use our griefs to magnify our small visions of him. And suffering makes the gospel run with a pace unknown in prosperity.”

Some Kids Barely Survive Christmas: Celebrating the Son with Special Needs. “Special needs can isolate families. When a child’s sensitivities preclude even a routine trip to the grocery store, the usual avenues of fellowship — birthday parties, baby showers, church-wide dinners — become unfeasible. But love and fellowship from other believers, offered without judgment, can provide parents a cool cup of water as they labor through arid terrain.”

The Humility of the Given Self. Wise words on sacrifice and humility in motherhood, but applicable to all of us who are task-oriented.

Why Did God Give My Kids a Sick Mom? HT to True Woman. “For mothers struggling with chronic pain, fatigue, physical or mental illness, our inabilities can be soul-crushing. . . . We want our kids to see us smile, even though it’s hard. . . . Whether or not you’ve struggled with significant illness, we all have seasons when we worry we don’t have enough to give to our children. And we can all be encouraged that God has good purposes for us and our children in every season.”

From Girl Power Strong to the Right Kind of Strong. HT to True Woman. “The Bible’s concept of weak and strong doesn’t line up with culture’s. This is especially the case when it comes to ideas about womanhood.”

And for a Christmas smile:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest collection of thought-provoking posts:

Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims Worship the Same God? HT to Challies.

When You’re Tempted to Hate People, Part 10. Aspects of God’s forgiveness that we don’t often think about: He knows whether our repentance is sincere and He knows we’re going to fall again in the same way, yet still forgives.

For Childhood Fears, Bible Memory is Not Enough. “Did you notice how God doesn’t just speak to the mind, but also to the imagination?”

Exactly Where I Need to be When I Need to Be There. “Recently the Lord took a frustrating situation that tested my patience and reminded me my timing and priorities are different than His and that He often places me exactly where I need to be when I need to be there.”

The Importance Of Doing What Anyone Could Do, HT to Challies. “It’s a good thing for all of us that people have developed these skills. It’s also true that the world is always in need of the non-specialised abilities that all of us are capable of using: Love. Friendship. Shared time. A listening ear. A hard day’s work. Loyalty. Respect.”

Embodying Masculinity in a World that Rejects It.

A Writer’s Evening Prayer.

Getting Your Digital Accounts Ready in Case of Death, HT to Challies.

101 Fun Fall Activities for Kids, HT to the Story Warren.

Finally, someone posted this on Facebook. I couldn’t figure out who originally made it to give them credit, but it made me smile.

Happy Saturday!

Faithful in Obscurity

Many years ago, our former pastor preached a series of messages about Jesus’s 12 disciples. Several concentrated on Peter, naturally: he’s the one who is mentioned most often in the gospels and Acts and who also wrote two books himself. James and John, with Peter, made up the closest inner circle. We have memorable and telling scenes in the gospels with Matthew (aka Levi), Nathanael (also called Bartholomew), Philip, Andrew, and Thomas. And, of course, much could be observed about Judas. But there are several about whom we know little except their names and the fact that they were chosen of Jesus and were there in all the situations that involved the twelve.

My pastor pointed out that one lesson we can learn from them is faithfulness in obscurity. Their names might not be the ones everyone remembers: in fact, theirs might be the hardest to come up with in a trivia challenge. But they had their purposes and their duties.

Sometimes God has us “in the background” for a season. I’ve just been reading the first few chapters of 1 Samuel was was struck by how often it’s said that “Samuel was ministering before the Lord” or “Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man” in contrast with Eli’s wicked sons. His time of more public ministry came later, and I’m sure he had no idea how far-reaching it would be. But he faithfully served God whether in the background or the limelight. Paul spent three years in Arabia, a section of his life we know little about, before becoming well-known.

Sometimes we’re in obscurity because our mission is to be the help and support behind the one out in front. Perhaps you’ve heard mention of Mr. Edward D. Kimball, perhaps not, but he is the Sunday School teacher who led D. L. Moody to the Lord. From what I have read of him, he faithfully served in that capacity for years, and his ministry in the life of each of his students is as valuable as the one that resulted in a world-famous evangelist. John Newton’s mother was only able to influence her son for Christ for under seven years before she died. But God took the seed sown, watered it, and brought it to fruition years later. I read once where C. H. Spurgeon credited much of the success of his ministry to those who prayed for him behind the scenes.

Some experience a time of seeming obscurity after a wide and public ministry. Philip experienced quite a successful ministry in the city of Samaria, but he was just as faithful and just as useful when called to speak to one man on a desert road. Amy Carmichael had a very busy ministry in India when an accident left her an invalid for the last several years of her life. She might have felt more obscure and less useful, but God used her writings after that time to influence multitudes for years to come. Paul, as well, might have felt pretty obscure in a Roman prison after years of missionary journeys and preaching to crowds, but what we know as the prison epistles were born in that scenario. As Elisabeth Elliot said, our limitations don’t hinder our ministry: they define our ministry.

But probably the great majority of us are like those few disciples in the background. Our name isn’t meant for the spotlight. Maybe we couldn’t handle it. Maybe that’s just not where God wants us to be. People might not ever see or know what we do. But God does. Faithfulness to Him and whatever ministry He has called us to are what matters.

Though this isn’t a post primarily about blogging, some years ago a blogging friend wrote of something that has stayed with me all these years. She was struggling with the desire for more readers. But God helped her with the concept of “feeding those at the table”: being faithful to those who were within her reach and trusting Him with the size of the audience.

In what we call “the parable of the talents,” different people were given different amounts of the master’s money to steward. We’re not told why different ones had different amounts. But the person with only three wasn’t to covet the ten given to another: he was to faithfully invest what was entrusted to him.

It’s not necessarily wrong to seek a wider audience, especially when we’re trying to convey truth and encouragement. And it’s wrong to avoid a larger sphere of ministry if that’s what God is calling us to. But we’re to be faithful whether we’re ministering to few or many, whether our opportunities are wide or seemingly narrow. What matters is doing whatever we do as unto Him, and “thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:4, 6).

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday)

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Laudable Linkage

Its been another good week with some thought-provoking posts to ponder:

Open Roof Hospitality. Very convicting to me. If I had been the lady of the house whose roof was being torn up so people could bring their paralytic friend to Jesus, my first emotion would not have been gratitude and joy, I’m sure.

Pressing In To the Ungrateful.

Is It Possible For Christians to Idolize the Bible?

Seven Questions to Ask Before Having a Difficult Conversation.

The 3-Second Pause That Can Save a Morning and Spare Some Pain.

Six Observations About Speaking to Pastors Right Before They Preach. Although these are especially true for pastors for obvious reasons, many of them hold true for anyone. Once when my husband was the head usher in a very tightly packed church and was trying to find seats for people right before the service, someone who was also a neighbor chose that moment to tell him that he thought the lawn mower that we often let him borrow had been stolen. Hard to concentrate on anything in the service after that. 🙂

The Do Not Depart site has been focusing this month on what we can learn from the lives of Godly Women: Inspiring Stories of Faithful Daughters, mostly from the past. You know how much I love biographies, so I have enjoyed this series. So far they’ve shared from the lives of Corrie ten Boom, Susanna Wesley, Elisabeth Elliot, Helen Roseveare, Harriet Tubman, and Monica of Hippo (Augustine’s mother).

I saw this on Facebook and thought it rang very true. 🙂

Sports

The bad weather that was forecast for last night did not happen, yay! Have a wonderful Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here are some good reads from the last week:

On Homosexuality: It’s OK to Fight. Quote: “I had to believe either my feelings were lying to me or God was.”

She Yelled and Called Me Names. Neat story of one woman’s reaction to such a scenario.

Serving in Church: When Your Spiritual Gift Isn’t Changing Diapers.

A Beautiful Mess. God can use us despite our imperfections.

Caring For the Caregiver. All of these will not be needed by every caregiver, and definitely ask before jumping in, but there are some good ideas here.

The Case For Good Taste in Children’s Books.

She Chose Grace when a potential daughter-in-law wasn’t what she was expecting.

Pharisees and Fundamentalists. Are they the same? No, and Layton Talbert, whose books I have reviewed here, and whose scholarship, tact, and balance I greatly respect, points out the differences and the main problems of Phariseeism.

And a few on writing:

Be You.

Nurture the Heart of Your Story.

Squelch the Naysayers.

This is a neat story about someone who did the right thing when he didn’t realize anyone was watching:

And, for a couple of “Awwww” moments:

From the aptly named Cute Overload site, a baby panda meets its mom for the first time. The photos below the video of the baby panda are adorable.

And I saw this at Susanne‘s: a fireman rescues a kitten.

A news clip about it is here.

Happy Saturday!

Myths and Maxims of Ministry

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Recently a friend told me that she was somewhat overwhelmed with the details of a particular ministry she had started and had trouble finding joy in it until she reminded herself of the reason she began it in the first place. That got me to thinking about some of the misconceptions I had about ministry over the years, and  I thought I’d share some of those here. I’m not talking about “the” ministry: the paid professional, full-time minister of some sort, though some of these may apply there as well, but rather I am talking about the average Christian who participates in some ministry and then gets dismayed with it.

Here were some of my faulty assumptions:

1. Since this is being done for the Lord, everything should go smoothly. I can picture some of you smiling. Though I don’t see the devil behind every little problem, we do have an active enemy behind the scenes, and we do live in a fallen world where things break down and problems occur. The icemaker doesn’t know it’s in a church and shouldn’t fall apart just before a banquet that has been planned for months (just one of my “things gone wrong” scenarios.) The microphone makes an excruciating noise just as the soloist steps up, the babysitter forgot she should be there, etc. etc. It just happens.

2. Since we’re all Christians here, we should all agree on how everything should be done. If you read through the book of Acts, you see that the early church leaders had to hammer some things out. Even Barnabas and Paul had a major disagreement, causing them to part ways (and the Bible doesn’t really say who was right and who was wrong there. Some have faulted Paul for not being gracious, but maybe John Mark needed to know how serious his previous failure was. At any rate, they all reconciled later and God used it to multiply the number of people sent out). Leaders should not expect a panel of “yes men” (or woman), no one should be oversensitive about their proposals or ideas, we should all be open to differing opinions but be prepared to stand firm when something needs to be done a certain way.

3. Since we’re all Christians here, we should all have the best attitudes and act in an exemplary way. We should. But we don’t. We’re sinners. That’s not an excuse, but it is a truth. We fail. We disappoint each other. We display selfishness. We need to react to each other with grace, remembering our own faults and failures and need for grace. We might get our feelings hurt, but we need to take it to the Lord: we might need to go to the other person and let them know and try to explain and apologize to each other, or we might need to just let it go, but what we should not do is get bitter and drop out of church or avoid that person forevermore.

4. I should always feel joyful in my ministry. There are times when we get bogged down in details, feel overwhelmed, get tired of it, just don’t enjoy it, wish we hadn’t signed up, etc. And if we think about it a minute, we can feel that way in other areas of life as well. We don’t always respond to our loved ones with love and joy, though we want to and strive and pray for help to. We can get bogged down in the daily duties at home and get irritable about them instead of lovingly ministering to our families. A lack of joy in a ministry may be an indication it’s time to make changes, but more often than not it just means we’re human and, like my friend at the beginning, need to remind ourselves of why we’re doing what we’re doing and for whom we’re doing it. And I usually find that the joy comes not before or even during a task, but afterward.

5. If God calls me to do something, I should always feel sufficient for it. I have found just the opposite to be true. Usually, like Moses, I feel insufficient for it even before I start, but sometimes even if I am asked to do something that I feel God has equipped me for, there is always a point where I feel overwhelmed (I mean locked in the bathroom crying type of overwhelmed). But that’s a good place to be, because that’s when we learn by experience and not just principle that His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

6. If this ministry is in God’s will, there should be plenty of people willing to help with it.  Not necessarily. A lot of ministries end up being understaffed because others don’t catch the vision or feel just too busy. Once when I needed to round up some helpers for a particular endeavor, I asked someone who looked to me like she’d have time, but she didn’t feel she did. Then another lady whom I would never have asked because she had so much on her plate volunteered. You just never know, but instead of getting frustrated, just pray about whom to ask. In some cases, it might need to be laid aside until enough people get burdened for it. Once when we were part of a Christian homeschooling ministry, the lady who had started it had her seventh child and just could not carry on with it. We went without it for a year, and then several ladies volunteered to take it up again, breaking it into more manageable pieces for each one rather than having the whole thing on one person’s shoulders. Praying for laborers isn’t restricted to the mission field.

Those are some myths, or misconceptions. Here are the maxims, which will overlap a bit with the above.

1. Something will go wrong, some times worse than others, no matter how well you plan. Take it patiently and pray for wisdom about what to do. God’s given me some marvelous ideas right in the midst of a crisis. And on the other side, if a lady comes tearing out of the church asking you if you’d be willing to go buy some ice because the icemaker  stopped working and the banquet starts in half an hour and 100 ladies are coming — please don’t act grumpy and displeased and take 20 minutes to get going (yes, that happened). You don’t know what a balm you can be for someone in the throes of a major problem. And if you come to an event and it’s starting late, don’t be critical: you never know what has happened behind the scenes.

2. Disagreements will occur no matter how much you prayed beforehand. But don’t just dismiss them: sometimes they are God’s way of showing you an aspect you may not have thought of. Even if you can’t make a change and do what the other person suggested, you can make sure they feel heard and respond graciously.

3. You won’t always feel like doing whatever it is you’ve agreed to do. Pray for grace and do it anyway. You’ll probably feel better about it afterward.

4. Realize you can’t do it on your own. Jesus said, “without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5b), but “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

5. People will fail you. They failed Jesus, too. We have failed Him and others. We may need to discuss the specific matter with the person involved as part of their growth and training, but we also need to forgive as we have been forgiven.

6. People will surprise you with sometimes with their willingness to pitch in and help, to support you, to do what needs to be done, to have a great idea just when you can’t think any more, to say a word of encouragement to edify you.

7. Ministry will stretch you. If we never venture out of our comfort zones, we’ll never grow. It’s scary, but we can find God meeting us in our need and providing in the most wonderful ways when we let Him stretch us.

8.Get adequate rest before or in the midst of extra-busy or pressured times.

9. Delegate. Easier said than done sometimes, but pray not only for helpers, but the right helpers. Be prepared that they might not do everything just the way you would and pray for wisdom about when to insist on something being done a certain way and when to go with the flow.

10. Sometimes it is best to say no or step down. A principle instilled in me early on is not to say “no” unless I’ve prayed about it. But sometimes the answer should be No, and sometimes the desire to step down from the ministry is from the Lord. I don’t know how to tell you five easy steps to discern that, but as you walk with the Lord, He’ll show you. Don’t throw in the towel at the first sign of weariness or problems, but take it to Him to see whether he wants you to lean on Him more to carry on, or whether He wants you to make way for someone else to step in.

11. There is nothing like seeing God provide strength and ideas and and even tiny barely-significant details that make you marvel at His attention and care.

12. There is nothing like being used of God (which is what ministry comes down to: allowing God to work through you in some way to minister to another). When someone lets you know that they were blessed or instructed or encouraged through some small thing you said or did, and you know it was only through His grace that it was accomplished, it rejoices your heart, encourages your faith, and spurs you to minister for Him even more. And even if no one else notices, you can be sure that God does.

13. We’re all called to ministry. We may not be a part of an official ministry within the church, but all those who know God are called to minister to one another, to exercise the spiritual gifts He has given, whether in an official church-based capacity or just quietly behind the scenes.

14. Keep first things first. Like Martha, we can be “cumbered about much serving,” “careful and troubled about many things,” and forget the one needful thing: fellowshipping with our Savior. Serving is no substitute for engaging with Him, getting to know Him better, growing in love for Him, believing in Him. Sometimes weariness in service is an indication we’re off track just here.

A beloved former pastor, Jesse Boyd, once said:

Worship without service is a hollow farce.
Service without worship is a hectic fervor.
But worship which issues in service is a holy force.

There is much more that can be said about ministry: there are whole books written on the subject. But I hope some of these thoughts help encourage you in your ministry for the Lord.

What have you learned about ministry along the way?

Other posts about ministry here at Stray Thoughts:

Am I Doing Any Good?
Women in Ministry.
Why Older Women Don’t Serve.
How Older Women Can Serve.
God’s Help for God’s Assignment.
Whose life is it, anyway?
Mentoring Women.
Church Ladies’ Groups.

This post will be also linked to  Women Living Well.

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