Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Building Harmony into Ministry Marriages

m1Anna Stsonn6Recently a reader asked: How can couples in ministry protect and nurture their marriages toward more love and unity? It’s a good question, and one we should probably ask more often. I’m no marriage expert but my husband and I have worked in harmony in ministry for thirty-seven years. During that time we’ve grieved as we’ve seen some couples in ministry break up or struggle in their relationship while others draw great strength and encouragement from their marriages.

When a couple works together in harmony, each doing his or her own part in a way that blends with the other, the result is a beautiful ministry. Like a symphony, their marriage blend blesses the couple first of all, and then the people they minister to. On the other hand, when the couple fight each other and go in separate directions, the result is a clashing cacophony.

In a marriage, what makes the difference between that beautiful symphony and the clashing cacophony?

In the next few weeks I’m going to share our thoughts on marriage based on Scripture and what we’ve observed through the years.  

 Part One: Making Decisions

Submission and individual freedom need to be balanced or the marriage will suffer. Either extreme will affect the harmony of the marriage.

Suzy works hard to be a submissive wife. Sam speaks with authority and Suzy obeys. She hardly makes any decisions without consulting Sam first. Once he speaks on a subject, she follows his desires without question. If she disagrees with his decision, she prays that God will give her a submissive heart. She may not enjoy doing what Sam says, but she feels responsible before God to obey him. If Sam makes unwise decisions, she figures he is responsible to God for them. She leaves herself in God’s hands, satisfied that she has done her part and must leave the result to God.  In their church ministry Sam writes Suzy’s job description and she fills it. She never disagrees with her husband in public. When people ask Suzy for advice she refers them to Sam and she doesn’t answers questions without consulting him first. She never offers or accepts invitations or makes plans without consulting Sam first.

Edward and Enid, on the other hand, believe in perfect equality in a marriage. Edward makes his decisions; Enid makes hers. They negotiate to make joint decisions come out 50/50. He doesn’t tell Enid how to live and she doesn’t nag him. Edward makes jokes at her expense from the pulpit. She publicly criticizes him. In conversations they often correct each other or argue over who is right. Neither one can offer or accept invitations without consulting the other. Each speaks for himself or herself, but will not answer for each other.

 

These two couples show two extreme views of submission and individual freedom. Suzy takes submission to such an extreme that she doesn’t even need to think for herself. Sam, on the other hand, misses out on a lot of help Suzy could give. Enid works so hard to be equal that she loses some of the benefits of marriage, while Edward’s ministry would profit from her support.

Scripture does talk about submission, but an extreme view of it can destroy a marriage.

Ephesians 5 teaches us that wives need to be submissive to their husbands, but that we all need to submit to one another. A husband should love his wife in the same way Christ loved the church.  1 Peter 3 also admonishes wives to be submissive to their husbands and husbands to live with their wives with understanding, giving honor to them. It calls husbands and wives “heirs together of the grace of life.”

So who gets to make the decisions?

The husband, as head of the house, is responsible for final decisions on major issues. He should lovingly lead his family in spiritual issues as well as more mundane matters.

A Christian wife, however, brings her own unique gifts and abilities to the table. She can also be led by the Holy Spirit and should be capable of making wise decisions. A Christian husband can and should be able to learn from his wife.

A couple should work together in an open and trusting relationship in which each works for the good of the other. Marriage can be such a help and encouragement in ministry or it can be the Achilles’ heel that mortally wounds your ministry.

Each couple needs to work out the way they will implement these principles. Both need to give and take. Both need to recognize the strengths of the other. Who will make what decisions?  What will they do when they disagree? How will they work out differences?

Our marriage

Art and I compartmentalize many decisions. He decides car issues and many house maintenance and lawn issues. I get to rule the kitchen. I make suggestions about our ministry. He sifts them and implements many of them. He decides what computer to buy. I purchase clothing and small home purchases. He drives, I ride.

Many other things we talk about until we come to an agreement. Sometimes a decision is more important to one of us than the other. The one who cares least allows the other one to decide. Sometimes one of us gives in because it doesn’t seem that important. Art’s a gentleman and wants to make me happy so that helps a lot. It’s rare that both of us feel really strongly about a decision and take opposite sides. Rarely I might need to give in, even though I disagree, simply because he’s the husband and I leave it to him.

We did have one issue on which we didn’t agree and when it came up it really upset me and robbed me of any kind of peace. We had agreed that neither one of us would use money for this purpose unless we both agreed on it. The issue surfaced at unpredictable times and always left me feeling unsettled. Finally I said, “Take x amount of dollars a year to use for that cause and I’ll leave you alone about it. I don’t want to hear about it or talk about it. Just use the money to do what you feel you need to.” In that unusual situation that was the best way to make peace.

A balanced view of submission and individual freedom will reflect these Biblical principles:

The husband is the loving leader of the home.

Each person brings gifts and skills to the table. Each will be better qualified to make certain decisions.

Each person needs to have freedom to make many decisions by themselves.

Each person should consider the feelings and needs of the other when making decisions.

Each person should trust each other and be trustworthy.

Each person should be giving and taking. No one should get his or her way most of the time while running over the feelings and desires of the other.

In coming weeks I’ll deal with working as a team, nurturing your relationship, and managing finances.

[image courtesy of m1Anna Stsonn6/Deposit Photos]

 

 

Equality as a Cultural Issue

10645013_s (1)I always thought I knew what equality was.

Americans believe in equality. We don’t like to think of ourselves as snobs. We try not to judge a person’s worth by their fame or income level or what they look like. We try to treat all people with a certain degree of respect. So when we moved to New Zealand, where equality is very important, I felt we fit in and understood. Years later, however, I learned that the New Zealander (Kiwi) idea of equality was slightly different.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is a label used in New Zealand and Australia to describe their aversion to people who “get above themselves.” They are friendly to almost anyone, but eye with suspicion the “tall poppy” who grows higher than the rest. Kiwis and Aussies rarely celebrate success and don’t generally aspire to build wildly successful careers.  Sports is the exception to the rule. Everyone loves the All-Blacks, the nation’s rugby team. Compared to many other cultures, however, education is not highly valued. New Zealand is, as a result, always short of doctors, but they have plenty of tradesmen.

Kiwis will tolerate a certain amount of success if the successful person lives in an average house, drives an average vehicle, and is like everyone else.  Anything that could hint at being flashy or pretentious will not impress the average Kiwi, but will have the opposite effect.

 Equality and Leadership

Understanding the Kiwi concept of equality becomes important in a leadership position. Titles are rarely used. Even kids often call doctors and pastors by their first names. While Americans use titles as a sign of respect, expecting it in New Zealand often signals superiority.

Some cultures weigh a pastor’s advice very heavily and nearly always follow it. In an egalitarian culture like New Zealand, however, a pastor or leader has to tread much more carefully when giving advice or correction or he will risk offense.

Formality and Leadership

Kiwis like to keep most things casual. Formality often comes across as unfriendly. Formality often emphasizes a central figure standing up front, leading things. Casualness emphasizes everyone in the group, because individuals can speak out quite freely.

People sitting in a circle drinking tea is friendly. Casual dress, informal settings, unstructured meetings are friendly too. Having tea and biscuits (cookies) makes anything seem more friendly.

On the other hand, anything highly structured or planned can seem unfriendly. Rules, punctuality, formal dress, evaluation, one speaker talking without comments from the audience; all these can easily come across in an unfriendly manner. Meetings are often much more casual than the American counterparts.  While Americans may be uncomfortable with such a degree of casualness, it makes the meeting seem friendly to Kiwis. And friendliness is the brother of equality.

Potluck Chili for Many Occasions and Diets

I’ve just come from a church potluck dinner after a morning service with a baptism. We had a great attendance, good testimonies, and an all-around great Sunday morning.  The food was not the most important aspect of this, but it’s the topic of this blog. What do you serve a big group when you have different diets to cater for?

This noon meal was soup and finger food. We had five crockpots of soup and lots of sandwiches and savouries. This works well for our church. I always bring chili. Of course chili is as common as dirt in America.  It’s not common in New Zealand, but Kiwis seem to really like it and it goes every time I bring it.

But the great thing about chili is that you can easily adapt it to suit a wide range of diets. It’s easy to make and very filling. You may have your own recipe, but if not, here’s mine. I often call it my 8-can chili. Here are things to look for when you want to feed a crowd:

Gluten Free

This chili is easy to make gluten free. Just make sure none of your ingredients have wheat in them, especially the pasta sauce, baked beans, or seasoning.

Vegan

One time I knew a vegan couple would be attending our pot luck. I simply took out enough for them before I added the ground beef and kept theirs hot in a small crock pot. Then I added the meat to the rest of the chili in the large crock pot.

Dairy Free, Egg Free

Chili works great for these diets as well.

Something Different

Make waffles using corn meal for part of the flour and use a little less sugar. My recipe is already gluten free. Pour chili over the waffles and top with grated cheese or the cheese sauce in my recipe and sliced olives.  This works well for lunches or youth group. You can make the waffles ahead of time and warm them in an oven when needed. A small crock pot works well to keep the cheese sauce warm until serving time.

Just be aware that the waffles won’t necessarily be gluten, dairy, or egg free or vegan unless you work to make them that. For dairy free or vegan the cheese sauce would need to be made with something like soy milk and soy cheese. To be gluten free the cheese sauce needs to be thickened with cornstarch (cornflour) that has no wheat in it, not  wheat flour.

 

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Feeling Unappreciated?

Water drops folling from a bamboo leafDo you ever feel you are pouring out your life in ministry and no one cares? Like your drop of ministry isn’t making a very big ripple? Sure God knows your heart. He sees the hours of work, the spent emotions, the faithfulness in service with little visible results.

But you care about these people.

You watch them come to Christ in salvation and take their first baby steps as a Christian.

You listen to their heartaches. You pray with them, weep with them. You point them to Scripture.

You hear their concerns and make changes in your ministry to meet their needs.

You see them going in a dangerous direction and you want to shake some sense into them. Instead you pray and look for opportunities to encourage them to draw closer to God.

You’ve given your life to serve these people. You exhaust yourself in ministry for them. Don’t they care?

Dr. Raymond Buck, now with the Lord, served many years as a missionary to Africa. Many times this veteran missionary heard new missionaries voice their frustrations. He would say, “We didn’t come to be appreciated.”

In Second Corinthians the Apostle Paul opens his heart with great transparency. He had poured out his life for the Corinthian church but a small but vocal group were challenging his authority. They questioned his credentials as an apostle. They accused him of being insincere, spiritually weak, and an ineffective speaker.

As Paul ends his epistle he says, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. . . . But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.” (2 Cor. 12:15,19, NKJV)

Paul poured out his life in ministry in a way few others have. Though he was forced to defend his credentials so his message would be accepted, he didn’t do that to be appreciated. He cared only that his children would be built up in Christ.

Are you feeling unappreciated today? Are you faithful to the Lord and your work, yet seeing few visible results? Satan can use your discouragement to cripple your ministry while you sink into self-pity. So often God is working in hearts in a way you can’t see.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58, NKJV)

[image courtesy of Andrejs Pidjass/Deposit Photos]