Is Your Church a Hugging Church?

I started the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, which as Pastor Rick Warren describes . . . “We’re a hugging church.” So I knew that women attending one of our Woman to Woman Mentoring Orientation Coffees would need welcoming from a “Greeter/Hugger” at the front door.

Some churches starting the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry question the need for a Greeter/Hugger, until they have an experience similar to the church who shared this story with me:

A helper offered to be the Greeter/Hugger at our Orientation Coffee, but she couldn’t hug a stranger so she would shake hands. We aren’t a hugging church, but since we were following your Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry Coordinator’s Guide where you stress the importance of having a Greeter/Hugger, we decided we would have her help in another area and find someone who would hug the women as they arrived. Then during the sharing time, one woman said she was a newlywed, and shortly after their wedding, her husband deployed overseas. The hug she received from the Greeter/Hugger was her first hug in eighteen months, and that hug assured her the mentoring ministry was just where the Lord wanted her. After the Coffee, the helper who said she couldn’t hug strangers, said she would be the Greeter/Hugger at our next Orientation Coffee.

How Did Church Members Greet Each Other in Jesus’s Day?

God’s design for the church was for believers to be family. Jesus made that clear in Mark 3:31-35:

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

We often refer to ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, and some churches still call each other “brother _______” and “sister _______,” but most have dropped the use of this familiar term, maybe to a detriment. Families hug each other in greeting, so it shouldn’t seem strange for brothers and sisters in Christ to greet each other with a hug.

The early church actually went a step beyond a hug and greeted fellow believers with a kiss. This wasn’t a romantic kiss, but one like Europeans or relatives give to each other, maybe on the cheek. When Paul sent letters to the churches, this is how he told them to greet each other . . .

“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.” Romans 16:16

“All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” 1 Corinthians 16:20

“Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss.” 1 Thessalonians 5:26

Peter also said, “Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” 1 Peter 5:14

Why Don’t All Churches Hug Today?

I asked several people if they had a time of greeting in their church, and if so, was it shaking hands or hugging. One man replied that there was greeting prior to the service and if you had a relationship with someone you might hug them, but if there had been some animosity or misunderstanding, you wouldn’t want to hug that person. I thought that was interesting since this is church we’re talking about! But then I had a disagreement with someone, and it was hard to hug that person until we resolved it.

When my husband and I travel and attend churches, we notice that sometimes we’re the only people hugging. One church we attend regularly, the pastor sticks out his hand to shake my husband Dave’s hand, and as Dave gives him a hug, the Pastor laughs and says, “Oh yes, you’re the hugger.”

I don’t remember that many people hugging when we first started attending our small mountain community church where we live now, unless they were already friends, but now everyone hugs! I’m so used to hugging people, I once hugged our new neighbor, and I barely knew her. It just seemed like the welcoming thing to do, although she did seem a little surprised, I did it without thinking . . . because I’m a hugger.

Admittedly, some people are extremely private and don’t like people invading their space. They’re uncomfortable hugging, especially if they don’t know you. I’ve never had anyone take inappropriate advantage of hugging in church, but I suppose that could happen too. And it’s important to caution children to be leery of anyone they don’t know hugging them inappropriately, and be sure your church has a vetting process for everyone working in youth and children’s ministry.

Here are hugging etiquette considerations if you’re a hugger like me, but not sure how the other person feels about hugging:

  1. If it’s a first meeting/greeting, shake hands, especially with the opposite sex.
  2. After several meetings, try a side hug. If you feel resistance or tenseness, return to handshakes.
  3. Be open. Explain that you’re a hugger, and ask if they’re OK with a hug in greeting and honor their wishes.

If you’re uncomfortable with hugs, that’s OK. Don’t feel badly or that you have to explain. A bright smile, and kind, friendly greeting speaks volumes.

“An honest answer is like a warm hug.” Psalm 24:26 The Message

What are your thoughts on giving hugs during greeting time at church?

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5 Ways to Have a God-Glorifying Small Group

Last week as I was shutting down my computer, I noticed a Facebook tag from my dear friend and fellow author/speaker, Pam Farrel. Pam leads a group called Seasoned Sisters, and you’ll be able to read all about how she started this mentoring group for women going through midlife in my new book Mentoring For All Seasons when it releases in September this year! Pam shares in it several stories about being mentored and being a mentor during transition seasons of her life.

Several months ago, Pam told me her Seasoned Sisters group wanted to read and discuss my latest book that Pam endorsed, Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten. They purchased the books, and then I got a message from her that more women wanted to join the group as the word got out how much they were enjoying my book. You know how this encouraged me and warmed my heart since my vision for Forsaken God? was for Christians to make a change for God in our culture by simply remembering how good God has been to them in their own lives. There are discussion questions after each chapter for group study, and the book isn’t just for women: it’s for all Christians!

So back to last week’s Facebook tag. Pam was meeting with her Seasons Sisters and they sent me a live video to say “Hi” and tell me what Forsaken God? has meant to them. Several comments: “Very timely! I don’t want to watch the news; I just want to read this book.” “Forsaken God? will put the headlines in perspective and give you God’s view.” Here’s the short video for you to watch yourself.

One woman said she had given the book to a waitress. I was blessed and encouraged. If you read last week’s blog post 10 Ways to Change Our Culture, you know my heart for motivating Christians to take a stand for God in their sphere of influence. I’m praying some of you thought there was at least one way you would apply to your life.

The Value of Small Groups / Bible Study Groups / Life Groups

Small groups or Bible study groups or life groups, whatever your church calls them, are the perfect place to mature in your faith and encourage each other to take your faith public, as we’re told to do in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

My husband and I met in a small group at Saddleback Church. He was the co-leader of a business group that included men, women, couples, and singles. It was my first experience in a small group, but Dave and I have been leading small groups and support groups (such as Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter) ever since. Sometimes we lead together, other times he might lead a men’s group and I’ll lead a women’s group. We’ve led groups at a mega church like Saddleback, and at the small church in the mountain community where we now live. Our favorite groups are couples groups.

Like every small group, some of our groups ran smoothly with everyone committed, and others had problems that we had to address for the good of the group. Here are five key areas where God taught us through trial and error how to have a small group that glorifies Him and enriches the spiritual life of all the group members.

  1. Create a safe place with confidentiality – Do members of your group feel like the group is a safe place where they can share openly without condemnation, criticism, or worrying that what they say will leave the group?

Prayer time can unintentionally become a gossip session. Members should feel confident that prayer requests or comments made during the meetings are not discussed outside of the group, without permission from all individuals involved.

Spouses should not share stories about each other without receiving permission, whether or not their spouse is present. To keep the group accountable in this area, when a spouse starts to talk about his or her spouse, the leader can say something like, “That sounds like a hubby [or wife] story. Hubby [or wife], do you want us to hear this?” And if he or she says no, then nix the story.

  1. Don’t Try to Fix Each Other – Are members trying to solve each other’s problems or give unsolicited advice?

Members shouldn’t try to speak into each other’s life unless asked to do so. Often a member just wants to share a difficult situation and is solely looking for compassion, understanding, and prayer. The group should listen respectfully, and possibly offer constructive and empathetic comments from their own experience, as long as those thoughts are biblically sound, and above all, encouraging. No quick fixes or “you shoulds.”

Sometimes members with difficult issues can dominate the entire meeting and that might be appropriate if someone is in an immediate crisis. But if this becomes a pattern, the leader/facilitator gently suggests that the member might benefit from speaking with pastors at the church or offer to talk privately and pray with him or her after the group.

  1. Set Clear Expectations and Request Commitment – Is everyone committed and giving priority to meetings and communicating in advance when they aren’t going to attend? Do all members have clear expectations of what they’re going to receive from the study, and are they in concert with the group?

Will it be a social fellowship group vs. a Bible study group, or a combination of the two?

Commitment and making meetings a high priority is imperative. Members shouldn’t have an “I’ll-be-there-if-I-can” attitude. Your goal is to become a spiritual family growing and doing life together, respectful of each other’s time and efforts.

There’s nothing more discouraging as a leader than to prepare for the group and then start receiving the phone calls and emails, often at the last minute, that members aren’t coming. One way to share the commitment and ownership of the group is to pass the facilitating of the group among the members. So it’s not always a leader/members group, but a group with everyone having a part in facilitating the meetings.

Make sure you have a group covenant that clearly states the purpose of the group and allow everyone an opportunity to express his or her expectations. This is also a good place to reemphasize confidentiality and commitment expectations.

  1. Maintain Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit—Do you spend enough time in the Word and let the Holy Spirit lead or are you rushing through studies to reach a goal?

Regardless of the focus or purpose of the group, everyone must be reading from the Bible every meeting. Members need to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer during the meetings and during the week for spiritual growth to occur.

It’s important to end at the agreed expected time so people can plan, but don’t be overly concerned how much material is covered each meeting. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and expose just the right discussion for growth in everyone’s life.

  1. Encourage Active Group Participation – Is everyone doing his or her outside study material between meetings and participating in the discussion? Do some people never talk and others do all the talking?

It’s important for the health and growth of the group that everyone comes prepared if there is homework or reading between meetings, and that each member has an opportunity to participate in discussion.

A good way to engage people who tend to be quiet is to ask them to read a Scripture, and if it applies to a study question, that’s an open door to read their answer. Or to prevent them from feeling pressured to respond first, after some initial group discussion on the question, the leader/facilitator can invite their input. These suggestions also are effective in preventing the group from relying on the same group members for answers and discussion.

Small groups are vital to the spiritual growth and maturity of a church congregation, whether the church is large or small. It’s easy to get lost in a large church and not feel accountable, but a small group makes a big church small. In a small church, like where we are right now, small groups expand the ministry and teaching during the week and can make a small church seem like a large extended family.

What other things have you found to be a problem and/or helpful in keeping your small group effective and maturing together in Christ?

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All my books have discussion questions for groups. I’ve also written a Face to Face Bible Study Series for women. There are seven in the series and each one is a perfect length for summer study. Or there’s a First Place 4 Heath Bible study God’s Best for Your Life.

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What Does It Mean to “Love Your Neighbor” During an Election or Anytime

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

While walking and praying this past week, the Lord put Matthew 22:36-40 on my heart and impressed on me to write a blog post tying it into the November 8, 2016 election. I wrestled with the thought and wondered if He really meant I should write it after the election, when some might be reading this post happy and others upset about the results. I’ve been vocal on social media, trying to encourage Christians to take a stand for the conservative Republican platform in the election and imploring everyone to look at platforms not personalities of the two candidates. One person said she tried not to take a particular side, but to follow “Love your neighbor.” There it was again. I’ve learned that when God really wants me to do something, He doesn’t let up until I get it.

I thought about how often this verse is taken out of context instead of the complete, “Love your neighbor, as yourself.” It’s sometimes used in chastisement or even as a rationalization for accepting sin.

What Does the Greatest Commandment Say About “Love”?

Matthew 22:36-40 says the first thing we’re to do is love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and soul—love His Word and His ways more than anything else in the world! Everything in us strives to please God first: honor the way He wants us living with a pure heart and mind as the Holy Spirit indwells our soul. God’s standards . . . His Word and His Ways . . . govern every decision and choice we make, every thought we allow in our mind . . . yes, every vote.

Then the second commandment is like it . . . we do the same thing with our neighbor . . . but we don’t just love our neighbor, we love our neighbor as ourselves . . . the same self that loves God with all our mind, heart, and soul. We don’t love our neighbor by the world’s words and ways, but by God’s Word, His Ways, and the Holy Spirit.

Thus the cultural rub. When Christians apply the world’s definition of “love your neighbor” . . . tolerate your neighbor’s sin, just love on them or you’re judging them . . . we aren’t loving our neighbor as ourselves or according to God’s Word, His Ways, and the Holy Spirit. Consequently, many Christians “love their neighbors” straight into hell, without ever telling them about heaven. Not loving or caring about them enough to go to the hard places of talking about good and evil, sin, repentance, forgiveness, and eternal life with Jesus.

The most loving thing any Christian can do is tell someone about Jesus and share the Gospel.

Love them enough to tell about eternity in heaven and the reality of hell.

Meet them where they’re at, but don’t leave them there.

Aren’t you glad someone stepped out of his or her comfort zone to tell you about Jesus and help you make changes in your life and ask Jesus for forgiveness? I am. Otherwise, none of us would be Christians today. I would still be wallowing in my backslidden life if Greg Laurie had not loved a whole group of “neighbors” and asked us “Are you ready to die tonight?”

Christians shouldn’t just love ourselves to heaven, we should love our neighbors to heaven too!

How Did Jesus Love His Neighbor?

For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 1So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:5-11 NLT

It’s not easy confronting someone with their sin, but when we don’t, we’re condoning it. We do need to establish a relationship first, then share the Gospel and help them confront their sin, ask for forgiveness, and change their ways. Three biblical examples of Jesus loving his neighbor and introducing them to Himself come to mind.

  • When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He asked her for a drink (relationship); He told her about living water and eternal life (shared the Gospel); asked about her husband and she admitted she had no husband (confession). He told her he knew she had had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband (confronted her sin). He didn’t send her back home to live with her boyfriend, He told her the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). She became the first woman evangelist, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ (John 1:4-42)
  • To the woman caught in adultery who he rescued from being stoned to death, He didn’t say: Well they’re all sinners too, we all sin, so no big deal. I don’t condemn you so just be more careful next time. He told her “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-15)
  • Zacchaeus was a fraudulent tax collector. When Jesus saw him he said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Relationship) People were upset at Jesus for going to a “sinner’s” house, but Zacchaeus realized his sin (confronted with sin, he repented) and “Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house.’” (Luke 19:1-10). Salvation not just to Zacchaeus, but to everyone in the house . . . you know Jesus shared the Gospel while he ate with them.

I wrote a blog post that might help with Balancing Grace and Truth.

What Does Love Your Neighbor Have to Do with the Election?

two-platforms

So how does this all tie into the election? Let’s look at the top five moral issues of two completely different political platforms that clearly delineate God’s way versus the world’s way—two different Americas. Ask yourself is this what it means to “love my neighbor like myself?” Is this what I want for myself . . . my family . . .  my neighbor? Is this what God wants for His people, for America?

A Christian can’t straddle the line between the two platforms. You must take a stand for right versus wrong, good versus evil. Some “neighbors” will listen and some like the “progressive liberal atheist” lesbian couple supporting Clinton who told me they want to spend eternity in hell together, or the atheist supporting Clinton who would not answer my question asking if she knows where she will spend eternity—will not listen.

If you love your neighbor enough to hope that someday he or she will know Jesus and be in eternity with you, then you must choose the platform that will allow you to freely share the love of Jesus with your neighbor. As I look at these platforms, it’s clear to me there’s only one choice. If you’re reading this after election day, admittedly it’s going to be harder, but we still must honor Matthew 22:36-40.

  1. Sanctity of human life

Democratic

Democrats seek to repeal the 1976 Hyde Amendment so that federal funds can be used to pay for abortions. The platform says, “We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers.” Democrats support ratification of UN efforts that affirm “the reproductive rights of women” globally.

Republican
The GOP asserts the sanctity of human life and affirms,The unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed.” The party supports a Human Life Amendment making clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth, and it salutes states that require informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods and clinic regulation.

Question: Did God mean that loving your neighbor should give them the right to murder their unborn baby He created?

  1. Marriage

Democratic
Democrats applaud last year’s Supreme Court ruling that “LGBT people—like other Americans—have the right to marry the person they love.”

Republican
The GOP platform condemns the Supreme Court’s rulings that removed the ability of Congress and the people to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The GOP urges the reversal of those decisions, whether through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment.

Question: Did God mean that loving your neighbor should redefine marriage to include same-sex marriage?

  1. Religious freedom—Acknowledging God

Democratic
The Democratic platform says: “We support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate.” The party opposes a religious test to bar immigrants or refugees from entering the country.

Republican
Republicans affirm that religious freedom in the Bill of Rights protects the right of the people to practice their faith in their everyday lives. The platform endorses the First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect faith-based institutions and individuals from government discrimination.

Question: Did God mean that loving your neighbor should condone and legalize sin forcing pastors to perform gay marriages or be punished as we’ve seen with bakers, florists, photographers; students shouldn’t be allowed to use God’s name or Scripture in commencement speeches; Christian businesses like Hobby Lobby should be forced to pay for abortions?

  1. Federal Judges

Democratic
The platform says: “We will appoint judges who defend the constitutional principles of liberty and equality for all, and will protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.”

Republican
The GOP platform states: “A critical threat to our country’s constitutional order is an activist judiciary that usurps powers properly reserved to the people through other branches of government.” The GOP supports the appointment of justices and judges who respect the constitutional limits on their power and respect the authority of the states.

Question: Did God mean that loving your neighbor should allow unrighteous judges to make laws beyond their constitutional limits that enforce and legalize sin?

  1. Israel and Jerusalem

Democratic
The platform states: “We will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel. … While Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

Republican
Republicans express “unequivocal support for Israel,” pointing out that it is the only Middle Eastern country with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The GOP recognizes “Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state.” The party opposes the U.N.’s treatment of Israel as a pariah state.

Question: Did God mean that loving your neighbor would mean that America should aid the enemies of our ally and God’s chosen people of Israel?

These five platform issues came from Billy Gramham.org Democratic and Republican Party Platforms. More issues are described on their website.

I hope you take the time to read the platforms before you vote and don’t get caught up in the media rhetoric, because the answers to the above questions will be what we live with in the future, and depending on the results of the election, every believer must remember:

In God we trust, not in man or woman.

You can still make a difference. The article I wrote for Crosswalk.com might be helpful You Don’t Have to Make Movies or Get Elected to Change Culture.

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5 Tactics Satan Uses to Invade Your Church

churches015

Twenty years ago, when the Lord led me to start the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry, I left the business world to go into full-time lay ministry. It was a delightful surprise to discover people would donate their time without expecting payment in return. I expected it to be easy leading Christian team members who would all agree and serve willingly and peacefully.

It was a crushing blow realizing that Christians don’t all agree and get along peacefully, and many of the same divisive issues I encountered in the business world, prevail in the church. I had much to learn and pray about as a ministry leader, and it still disturbs me. The enemy tried to invade and destroy Woman to Woman Mentoring, but praise God it’s still going strong in thousands of churches around the world today. But I had to learn how to identify the divisive tactics of the enemy and how to fight against him. I went straight to the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18, where versus 10-12 instruct Christians to . . .

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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.

Ephesians 6:17 says the only weapon we have against Satan’s invasion is God’s Word, the Bible, the Sword of the Spirit. So it’s no surprise that Satan has managed to remove the Bible from schools, and recently, some pastors have devalued God’s Word saying it’s outdated and irrelevant to today’s culture. Yet, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

Since the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden, Satan’s sole purpose has been to destroy God’s kingdom on earth and overtake the world with evil, and his tactical invasion is succeeding, not just in the world, but also in the church. Satan has methodically and effectively:

  • Changed God’s definition of marriage. Certain denominations embrace gay marriage and gay clergy, and it’s dividing their churches.
  • Legalized the killing of unborn babies and selling their body parts—many of whom might have been Christian leaders, presidents, pastors, evangelists, parents, had the cure for cancer, and loud voices in the wilderness.
  • Removed God, prayer, and Bibles from schools.
  • Eliminated God from the public square.

And what has the church done to stop any of this? Very little.

Instead of the church influencing culture, the culture is influencing the church.

So is it any wonder that in this current election battle, we see Satan zeroing in for a strategic blow: destroying unity in the church body and causing bitter divisions among evangelicals and conservative Christians.In Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten, I warn of Satan’s impending invasion of the church if believers, who comprise God’s church, don’t take a firm stand against the devil’s schemes (Eph. 6:18):

Satan won’t like you making a concerted effort to remember God. Satan wants you to forget God’s goodness. Let that sink in a minute. If you forget God and his role in your life, then Satan has you just where he wants you. Satan’s target is believers. He doesn’t care about those who love the world because he already has them in his grip. He focuses on luring believers to love something else more than they love God. Satan wants to break God’s heart. Unfortunately, he seems to be succeeding in many areas. If he can get believers to look to the world’s ways, and forget God’s ways, Satan smirks.

Five Tactics Satan Uses to Destroy Churches by Invading Holiness with Worldliness.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” —John 10:10

Secularism

In a Washington Post article, Michelle Boorestein quoted Pastor Rick Scarborough, who has spent 20 years trying to politically mobilize evangelical voters: “Evangelicals are so divided….It’s because we are living in a growing age of secularism that is forcing itself on people who hold traditional values . . . . Some frame the split as Christian pragmatists vs. Christian idealists.”

No one, not even Satan, can “force” secularism or pragmatism on people who hold traditional values. It’s a choice.

Satan is hijacking high-profile liberal pastors and several mainline denominations who expound that: the Bible isn’t inerrant or relevant, God is a myth, Jesus is a legend, and the church needs to catch up with the culture. Culture never trumps Scripture. Even if you’ve been a member for years of one of these denominations or churches that now succumbs to this unbiblical, satanical teaching—run—leave immediately, and take your family with you.*

These “liberals” defiantly ignore Jesus’s warning that Christians are in the world, but not of the world. And Jesus didn’t come to conform to the culture; he came to reform the culture.*

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. —Romans 12:2

Selfishness

The center of all divisiveness is selfishness and pride. We want things our way, the way we think is right. The church often doesn’t agree on what Christ wants for His church.

Adults in churches usually divide into groups such as seniors, empty nesters, young adults, singles, marrieds, which is fine for small groups or Bible studies; but when those groups think more about their own wants and needs than what’s best for the church and the future of the church, it’s selfish. The church laments that they’re losing the youth, but are they willing to make the selfless effort to save them?

The church is failing to reach out to the next generation with a message relevant to the world they live in today; but the secular world is ready and waiting for them. The next generation is falling away from the church in droves or erroneously choosing a pseudo-gospel of compromise and feel-good theology. Today, even children from Bible-believing homes may not have the tools or fortitude to equip them to face a liberal world drifting away from the God of the Bible.*

Many churches don’t want to change the way they’ve always done things. Selfish pride is at the root of arguments, dissension, hurt feelings, gossip, complaining, refusal to change . . . and God hates pride, which means that Satan loves it.

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.—1 John 2:16

Sin

How many in congregations today are living a sinful life without feeling any pangs of remorse because the church isn’t confronting them? How many pastors are afraid of retaliation if they call homosexuality, living together, adultery, abortion, lying, or cheating a sin? Satan is the father of sin and he has done well when the church cowers in fear of being called judgmental, haters, prejudiced. Why did Jesus have to endure the painful cross for forgiveness of our sins, if the church now refuses to call sin, a sin?

Jesus loves all people, but he hates sin—that’s why he went to the cross. Not so we could keep on sinning, but because, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). If a church doesn’t understand how to love the sinner without embracing the sin, it may either abandon the sinner, or avoid confronting the sin and thus condone it.

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!Matthew 18:7

Scandal

Many pastors, church leaders, and prominent Christians succumb to moral or financial failures. Churches don’t always have, or enforce, a system of accountability and mentoring at every level of leadership. Or some church staff may think they’re safe and above needing such protective measures, and that’s right where Satan wants them with a target on their back.

When one of these Christian leaders, or someone in their family falls, the media, and many Christians and fellow pastors, are quick to voice opinions and denounce them publically. The church may not respond biblically, which is why nonbelievers characterize Christians as the only group that “eats its own.”

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.—Galatians 6:1

Social Acceptance

Many voices are screaming louder than the church, which in its attempt to be culturally relevant, may widen the road that Jesus said is narrow. Political correctness and ideological inclusiveness, overshadows biblical truthfulness. The church should only seek the exclusive acceptance of, and answer to, the Head of the Church—Jesus Christ.

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.—John 15:19

Sensationalism

Cultural Christianity creates an entertainment church, emphasizing popular people more than Holy God. Churches try the latest trend rather than leading from the Holy Spirit. Parishioners often want a pastor who doesn’t challenge them. Concert-style worship can detract from the purpose of musical worship—inviting in the Holy Spirit and drawing close to God, an atmosphere Satan hates. But Satan loves it when earplugs accompany the bulletin, little children plug their ears, and only those on stage sing because the music is so loud parishioners can’t hear themselves or each other.

Many churches today are dark inside, pitch black with a few strobe lights. Bible verses project on a screen because it’s too dark to read a Bible, so many people don’t even take a Bible to church. Oh how Satan loves that because he knows they’ve put down their swords—the Word of God.

Repeatedly, the Bible tells us to come out of the dark and into the light. Underground churches have to meet in the dark, and maybe only have one Bible to share with everyone; but we own Bibles and we can still lift the blinds, throw open the windows, and let the Son shine in so others can see us coming back to the heart of worship.

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. —Eph. 5:8-9 NLT

What Should the Church do to Combat Satan’s Divisive Tactics?

Believers must agree to stand together united as the Christian church—led by Christ and based on biblical truths—and fight Satan using prayer and the Sword of the Spirit—the World of God—as our battle plan and strong fortress.

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. —Jude 1:17-21

Otherwise, If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10).

How do you see Satan using these tactics in your church?

*Excerpts from Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten

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ForsakenGod.indd

Who’s Your Boss?

MRI registration form

Saturday, I woke up dreading the MRI I would be having later in the day. I’ve noticed that every time I have a problem lately, doctors want an MRI. I don’t like closed in places, so going into that MRI tube is one of my least favorite things. I have to take something to relax, put a washcloth over my eyes, and have Christian music playing in the earphones they put on you. And pray a lot and have many people praying.

So hubby and I showed up for my appointment at what was a new hospital to us. I’d usually had tests done through the other hospital in town. I walked up to the registration desk and the receptionist said, “Oh yes here is your paper work right here. We just need you to fill in where highlighted and sign the form.”

Expecting to have to fill out all the usual questions, I was delighted to see most things already typed in, and I just needed to put in a cell phone number and verify my address. And then  . . . I saw it . . . I can only say I took in a deep breath and for a moment just stared at the form.

Next to “Patient’s Employer” these words were typed in caps on the form “AUTHOR/SPEAKER FOR GOD.” I hadn’t previously filled out any paperwork for this facility online, over the phone, or in person; but there it was staring back at me on the hospital form!

Several things quickly crossed my mind as I had an instant flashback of my new book Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten, and all the ways I talk about recognizing, remembering, and celebrating our amazing God. The thoughts came in this order, along with a quote from Forsaken God?

  1. I need to take a picture of this form. I never want to forget this!

“Pictures are a great way to remember the attributes of God and his goodness in performing miracles and blessed experiences.”

  1. This was a witness to whoever filled out this form! Where had they got this information? They could have so easily just put Author/Speaker, but they added “For God” and put it all in caps! How did this happen? I need to share this with everyone who asks how the MRI went.

“The God of past miracles is the same God of today’s miracles. His wondrous ways should still command our awe-inspiring respect. Look for miracles in your life and in the world around you. Remember them and tell the spectacular, miraculous stories of God’s goodness over and over!”

  1. Never think something like this is just a coincidence.

God is perpetually at work in a believer’s life, whether or not we recognize him. I firmly believe there are no coincidences, only God-incidences and divine appointments. When I hear people speak of serendipity, I kindly reply that was God, not karma or chance.”

  1. God is making me aware of His presence. He wants me to know He will be with me and comfort me in that MRI tube.

“God shows his presence in memorable ways to us too, but how well do we recognize him? We’re always in his presence, “The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you” (2 Chron. 15:2).”

  1. You can be a bold witness for God in everything you do and say, even on a medical form!

“People say I’m bold about my faith and it surprises me that’s considered an unusual trait … because shouldn’t every Christian be bold? Our faith isn’t a secret to hide; it’s the answer to the world’s woes. Unfortunately, Christians often worry more about offending the world than offending God. Bold doesn’t mean obnoxious. It simply means not being afraid to speak the truth, even in the face of adversity: “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (2 Cor. 3:12).”

Who would do that? Who did that? Only God knows. I always fill out forms, or when asked, my occupation: “Christian author/speaker.” When asked the name of my business: “About His Work Ministries.” And when asked who is my employer I write, “The Lord” or “God.” Somewhere in the Boise medical system, I had used these terms on previous forms and this facility arrived at SPEAKER/AUTHOR FOR GOD. I’ve never phrased it that way, but I think I will now!

The receptionist told me to carry the form with me everywhere I went that day! You can be sure I did.

A Similar Experience

In Dear God, They Say It’s Cancer, I tell a similar story that happened when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. The Breast Care Center sent forms to fill out, and for occupation, I had started to write “self-employed,” but I heard the Lord nudge, “Janet, you aren’t actually self-employed. I AM your employer and Boss. After all, your ministry name is About His Work Ministries.” So I did put my employer was “The Lord.”

That form went with me everywhere during my surgery and treatment, and I had so many people letting me know they had the same “Boss” I did. It opened up so many doors of comfort and conversation, and I became best friends with the patient advocate, Grace, who said, “Interesting Employer.” I said, “Yes, is He yours too?” Grace said, “Absolutely,” and we became co-workers for Christ and breast cancer awareness.

Where Does God Want You to Acknowledge Him?

We believers who have given our lives to Christ, should recognize that being a Christian is our identity that surpasses all other life roles.

What do I hope you will take away from this blog post?

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.—2 Timothy 2:15

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.—Romans 1:16

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.—Philippians 1:20

On a Side Note

If you have read Forsaken God?, I would love to hear how God is using it in your life. Two women from different generations, one a young brand new believer and one a seasoned elderly Christian approached me at church this morning. I share this with you for you to know that wherever you are in your faith, I think you will find this book relevant. Also, as we read more and more about the moral chaos in our culture, you can find peace and conviction in remember the God of the past is also the God of the future.

Here is a post from Facebook today, Sunday May 15:

God truly blessed me this morning. Before church started, a young new believer who is getting baptized this month, came up to me holding Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten and told me, “I can’t put it down!” Then she stood up and told the entire church what a good book it is. I had never met her before today.
After church, a sweet elderly, seasoned Christian woman gave me a hand-written note a portion of which reads: “I have appreciated so much your book “Forsaken God?”. It is full of truth and honor for our God…it is such a sweet savor….”
Thank you Lord that the message of Forsaken God? reaches all generations and for giving me the encouragement I needed today to press on writing the next book.
Forsaken God? speaks to Christians in today’s culture … I hope you will not only read it, but apply what you read…God had me write it for such a time as this! Here’s the link to check it out if God leads you to do so…

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Remember Not Every Woman is “Happy” on Mother’s Day

motherbouquet

My daughter Kim and I were just on the phone making Mother’s Day plans. As we chatted about what we would do to celebrate her being the mother of my three darling grandchildren, and me being Kim’s mom . . . my mind wandered back to a Mother’s Day twelve years ago that wasn’t so happy for Kim.

In Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby? A Companion Guide for Couples on the Infertility Journey, Kim shares a painful and heartbreaking Mother’s Day:

Dear God,

It’s almost Mother’s Day and I don’t know if I can handle seeing all those happy moms at church and brunch. I’m trying to focus on my mom and not think about how I’m missing out on being a mommy on yet another Mother’s Day. This year is especially hard since we’ve been trying to be parents for so long and so hard, only to be repeatedly disappointed. At the store looking for a card for my mom, I see the cute cards at the end of the aisle “To Mommy”…oh God, I wish I were someone’s mommy! I look away and continue focusing at the task ahead, getting my mom and mothers-in-law their cards.

Today’s the day, it’s Mother’s Day. I don’t think I can bear it. It’s just begun and already I want this day over. I pull myself out of bed and get ready for church. I’m not looking forward to the sermon about children being a blessing and honoring mothers. God, help me focus on my mom.

We met my parents at church and I put on my happy face, when inside I was crying watching all the mothers with big smiles dressed in pretty spring dresses and children running all around. This was a day of celebration and I just wanted to go back to bed. The pastor started the message with asking all the mothers to stand up. Hundreds of women stood and everyone applauded. I couldn’t take it any longer and sat slouched over in my seat quietly crying. Toby put his arm around me and my mom held my hand, but nothing took away the pain. I barely heard the rest of the message.

After brunch, I came home, collapsed on my bed, and cried myself to sleep where I remained the rest of the day. God, please don’t make me go through another Mother’s Day with this hole in my heart. I want to stand up in church with all those other mothers beaming from ear to ear and have everyone applaud me. God, please let me stand up next year.

Some of you identify with Kim’s cry out to God.

“I hate Mother’s Day!” admitted a dear friend longing for a baby. “You know that women struggling with infertility don’t go to church on Mother’s Day.” Kris agrees, “I was that mom-in-waiting for sixteen years. I stayed away from baby showers, church, and pregnant friends. I didn’t stop praying, but it was the worse pain.”

Lisa concurs, “I am guilty of having skipped church on Mother’s Day a few years before we adopted my son.”

Someone You Know is Struggling with Infertility

Mother’s Day is especially hard for mommies-in-waiting, but for most of these women, every day is hard. With 1 in 6 couples experiencing infertility, you are, or know, a woman experiencing this heartache. Often we don’t know what to say to them, so we say nothing, or maybe unintentionally say something that makes them feel worse. Kris says, “We cannot ignore them [women longing for a child]. I know how hard it was for people to talk to me. But I would have loved it if they did.”

Avoidance only adds to these hurting women’s feelings of isolation and loneliness. When you don’t know what to say or do these suggestions might help: “Top Fifteen Things Not to Say or Do and to Say or Do to Someone Experiencing Infertility.”

It breaks my heart to hear that many women say the one place they feel the loneliest is in the church. Doesn’t that break your heart too? Jesus said he came for the sick, and that includes heartsick. The church should be a safe place for the hurting, not a place where they feel shunned or like outcasts.

How does your church comfort mommies-in-waiting on Mother’s Day … and every day?

Mothers of Prodigals

Mothers of prodigals are another group of women who dread Mother’s Day. They may not know where their child is, or know all too well where he or she is, and that breaks a mother’s heart and the heart of God. These moms need comforting, a hug, and assurance that this day is for them too.

Mothers Who Have Lost a Child

A mother who has lost a child, lives with that grief every day, but Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of the precious child they lost. I can’t imagine that pain, but I watched the sadness in my Granny Reed’s eyes that was always there over the murder of my father, her beloved son, a week before his 37th birthday. She had six other living children who she loved dearly, but there was always pain for the one she lost.

Women Who Have Lost Their Mother

Mother’s Day is about celebrating your mom, but there’s a void and ache that never goes away when your mom is no longer living, and Mother’s Day becomes a sad reminder of all the years you celebrated her on Mother’s Day. It can also be a joyous time of remembering, but still there’s no one to buy a card for, give a hug to, and a special gift for the years she devoted to raising you. Even after you become a mom yourself and your children are celebrating you, there’s a generational celebration as you are still somebody’s little girl, just all grown up.

I hope that you will not ignore but love on the mommies-in-waiting, the moms of prodigals, or the moms who have lost a child or their own mom, who may need a shoulder to cry on . . . a prayer . . . an understanding hug this Mother’s Day.

If you’ve been where they’re at, mentor them like only someone who has been in their shoes can. If you haven’t been in their shoes, let them know you can’t possibly understand, but you’re there for them and God is too!

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”—1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)

Lindsey Bell shared another helpful blog post on my website 6 Thing Not to Say to Someone Who is Hurting (And What to Say Instead)

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Dear God, Why Can't I Have a Baby coverproddaughterbookcoverjpg1-661x1024

 

Interview with Teen Role Model Sadie Robertson of God’s Not Dead 2

View More: http://meshalimitchellphoto.pass.us/sadie-robertson-finals

When hubby asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, at the top of the list was having a party with my grandkids and going to see God’s Not Dead 2, which opened in theaters April 1. We would have attended opening weekend, but we live in the mountains with no movie theaters, so birthday Saturday was our first chance to see it and we were not disappointed. It’s a riveting movie acting out many of the cultural issues addressed in my new book Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten. Both the movie and my book are wake up calls to Christians to stand up for our values, morals, and freedoms in a world that is quickly removing God from the public square. Here’s a quote from the Introduction to Forsaken God?:

Today, society marginalizes, neutralizes, and denies God—forgotten by a culture forsaking him. It’s time for Christians to step up, speak out, and seize opportunities to defend God, as Franklin Graham warns, “Before we lose our country!” Exerting boldness for God requires drawing from our own memories of God’s goodness—sharing with a disparaging world the greatness of our God and the things we’ve seen him do. We’ll be swimming upstream in a sinking culture, but some will reach out to Jesus for the salvation life preserver and will survive.

Today’s culture wants to silence any mention of God or Jesus. Our forefathers in the faith and in our nation would be aghast at a 21st Century world where evoking the name of God or Jesus, or saying you’re a Christian, could possibly get you fined, expelled from school, fired, sued, incarcerated, or even executed. Yet, the world still acknowledges the memory and existence of Jesus every time they say or write the date—the number of days since Christ walked the earth. Sadly, the general populace doesn’t know, or has forgotten, the significance and origin of today’s date. (Pages 21-22, Forsaken God?).

In the section on Mentoring the Next Generation in Forsaken God?, I also include a quote from then 17-year-old Sadie Robertson, as an example of a role model for the next generation. I have been impressed with Sadie’s spiritual maturity and willingness to go against the popular trends of her generation, as does her whole family. I featured an interview with Sadie in About His Work Ministries December 2014 Newsletter, discussing her book, Live Original: How the Duck Commander Teen Keeps It Real and Stays True to Her Values (Howard Books, 2014).

So I was excited to learn that Sadie plays “Marlene,” the best friend of the main high school character, “Brooke,” in God’s Not Dead 2. When I saw an interview that Sheryl Young of Ratio Christi did with Sadie prior to the opening of God’s Not Dead 2, I wanted to share it, with Sheryl’s permission. You might remember that on January 11, 2016, I featured another blog post by Sheryl Young of Ratio Christi: Left for College, Returned an Atheist. It had such a great response and was a revelation to many.

Meet Sadie Robertson

Sadie Robertson is now eighteen and a member of the Duck Dynasty family featured on the A&E TV series. But she is her own accomplished person and a young woman of prolific talents. She attends Ouachita Christian Academy in Monroe, Louisiana where she wore jersey #15 for the girls’ basketball team in her sophomore and junior year. Her team stats appear on many high school sports statistics websites. In conjunction with fashion designer Sherri Hill, she designs clothes under the label “Live Original,” that encourage a stylish, yet modest, wardrobe for teen girls.

She also sang with country star Alison Krauss for her family’s album, “Duck The Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas” (2013). The following year she moved from singing to dancing and took Second Place with professional dance partner Mark Ballas on Season 19 of “Dancing with the Stars” despite remaining modestly costumed and insisting on dance routines that were not as “sexy” as many others on the reality show. I wrote a blog about how Sadie Let her Light Shine on Dancing with the Stars.

Then the big offer to appear in the movie God’s Not Dead 2. That’s where the Ratio Christi interview begins:

Q: What led to you being cast as “Brooke’s” friend “Marlene” in the movie?

A: My parents (Willie and Korie Robertson) were in the first movie, and the producers wanted to continue the legacy. They felt the character was a lot like me, and when I read the script, I had no doubt about doing it.

Q: Did you create a “backstory” for your character – i.e., what motivates her and prompts her to support Brooke?

A: Yes – as Brooke’s best friend, she was the one go-to friend in high school, no matter what Brooke was going through. She was there to encourage her.

Q: Did you have a chance to meet or spend time with all the actors, or the apologetics experts like J. Warner Wallace or Lee Strobel, who weren’t in your scenes?

A: No, I didn’t meet everyone – I was only on the set for three days! But I did get to be with Melissa, Jesse, and Hayley. They were all great, and it was a wonderful experience (Melissa Joan Hart as the main character “Grace,” Jesse Metcalfe as Grace’s attorney, and Hayley Orrantia as “Brooke”).

Q: What did you think of the court scenes in the movie where the witnesses were giving evidence about the truth of the Christian story?

A: Even as a lifelong Christian, I learned a lot from the movie, especially about the true origin of the phrase “separation of church and state.”

Q: Were there any discussions among the cast about how the script was a parallel to real-life occurrences in society today? 

A: Yes – we knew that at the end of the movie they were showing the cases that have happened. I didn’t realize how big the problem is!

Q: Why is it important for both Christians and non-Christians to see this movie?

A: People will be motivated. They’ll fear less, gain strength, and learn so many things like I did. I didn’t know some of these facts. If you are not a Christian – go anyway – it’s a good movie, and you’ll learn some real information from history you may not know.

Q: How can this movie help people who are struggling with expressing their faith to others?

A: The movie gives you courage to know God will take you all the way through something. I liked how Melissa (“Grace”) was praying on her bed.

Q: Have you or a friend or teacher ever experienced anything like the bias portrayed in the movie?

A: No. I went to a private school. But I have seen other kinds of punishment and ridicule, and I feel it all relates to this situation.

Q: The issue of Christians being able to voice their faith in public has become huge for your strong Christian family. When did you first feel driven to get involved?

A: It was actually before that – I was thirteen and away on a sports trip. Everyone wanted to party while being away from parents, but I never did. I made the decision not to go with the world, but to go with God. I felt His presence and knew He was worth it. After that, I got baptized. When you surrender and let God in, you know how good He is.

Q: Have you had a special teacher in your life who encouraged you in your faith?

A: Yes – my favorite teacher – she would ask if she could pray for us and listen to us – even in chemistry class. She led us by example and showed how important faith is.

Q: Ratio Christi teaches apologetics to Christian students so they can combine faith and reason to support their biblical worldview. Have you ever studied apologetics?

A: Our private school system used Christian books with science and history supporting the Bible.

Q: What do you think is the biggest concern on your Christian peers’ minds today?

A: Their biggest concern is what other people think about them – what are people going to say? They need to know that things will come and go but they can rely on God.

Q: You took Second Place on “Dancing with the Stars” with no dance experience! What encouraged you to go on the show?

A: Crazy! My grandma really wanted me to do it. I was scared but I learned a lot about myself and what I am able to do.

***

Go see God’s Not Dead 2 while it’s still at movie theaters and stay until the very end . . . after the credits, after the list of lawsuits, even after the screen goes black for a moment, for a sneak preview of the topic for God’s Not Dead 3!

See the trailer at the movie’s main website.

If you haven’t seen the original, God’s Not Dead, rent it or stream it… now. My grandchildren love to watch it  over and over!Some of the same characters are in God’s Not Dead 2!

Both movies are important to audiences that value religious free speech in American society. The fictional situations are based on real-life incidents and court cases, as illustrated by the long lists of actual lawsuits noted at the end of the films. How realistic are the court cases?

See Ratio Christi’s interview with attorney Erik Stanley of Alliance Defending Freedom.

***

Photos courtesy of Grace Hill Media and Pure Flix Entertainment.

Interview with Sadie Robertson, originally Posted on Mar 31, 2016 by Sheryl Young. Content in blog does not necessarily represent Ratio Christi’s views.

If you’ve seen God’s Not Dead 2, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t seen it yet, let us know what you think about it when you do, and remember to stay to the very very end. You won’t be disappointed!

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God's Not Dead 2

A Miracle Story of Love, Family, and Restoration

Ricky praising

Most Sunday mornings, Ricky was in the front row of church, sitting next to his parents Jean and Don. Often Ricky would accompany the worship team by playing the drums, strategically placed for him next to his front-row seat. I’m told that at one time, he joined the praise band on stage.

Ricky and drums

When Dave and I moved to Garden Valley and started attending Crouch Community Church, we didn’t know the history of the Brown family. We did, however, immediately see the love this senior couple had for each other—always holding hands—and for their adult son, Ricky, who occasionally had to have his drumsticks quieted after the music had stopped playing.

You see Ricky was a very special son, and as the church overflowed with family and friends at Ricky’s memorial last week, we learned more about just how special he was. If you have a special person in your life who can’t communicate clearly, or at all, there’s probably a depth of spirit like Ricky displayed in unique ways. God has a way of gifting these special people with love, compassion, and spiritual insight.

Enjoy Ricky’s miracle story, shared at his memorial service, and his family now shares with you:

 

Ricky Lee Brown born August 28, 1956, passed from the arms of his parents to the arms of Jesus on Saturday March 19, 2016, at the age of 59. Ricky left behind . . . for now . . . his parents, Don and Jean Brown, his sisters Sheri, Cindy, and Lindi, and countless family and friends.

Ricky’s life story is one of restoration, the strong bond of a loving family, and the unending miracles of God.

Ricky is the firstborn, and only son, of Don and Jean Brown. At birth, he only weighed 4 lbs. 10 oz., and it took a month for him to gain enough weight to come home from the hospital. This was the beginning of nine and a half months in and out of hospitals.

During that time, doctors and family members suggested putting Ricky in Nampa State School. Doctors said with Ricky’s health and physical issues, he wouldn’t live past eleven or twelve and would never walk. With the overwhelming advice from doctors and family, Don and Jean went through the court system and made Ricky a ward of the state when he was 8 1/2 months old. It was the most painful thing that Don and Jean had ever done.

They visited Ricky regularly and introduced him to his three sisters Sheri, Cindy, and Lindi. Right from the beginning, Ricky was compassionate. Jean remembers one time when he was in the state home, a baby started to cry. Ricky pulled himself with his arms over to the crib and patted the baby, trying to comfort it.

To everyone’s amazement, Ricky miraculously started walking at age eleven—the age doctors had predicted he wouldn’t live past—and he finally stopped running a persistent high fever. His sister, Cindy, started working at the Nampa State School in her late teens so she could spend more time with Ricky.

In his twenties, the family moved Ricky to a group home in the Boise area as part of a new program to try to teach life and work skills to disabled individuals. After Ricky’s three sisters left home, the Browns were able to visit Ricky more frequently.

Ricky loved classic country music and liked listening to it loud!

He also loved to tear apart anything he could get his hands on—radios, bikes, and in later years, his clothes. He loved to gas up the car, even if it was only to top it off.

Ricky could only put five words together, at most, but he used those words to ask people: if they were going to work? If they had a payday? And if they were going to church? Ricky’s happy smile and his thumbs up were his trademarks!

smiling RickyRicky thumbs up

Another Miracle

When Ricky was thirty-seven, he became extremely ill while still living in the group home, so Don and Jean made the decision to bring him home. Doctors told the Browns they would just be taking him home to die, but they said, “So be it. He’s our son, and we want him with us.”

By the grace of God and the help of family, they discovered that the current health problems were yeast related. Jean found a book on how to treat yeast with diet, and she became vigilant with Ricky’s diet and nursed him back to health. This same son, who doctors said would not live past eleven or twelve, would never walk, and was sent home at thirty-seven to die, fully recovered from the “terminal” illness! That’s what God, love, and family can do!

Don and Jean couldn’t bear the thought of giving Ricky up again, so he continued to live with them and they started the parenting season all over again. The Lord redeemed the years they lost while Ricky was in group homes, and they had twenty-three glorious years living together as family.

Ricky and sisters

Ricky’s relationship with his sisters and other family members flourished as he became a part of family reunions, jam sessions, weddings, and birthday parties. As a trio, Don, Jean, and Ricky traveled the country playing music and enjoying countless adventures. One of Ricky’s greatest loves was the drums. He had a set in his room and spent hours listening to music and playing along. He also spent hours tearing his drum set apart. He loved smashing cans and taking them to the recycling center for a “payday,” which he promptly put in the offering box at church.

Family picture

Ricky and Don on horse

 

Ricky and Don camping

As Ricky got older, he enjoyed putting together puzzles and sorting coins or Legos. Amazingly, he was able to put puzzles together picture-side down on the table. For someone doctors said wouldn’t live past eleven, and would surely die at thirty-seven, Ricky enjoyed a long life of almost 60 years surrounded by his loving family, friends, and community.

Ricky touched many lives with his joyful spirit and his love for Jesus. Just as Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Ricky was a great example of childlike innocent faith. We know that right now he is enthusiastically enjoying heaven.

*********

The Brown family hopes that Ricky’s miracle story has been a blessing to you, and especially an encouragement to all who have a “Ricky” in their life. If you have a story to share with the Browns, or want to tell them how their sweet restoration story touched you, please leave a comment to encourage them and pray for them as they grieve the loss of their beloved son.

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Ways to Remember Your First Love!

Balloon with cardJesus Loves You

I don’t have to tell you that yesterday was Valentine’s Day—the universal day for showing and sharing love. Red and pink hearts were everywhere and it was fun to see many of the women, and some men, at church wearing red and pink. The bouquet of red roses next to the Bible at the front of the church, reminded me of how appropriate it was that Valentine’s Day was on a Sunday this year, because we were in church honoring our First Love: Jesus Christ.

The children of our church will never forget this Valentine’s Day either, and Who we should love above all others. When the congregation walked out of the sanctuary into the fellowship hall, the children’s ministry during Sunday school had decorated the entire ceiling with heart shaped balloons and streamers. At the end of each streamer was a card with a handwritten note from the children: “Jesus loves you” and “God loves you.”

The children were so excited to see us all walk into the room and ooh and ah over how beautiful the room looked.

Balloons on ceiling

My heart swelled as I thought about the precious Sunday school teachers who helped these children focus on Jesus as our First Love and serve the congregation. In Forsaken God, Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten, I stress how important it is for the next generation not to just hear about the love of Jesus, but to experience His love personally and then to share it.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Love is a word we use freely….

  • I love pizza!
  • I love pink!
  • I love my husband!
  • I love my kids!
  • I love my new vacuum!
  • I love my new shoes!

Obviously, if we were prioritizing that list, we love our husbands and kids more than we love pizza or shoes. But would we put Jesus at the top of the list?

If you’re married, how could you possibly differentiate between your husband and your children as your first love? If you have more than one child . . . how could you determine which one of them you love first? You can’t.

But when you make Jesus your FIRST love . . . He gives you the ability to have limitless love for Him and for others.

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” —Matthew 22:37-40 The Message

Remembering Jesus, Your First Love

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 21 in Forsaken God?, “Remembering His Love”:

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One of the first verses we learn as children or new believers is John 3:16. This verse emphasizes how much God loves the world and wants everyone to have an opportunity to trust in him and his Son, Jesus Christ, and have eternal salvation. It’s hard to imagine how anyone would turn down this kind of sacrificial love, but you and I both know people who don’t accept God’s love invitation. Sadly, they don’t understand the consequences of rejecting God’s love. The Message translation of John 3:16-18 clearly states their fate:

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

Loving God is a lifetime relationship. He never falls out of love with us; but believers who have fallen away from God, or who don’t love him the way they did at first, are cautioned in Revelation 2:4-5 to remember and repent … or else:

But I have this [one charge to make] against you: that you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love]. Remember then from what heights you have fallen. Repent (change the inner man to meet God’s will) and do the works you did previously [when first you knew the Lord], or else I will visit you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you change your mind and repent. (AMP).

Do you remember the zeal and excitement you had as a new believer? How grateful you were for salvation and Jesus’ love and the intensity of your love for him … the thrill of feeling forgiven. You wanted to tell everyone about Jesus, until you realized not everyone was receptive to hearing about your new love. You became more cautious about sharing your faith for fear of rejection or ridicule. Your enthusiasm waned and soon you didn’t talk about Jesus unless you were with believers, and maybe not much then either.

In the beginning of your faith walk, you had enthusiasm without knowledge. Don’t let knowledge and time diminish enthusiasm. Spiritual maturity should intensify adoration, not spawn complacency. Otherwise, your light will dim, as will your relationship with Christ, and you won’t effectively share Christ’s love with others. Remember, Jesus extinguishes lights that don’t shine brightly for him (Rev. 2:5).

God wants us to maintain the passion and excitement we had when we first fell in love with His Son, Jesus Christ and He wants that love to motivate everything we do and say and never forget how much He love us and we love Him. Only when we place Jesus first in our life and heart, can we love others with a genuine Christ-like love. His love fuels us to be better wives, mothers, and grandmothers. Jesus helps us serve our families—and Him—lovingly, not dutifully.

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Ways To Return To Our First Love

Periodically, we have to rekindle and reignite first-love fire in our relationship with Jesus. The following acrostic for L O V E helps me keep Jesus in first place in my life and I hope it helps you too

L-inger with Him!

“Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.” —Psalm 119:97 NLT

Let’s find ways to have a quiet time with the Lord daily and talk to Him all day long as we go about our life.

Obsess Over Him!

“I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together.” —Psalm 34:1-3 NLT

The dictionary describes obsession as:

  • Preoccupied
  • Dominated
  • Fixed
  • Immersed in
  • Gripped by
  • An Infatuation
  • A Passion

Let’s be deliriously, madly, obsessively, and passionately in love with Jesus!

V-alue Him!

“Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does. Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! He is to be feared above all gods.” —1 Chronicles 16:23-25

Synonyms for value:

  • Worthy
  • Worship
  • Love

Let’s show Jesus how worthy He is of our love through our worship and praise.

Enjoy Him!

“I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence.” —Proverbs 8:30 NIV

Let’s enjoy being a Christian and let the world know we LOVE Jesus!

When we L O V E Jesus Christ with total abandonment, our hearts change—we can then love others as Jesus commanded:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

—John 13:34-35 NIV

Share with us ways you’ve found to keep Jesus first in your life!

If you received this blog by email, leave comments here.

*Excerpts of this blog are from my new release Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten.

 

2nd ceiling balloons

Support National Mentoring Month

Januray Naitonal Mentoring Month

National Mentoring Month logo, designed by Milton Glaser

As I prepared to write this week’s blog post, I opened up my new 2016 calendar and there was my reminder that January is National Mentoring Month! I only became aware of this designation recently, even though it has been a nationally endorsed month since President George W. Bush proclaimed it in 2002. While the focus is on mentoring youth, as Christians we know we’re also to mentor those spiritually younger than us. The verses best known to motivate us to pour into someone else are Titus 2: 1-6:

Your job is to speak out on the things that make for solid doctrine. Guide older men into lives of temperance, dignity, and wisdom, into healthy faith, love, and endurance. Guide older women into lives of reverence so they end up as neither gossips nor drunks, but models of goodness. By looking at them, the younger women will know how to love their husbands and children, be virtuous and pure, keep a good house, be good wives. We don’t want anyone looking down on God’s Message because of their behavior. Also, guide the young men to live disciplined lives. The Message

In my new book releasing February 9, Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten, I quote the above passage from The Message as a reminder that it is our job as Christians to reach out to the next generation and help them set a moral compass that leads straight to the throne of Christ. I often wonder how many Christians actually take this command from the Lord to heart. How many realize that the fate of our nation depends on the spiritual maturity of the next generation in our families, our churches, our neighborhoods, our communities, our schools . . . ? If we’re not mentoring, who will do the job? Answer: the secular world!

As much as we complain about the current administration, and I agree there is much to be concerned about, President Obama has continued to endorse National Mentoring month, as has both chambers of the United States Congress. The campaign’s media partners have included ABC, CBS, Fox News, and NBC; Comcast; the National Association of Broadcasters; Time Warner; and Viacom.

Shouldn’t we, the united body of Christ, also support National Mentoring Month?

Here is an excerpt from this year’s presidential proclamation recognizing January as National Mentoring Month:

At the heart of America’s promise is the belief that we all do better when everyone has a fair shot at reaching for their dreams. Throughout our Nation’s history, Americans of every background have worked to uphold this ideal, joining together in common purpose to serve as mentors and lift up our country’s youth. During National Mentoring Month, we honor all those who continuously strive to provide young people with the resources and support they need and deserve, and we recommit to building a society in which all mentors and mentees can thrive in mutual learning relationships.

By sharing their own stories and offering guidance and advice, mentors can instill a sense of infinite possibility in the hearts and minds of their mentees, demonstrating that with hard work and passion, nothing is beyond their potential. Whether simply offering a compassionate ear or actively teaching and inspiring curiosity, mentors can play pivotal roles in young peoples’ lives. When given a chance to use their talents and abilities to engage in their communities and contribute to our world, our Nation’s youth rise to the challenge. They make significant impacts in their communities and shape a brighter future for coming generations.

I smiled when I read this proclamation, both for the championing of mentoring and that the President of the United States used the word “mentee.” When I started the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry and wrote Woman to Woman Mentoring: How to Start, Grow, and Maintain a Mentoring Ministry, many people told me mentee was not a word. I think Woman to Woman Mentoring put mentee in the dictionary!

Thank Your Mentor Day

Thank you mentor women

As part of National Mentoring Month, a day is set aside to celebrate Thank Your Mentor Day. This year, it’s January 21, 2016. A day to thank and honor mentors who have encouraged and guided you, and had a lasting, positive impact on your life.

In Forsaken God?, I encourage readers to remember spiritual mentors and the way God used these men and women to shape their lives and then to imitate those mentors by mentoring whoever God puts in their path:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

Here are some ways the National Mentoring Month Campaign suggests for honoring your mentors:

  1. Contact your mentor directly to express your appreciation;
  2. Express your gratitude on social media.
  3. Pass on what you received by becoming a mentor to a young person in your community;
  4. Make a financial contribution to a local mentoring program in your mentor’s honor; and,
  5. Write a tribute to your mentor for posting on the Who Mentored You? website.

To add a spiritual component to National Mentoring Month, consider:

  1. Start a Mentoring Ministry in your church.
  2. Become a spiritual mentor to someone spiritually younger, not necessarily chronologically younger.
  3. If your church has a mentoring ministry, serve in the ministry.
  4. My next book is Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life’s Experiences and God’s Faithfulness. Honor your mentor or mentee by sending me a story about your mentoring relationship to include in the book. info@womantowomanmentoring.com.
  5. Pray for God to send you a mentor.
  6. Every month in About His Work Ministries’ Newsletter, we feature a Church Mentoring Ministry. Send me something you would like to share about your mentoring ministry to help other churches. info@womantowomanmentoring.com
  7. Start 2016 being a spiritual mentor, or finding a mentor.
  8. Remember that mentoring is part of parenting.

I’m looking forward to what God will have me share with you and perhaps mentor you in 2016. My “job” in About His Work Ministries isn’t to have a following, but to point others to Jesus.

Happy, Healthy, Blessed New Year

Another post you might enjoy reading is How to Mentor in a World Forsaking God.

Mentoring month men